Alligator Gars are easily distinguished from other freshwater species by their long, slender, cylindrical bodies, their long snouts, and the fact that they are equipped with diamond-shaped interlocking (ganoid) scales. Additionally, the dorsal and anal fins are placed well back on the body, and nearly opposite each other. The tail fin is rounded. Alligator gar may be distinguished from other gars by the presence of two rows of large teeth on either side of the upper jaw in large young and adults. Coloration is generally brown or olive above, and lighter underneath. Lepisosteus is Greek, meaning “bony scale,” and spatula is Latin for “spoon,” referring to the creature’s broad snout.
Alligator Gar Angling Importance
Alligator Gar have traditionally been considered rough fish by the majority of anglers. However, for a relatively few mavericks gar fishing may be quite an exciting and enjoyable sport. In Texas, alligator gar up to 279 pounds have been captured by rod and reel anglers, and over 300 pounds by trotliners. In the Southeastern part of the state, gar are commonly accepted as a fine food fish. Alligator gar are often taken by by bowfishers or by anglers using nylon threads, rather than hooks, to entangle the fish’s many sharp teeth.
Little is known about the biology of this huge fish. Alligator gar are usually found in slow sluggish waters, although running water seems to be necessary for spawning. They appear to spawn in the spring beginning sometime in May. Eggs are deposited in shallow water. Young fish may consume insects. Adults feed primarily on fish, but will also take waterfowl. This species is able to tolerate greater salinities that other gar species and feeds heavily on marine catfish when they are available.
Alligator gar are present in the Gulf of Mexico coastal plain from the Econfina River in west Florida west and south to Veracruz, Mexico. The species range extends north in the Mississippi River basin to the lower reaches of the Missouri and Ohio rivers. An isolated population also occurs in Nicaragua. In Texas, alligator gar may be found in coastal rivers and streams from the Red River west to the Rio Grande.