Fish Facts: Alligator Gar

Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula) Occur in the Mississippi River basin from southwestern Ohio and southern Illinois in USA south to Gulf of Mexico and to Veracruz, Mexico. Alligator Gar are large in size and broad,with a short snout. Light dorsal stripe. Dark olivaceous brown above and white to yellowish beneath. Dark brown blotches on all fins.

For all practical purposes you can recognize them as those BIG gars with the short snout. Small ones are actually hard to find. The Baton Rouge Zoo has a Alligator Gar in an aquarium. If you look closely you will see that it is no an Alligator Gar but a Spotted Gar! Why? Because they can’t catch any small enough for the aquarium? Alligator Gars inhabit sluggish pools and backwaters of large rivers, swamps, bayous, and lakes. They sometimes enter brackish waters and occasionally saltwater. As you might have figured they feed mainly on fish.

Spawning usually occurs April – June. The Alligator gar is by far the largest of the Gar, growing up to over 300 pounds. Interestingly,a joint behind the head allows these fish to make nodding head movements. Although they are good eating, few people bother with them.

For those of you wanting to tangle with a big fish and don’t want to venture to saltwater, Alligator Gar are just what the doctor ordered. Alligator Gar get huge, so your tackle will also need to be scaled up to meet the demand. Since it is hard to hook gars, most garfisherman use large treble hooks attached to a steel leader. The leader is tied to the main line with a bobber usually attached above the leader. How heavy your line is depends on your own preference but remember it is quite possible that you will be tangling with a fish that weighs over 100 pounds possibly double that!

They aren’t line shy so don’t let that worry you. It is important to let the big fish take your bait and swallow it before setting the hook. When the bobber takes off, follow it until it stops. This is the fish positioning it to swallow. When the fish starts to move off again is the time to set the hook. Whole mullet is a prefered bait, and many believe in scaling the bait before using it.

Never bring a gar of any size into the boat until you are sure it is dead. Gar especially big ones can really hurt you with those needle teeth.

Alligator Gar don’t consider humans prey but there is one reported attack on a person in Lake Pontchartrain. The person (girl I think) was dangling his/her feet in the water when a large Alligator Gar mistook here splashing foot for a fish. It bit but thankfully let go.

I have also recieved an email telling me about two other attacks, these from the Lake Charles area. Below is the direct quote from the email.

“My dad has told me all my life not to dangle my feet in Big Lake (Calcasieu Lake) because his first cousin, Ben King, was terribly wounded – with nineteen tooth holes – when he dangled his feet off a pier in Lake Charles in the 1920s when he was about 18. He and Raymond Dunn, my dad’s brother, skinned it and tacked it to their aunt’s (Mabel King Kelly) garage. Daddy says it was there for years — on land where the main post office in Lake Charles is today. Daddy says he also remembers a fishing guide getting his hand mangled in Bayou Bicone (sp?) – a bayou about half way down the shore of Big Lake.”


Key Notes and Tips:

*When Alligator Gar leap they will often make a loud grunt noise as the air in its air bladder is forced out. The following inhale makes a raspy sound.
*Alligator Gar can reach sizes of over 300 lbs.
*Alligator Gars are good eating but heck to clean. There scales are like armor.
*If you want to make the record book all you have to do is wiegh one. Last time I checked there where only 2 listed in the Louisiana Record Books.
*Here are a couple of photo’s of Huge Alligator Gar fish.   Alligator Gar Picture #1   Alligator Gar Picture #2