News Roundup

Alligator Gar

Alligator Gar Fast Facts

Name: Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula)

Habitat: Native to Texas and the southeastern United States. Found in large rivers and lakes, and sometimes in coastal bays.

Description: Long cylindrical body with rounded tailfin and a long snout with two rows of teeth on the upper jaw. Largest of four species of gar found in Texas.

Texas status

Recreational value

Historically, this species was considered a rough or "trash" fish, of little interest to most recreational anglers. This attitude is changing, due in part to recent spots on TV shows such as In-Fisherman, National Geographic and River Monsters. Guided trips for big gar attract bow fishers and rod-and-reel anglers from all over the United States, plus some visitors from other countries. As one of the largest freshwater fishes in North America, the alligator gar offers a unique fishing experience.

Not every gar is a gator gar

Texas is also home to three smaller species of gar. These are often found in the same waters and may be mistaken for young alligator gar.

Texas has no minimum size limits or daily bag limits on longnose, shortnose or spotted gar.

Life cycle

Many of our popular sport fish have comparatively short life cycles, progressing from egg to fingerling to spawning adult in two or three years. Alligator gar are different. They don't reproduce until about 10 years of age, and may live to be almost 100. If you catch a 7-foot trophy gar, that fish may well have been swimming in that lake for 40 years.

Gator gar spawn in late spring, usually April or May, when water temperatures go above 68 degrees. They prefer to spawn in shallow water, surrounded by half-submerged vegetation. This species tends to produce a bumper crop of babies in a year when spring rains flood backwater areas. In years of drought and low river flows, they may not reproduce at all.

What they eat

Young gar eat insects and crustaceans. Adults eat mostly rough fish (both dead and alive). Studies conducted in Texas suggest the most common food items are carp, gizzard shad, buffalo, tilapia, and freshwater drum. Alligator gar occasionally eat sport fishes such as catfish and bass, but these rarely make up a significant portion of their diet. There is no evidence that alligator gar have negative impacts on sport fish populations.

Can we eat them?

It takes some work to clean and fillet a gar, but the flesh is good. When alligator gar were plentiful in southeastern rivers, they were often caught by commercial fishermen who sold them for their meat.

As with any other fish, if you plan to eat your catch, check for consumption advisories in the water where you’ll be fishing. And don’t try to get caviar from a gar: the eggs are toxic!

Reasons for concern

As a species, the alligator gar presents a special challenge to fisheries managers. The long life span makes it possible for a population to survive years, even decades, of unfavorable weather. It also means a population damaged by overfishing or habitat loss could take decades to recover.

Texas populations are in good shape so far. The overall state record (302 pounds) and the state rod & reel record (279 pounds) were caught in the 1950s. However, the state bow fishing record (290 pounds) was taken in 2001. Within the past decade, a dozen specimens over 200 pounds were submitted for lake records or other Angler Recognition awards. Big gar are still out there!

Other states aren't so lucky. Recent surveys show that alligator gar are declining or have disappeared from much of their historic range. If Texans want to conserve this unique fishery for future generations, we need to take steps now.