Although often overlooked, Alligator Gar are one of the forgotten freshwater fish that roam just beneath the surface of the Brazos River. Their prehistoric look has both intrigued and frightened Texans. Their long snouts, double rows of sharp teeth, bodies that grow up to 10 feet long, and weight of as much as 300 pounds can be intimidating. This massive fish may appear to be menacing, but looks can be deceiving when it comes to Gar. Here’s what makes this fish a compelling species in the Brazos River basin.
In Texas, Alligator Gar are most abundant in the Brazos River particularly just downstream of Waco. Because Alligator Gar are a big river fish species, it’s not uncommon to see them in reservoirs or off the Texas coast. Flooding along with heavy rainfall can propel the Gar population expanding their habitat into several streams and rivers into the Central and Lower basins.
According to Clint Robertson, a biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife River Studies Program, Alligator Gar have a very long life span. “Typically, Alligator Gar over 6 feet in length are 20+ years old. The world record Alligator Gar recently caught in Mississippi was aged to at least 95 years old.” A male Alligator Gar’s average lifespan is 25 years while females usually tend to outlast them and live up to 50 years. Alligator Gar take very long to reach maturity usually around 10-14 years of age. Since this species is so massive, the only predators it faces are alligators and humans.
There is a common misconception that Gar negatively affects the fish population. Like other predatory fish species, Gar help maintain population balance which is essential for healthy aquatic communities. Alligator Gar have been around and co-existed with many species of fish in our rivers. “Although Gar are considered apex predators, I wouldn’t consider them to be discriminant predators, but rather opportunistic,” Robertson says. They often consume what’s available to them whether it be Smallmouth Buffalo, River Carpsucker, Gizzard Shad or Catfish. What’s more, fish aren’t their sole means of nourishment. Although opportunistic, Alligator Gar are cunning. These aquatic predators have been known to snatch birds, waterfowl, turtles and other small mammals. Their ambush technique goes to such extremes as posing as material driftwood, patiently waiting to snatch an unsuspecting prey that chooses to perch atop its body.
Beginning in 2009, The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TWPD) issued a statewide bag limit on Alligator Gar to one-per-day in order to preserve this gigantic specimen. Alligator Gar are currently listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need according to Robertson, but populations in Texas and Louisiana continue to be great for this freshwater fish in order to continue its longevity.
While it’s not uncommon for bow fishers to catch one upwards of 200 pounds, rod and reel anglers won’t have as much luck purely because of the weight of Gar. Because of this, trotlines or bow fishing continue to be the preferred technique for many fishermen.
With limits in place to prevent these creatures from being overfished, Gar will continue to be in our basin for a long time. For more information on Alligator Gar click here.