The Alligator gar (Lepisosteus spatula)is the largest member of the gar family, Lepisosteidae, and one of North America’s largest inland fish. It is a primitive species, dating from the Mesozoic era: 65 to 230 million years ago.
(Photos courtesy of Roberto Ferrario, Johnny Jensen, Jean-Francois Helias and Captain Kirk Kirkland)
Fossil remains of gar are often found in limestone quarries throughout the southern United States. This fish is very similar to some that lived in Mesozoic periods and in those days were bigger and toothier than now, probably a size of over 4 meters.
The tough armorlike scales of this species were once used by Indians as arrowheads, and pioneer farmers covered their wooden plowshares with gar hides. The gar is a resilient fish with an adaptable specialized air bladder that enables it to take in air at the surface, allowing it to survive in the poorest water conditions. Holding a strong resemblance to its namesake, the alligator gar is strong and voracious, and a tough fighter when hooked. It is capable of jumping spectacularly.The alligator gar’s body is long and cylindrical, covered with heavy, ganoid (diamond shaped) scales. The snout is short and broad like an alligator’s and there are two rows of teeth on either side of the upper jaw (other gars have only one).Its coloring is olive or greenish brown above and lighter below. The sides are mottled with large black spots. They live long, with no natural predators except man. They grow very fast in the first 1 to 2 years being able to obtain weights up to 8 kilos the first year, after this spurt of growth they slow down and grow all the rest of their life, with life spans being up 75 years.
The main habitat of this fish are large lakes or rivers; it favors shallow weedy environs and the sluggish pools of large rivers; it can survive also in hot stagnant waters. The alligator gar can often be seen floating at the surface. Many huge fish, including specimens from 50 kilos to more than 150 kilos, were removed by commercial netters, anglers using big-game tackle and others using steel-tipped arrows. There are stories from the beginning of the last century of fishes caught by netting of more than 200 kilos and more than 3 meters in length, but nothing was ever confirmed. Although their numbers are drastically reduced today, alligator gar was not classified as gamefish by most state fishery agencies until few years ago, and only now are regulated as to size or manner of fishing.
Alligator gar is edible, but not highly rated. It is used to a slight extent as food; a few are caught commercially and smoked. The alligator gar’s green roe is poisonous to humans, animals, and birds, although not to other fish. The alligator gar is the giant of the gar family. It still attains weights in excess of 50 kilos, although such fish are not common; larger fish are occasionally captured. The maximum size of alligator gar is not certain, although the figure evidently exceeds 180 kilos, and it can reach more than 3 meters in length. The all-tackle rod-and-reel record is a 126 kilos fish captured in the Rio Grande River, Texas – 1951. There are reports, however of larger fish, including a 178 kilos alligator gar that was 2,60 meters long and taken in Arkansas’ Horseshoe Lake in 1931.
Tackle for this kind of fishing must be very strong, they are normally furnished by the fishing guides that offer this fishing service. Anyway, a strong 2.70 or 3 meter rod is necessary. It has to have a power force of 300-500 grams, we never know what kind of fish might eat our bait. As line is a 50 or better an 80 pound braided line is the best choice. Steel leader of a minimum 120 lb is mandatory. As bait it is usually used dead or live local fish on a float.
The range of the alligator gar is mainly present in the USA and it extends from the Mississippi River basin of south western Ohio and southern Illinois south to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Enconfina River of the western Florida Panhandle west to Veracruz, Mexico. It was introduced with great success in some private lakes in Thailand and Singapore. The most famous private lake for this kind of fishing is the Bung San Lan Lake in Bangkok Thailand.