Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spatula)

We are experiencing a flood where I live. You can fish on the main road in my town, but do not worry. It is not nearly as bad as the “100 year flood” last year. The six foot tall road sign is still visible. The guard rails are still visible. No one is driving their large boat down the road as if it were a canal in Venice. This year that is impossible.

What is possible is to witness alligator gar spawning on the side of the road. There were three or four smaller gar following a huge gar around. Every so often they would all get stuck in the weeds or a very shallow spot and flail around.

Alligator Gar
Alligator Gar

Later, as I was retelling my fish tale to some friends, I was asked “Can you eat gar?”

I had never heard of anyone eating a gar. I only knew of it as either a great sport fish or a great nuisance. So I did some quick research on the subject.

Yes. You can eat gar. They are decent to eat, but an absolute pain to prepare. Their scales are not like other fish scales. They are a primitive armor and extremely effective. You do not descale a gar. You skin it like a snake. I watched a video of two fishermen demonstrating the technique. It was like Shop Class 101 – hammer, nails, wooden board, hacksaw, pliers, industrial strength snips, chain mesh gloves.. oh and a filet knife. No wonder you rarely hear of the casual recreational fisherman eating them.

Gars are easily distinguished from other freshwater species by their long, slender, cylindrical bodies, long snouts, and diamond-shaped interlocking (ganoid) scales. The tail fin is rounded. Dorsal and anal fins are placed well back on the body and nearly opposite each other. Alligator gar is the largest of the gar species. It can grow up to 8 feet long and weigh more than 300 pounds. Adults have two rows of large teeth on either side of the upper jaw. Coloration is generally brown or olive above and lighter underneath.

Alligator gar can live for many decades. They grow very fast when young, but growth slows with age. In general, for every additional foot the fish grows, its age doubles. A 3-foot gar is typically about 2.5 years old; a 4-foot gar about 5, and a 7-foot trophy catch might be 40 years old. The world record, caught in Mississippi in 2011, weighed 327 pounds and was probably at least 95. Alligator gar are slow to mature; they usually don’t spawn until they are about 10 years old. Spawning typically takes place in shallow areas of flooded vegetation when springtime water temperatures exceed 68 degrees. In Texas, this generally occurs in April and May. Eggs hatch within a couple of days. Young fish feed on larval fishes and insects. Adults will eat whatever they can catch, consuming primarily fish, but occasionally taking birds, mammals and other animals.

Texas Parks and Wildlife


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