Watchable Wildlife: Alligator Gar

Arkansas Today

Although it may look intimidating with its long row of formidable teeth, alligator gar live quietly in some of Arkansas’s big rivers and backwaters.

What do they look like?

Alligator gar are the largest fish in Arkansas. They can exceed 8 feet long and weigh more than 300 pounds. The alligator gar has a short, broad snout (compared to other gar) that is reminiscent of an alligator’s snout. They are generally dark olive-green above, fading to a white belly. They have numerous canine-like teeth usually in a double row on their upper jaw. Longnose, shortnose and spotted gar also live in Arkansas.

What is their history in Arkansas?

In the 1940s and 50s, Arkansas was a hot spot for alligator gar sport fishing. Anglers pursued these giant fish with rod and reel while others tested their skill bow fishing for the gar. They were considered trash fish by many and killed to protect more popular sportfish. Today we know the importance of top predators and that the majority of an alligator gar’s diet is shad, buffalo, carp and other rough fish.

How are they doing in Arkansas now?

Biologists have noticed a significant decline in alligator gar in the past 30 years. These fish take a long time to reach maturity—around 7 years for males and 14 years for females. They are also long lived—many over 50 years and even up to 100 years old. The construction of dams along the Mississippi River and its tributaries eliminated a lot of the floodplain habitat that alligator gar need for spawning and young fish need to grow. A female gar may only have a handful of successful spawns in her lifetime because of the hit-and-miss nature of spring floods.  

Where can I see an alligator gar?

They live in the Arkansas, White, Black, Red, Ouachtia, Cache, Mississippi and St. Francis Rivers (and some of their larger tributaries). Gar like to lie quietly near structure and ambush prey with a quick, sideward grab. Gar normally obtain oxygen via gills as other fish do. But, they can come to the surface and gulp air, which helps them survive in water with low oxygen levels and during hot periods of the year.  

What’s being done for the alligator gar in Arkansas?

The AGFC has a team of biologists studying alligator gar and making habitat improvements and reestablishing them, where appropriate. The alligator gar has a cheerleader in NW Arkansas as well. Thanks to Henry Foster’s campaign, the alligatorgar is now the official state primitive fish of Arkansas. Henry is from Fayetteville and started the campaign in late 2017 when he was 10 years old. He realized Arkansas was among the small number of states without a state fish.

Is fishing allowed for alligator gar?

Yes, with some restrictions. Anglers may bag one alligator gar per day under 36 inches and need a free permit. Anglers can also apply for a trophy alligator gar tag between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31. For more information visit:https://www.agfc.com/en/fishing/sportfish/alligator-gar/

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