The alligator gar 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. Fossil remains of gar are often found in limestone quarries throughout the southern United States. 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 has been under siege for most of the twentieth century, eagerly sought and killed. Efforts to eradicate them existed in many of their natural habitats under the ill-advised notion of ridding the waters of gameﬁsh-killing monsters. Many huge ﬁsh, including specimens from 100 pounds to more than 300 pounds, were removed by commercial netters, anglers using big-game tackle, and others using steel-tipped arrows while bowfishing.
Although their numbers are drastically reduced today, alligator gar are not classiﬁed as gameﬁsh by most state ﬁsheries agencies and are not regulated as to size or manner of ﬁshing. There is virtually no concerted sportﬁshing for this species today.
IdentificationThe 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 gar have only one).
It has a single dorsal ﬁn that is far back on the body above the anal ﬁn and just before the tail. The tail is rounded, and the pectoral, ventral, and anal ﬁns are evenly spaced on the lower half of the body. Its coloring is olive or greenish brown above and lighter below. The sides are mottled with large black spots.
These and other gar are often mistaken for ﬂoating logs. The alligator gar can be distinguished from all other gar by the two rows of teeth in the upper jaw, its broader snout, and its large size when fully grown. The alligator gar most closely resembles members of the pike family in body shape and ﬁn placement, although the tail of this ﬁsh is forked, not rounded.