For years, alligator gar have been called a “trash fish” by anglers, but the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department hopes to change those misconceptions.
In 2009, The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approved a bag limit on alligator gar to one fish per angler.
Bob Betsill, research program director at the Heart of the Hills Fisheries Science Center, believes the bag limit will help ensure larger gar remain in the river systems. Alligator gar can grow to more than 7 feet and live up to 75 years.
Betsill recommends not shooting or catching the largest gar in the water because they are the main breeders.
“You don’t want to pull out a huge gar that’s really old,” he said. “It is better if they stay in the water and have more opportunities to spawn.”
Betsill believes bag limits will give Texas anglers a better respect for gar and their role in the ecosystem. Alligator gar populations have dipped in states like Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, and they also have a bag limits on the species.
One misconception of alligator gar is, due to their large size, they consume a lot of baitfish and gamefish in their area.
Veteran guide Mark Malfa said gar eat only what they need and don’t scramble to eat everything put in front of it, like a trout.
“I find shad, bass and sunfish in their stomachs,” Malfa said. “But they are not eating so much that it hurts other species.”
Malfa saw the sport of bow fishing grow in the last 5 years. The high population of gar in Texas helps Malfa and his customer shoot their limit of gar on most trips. Malfa finds that his customers want to fish in Texas because the gar population is so healthy.
“People come to Texas because it’s the number one place to catch gar,” he said.
And the fish are tasty. It takes a little effort, but alligator gar have big, white meat fillets that are good to eat, despite the negative reputation.