How to Catch Alligator Gar: 7 Top Tips

Alligator gar can be caught with a variety of different methods, including rod-and-reel, troll lines, juglines, and bowfishing. These massive fish are an exciting species for experienced anglers and professional …

Alligator gar can be caught with a variety of different methods, including rod-and-reel, troll lines, juglines, and bowfishing. These massive fish are an exciting species for experienced anglers and professional fishermen to target throughout the summer months when other fish may not be biting.

Let’s take a closer look at the alligator gar and some of the best tips for catching your next trophy.

All About Alligator Gar: Facts

Alligator gar
Alligator gar can be found in a variety of freshwater and saltwater habitats and can survive in low-oxygen environments. They are commonly found in the Gulf Coast region of the United States and are known for their large size, prehistoric appearance, and sharp teeth.

Alligator Gar Habitat

Alligator gar can be found in a wide range of areas including narrow creeks, wide rivers, enclosed ponds or lakes, as well as along coast in brackish waters or even full saltwater. In rivers and creeks, alligator gar and other gar species will search out areas with deeper areas that have long, flat open spaces and a good water flow.

Alligator gar can also be found in areas where water flow is stagnant, and oxygen levels are low. Due to their unique adaptations, gar species have a labyrinth organ that allows them to breathe air from the surface of the water. This is how many alligator gar can live long and happy lives in completely still lakes and ponds.

Alligator Gar Distribution

Alligator gar are extremely popular in Texas but can also be found along the entire Gulf Coast area to western Florida. They range north into the Mississippi River basin and south into Mexico.

Some of the best states to go alligator gar fishing would include Texas, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Mississippi. You can also find healthy alligator gar populations in Missouri and Ohio along the river systems.

Alligator Gar Characteristics

Alligator gar are prehistoric-looking fish that can easily intimidate even experienced anglers. Their menacing look and sharp teeth inside the alligator gar’s mouth, along with their absolutely massive body size, may scare people away from attempting to land this fish.

Alligator gar can reach more than 8 feet in length and weigh more than 300 pounds. They have long, torpedo-shaped bodies and wide heads. Their elongated broad snouts and jaws are packed full of large gar’s sharp teeth that are doubled on the upper jaw.

While the alligator gar looks like something from some people’s nightmares, they are not a threat to your life or limb. There have been no verified attacks by gar on people. However, improper handling when catching these fish may lead to cuts by their lower or upper jaw teeth or bruises when they thrash around on the line or alongside the boat, trying to get free.

How to Catch Alligator Gar: Methods and Tactics

Alligator gar 1
Catching alligator gar typically involves using heavy equipment, such as a fishing rod, reel, and strong line, as well as live or cut bait.

There are multiple ways gar anglers can catch these fish. One of the most common methods is by using juglines, but bow fishing is also popular when the angler has no intention of releasing their catch. 

Rod and reel is also a viable tactic for catching alligator gar, but it will require a lot more effort to get the fish back to the boat in most cases. Especially if you happen to land a monster-sized trophy gar on rod and reel.

There are no specific rigs or techniques that should be used when alligator gar fishing. These fish can be caught on almost any rod and reel setup you are comfortable with. Anglers have caught gar on fly fishing setups as well, but heavier baits such as cut common carp and live bait are normally more effective. 

The most common bait is cut carp, freshwater mullet, smallmouth buffalo, and shad. Many anglers say that when alligator gar fishing in rivers, cut carp or shad is the best option. However, as with everything, feel free to experiment and go with the method that feels right for you and your current location.

One thing to keep in mind with alligator gar is that while these fish have a massive body size, their mouths are relatively small. They won’t take extremely large bait, so even though you might be targeting a 6-foot alligator gar, you’ll most likely be using the same size bait as you would for a 10-pound bass. 

A common and successful setup for alligator gar would be a 7-8 foot rod with a high-quality spinning reel. Make sure you have at least an 80-pound test strong braided line, though a 100-pound test is better. Use a 4/0 or 5/0 sized hook; most anglers will opt for a treble hook, but single hooks work as well.

Many anglers will opt for a cut-resistant or steel leader since alligator gar have extremely sharp teeth and can quickly snap even a strong braided line. Make sure your steel leader is around 30 inches long to ensure the gar has very little chance of snagging your main line.

If using cut bait, go with 4-inch chunks and work it patiently across the bottom of the lakes or large rivers. Alligator gar can be a timid fish and will quickly drop the bait if they feel too much resistance or pull on it, so give them a good chance to grab the bait and swallow it before you start working the line.

How to Catch Alligator Gar: Tips

  1. Use a 7-8 foot rod with a good spinning reel
  2. Ensure you have a wire or cut-resistant leader line
  3. Use 4-inch chunks of cut carp or shad as bait
  4. Work your bait along the bottom slowly
  5. Give the gar time to take the bait before setting your hook
  6. Tire out the gar slowly to reduce the strain on your line
  7. Secure a rope around the head of the gar when removing the hook

How to Handle Alligator Gar

Alligator gar 2
Handling alligator gar requires taking certain precautions due to their sharp teeth. To avoid injury, it is recommended to use cut-resistant gloves or long-handled pliers when removing hooks from alligator gar of any size.

Alligator gar have extremely sharp teeth, and while they won’t intentionally try to bite, they can cut or puncture your fingers during hook removal. Always use cut-resistant gloves or long-handled pliers when removing hooks from alligator gar of any size. Even small fish have extremely sharp teeth.

While alligator gar is normally calm and docile even when hooked or head-roped, they may still thrash out without any warning. Be aware of this and keep your face away from the fish in order to prevent a slap across the face by a massive and powerful tail.

How to Clean Alligator Gar

When harvesting your gar, they will need to be cleaned just as any other fish before you can enjoy a nice alligator gar meal.

Step 1: Thoroughly spray your gar. They have a very thick slime coat and will be even slimier if kept on ice, so give them a good spray down to make them easier to handle during cutting.

Step 2: Start by the head and make a small incision perpendicular to the spine of the fish. A thick blade is best for this, but don’t use a high-quality chef’s knife.

Step 3: Use heavy-duty kitchen shears to cut from the incision you just made down the spine until you reach the tail of the alligator gar.

Step 4: Use a filet knife to separate the skin of the fish from the meat you want to keep. The skin will start to curl, so if you have a helper, this is a good time to have them pull the skin away as you cut it.

Step 5: After the skin is removed, cut along the spine and ribs to remove the filet meat. Avoid cutting into the body cavity. Gar eggs are poisonous, so you do not want to contaminate your filet by hitting the female fish’s ovaries. 

Step 6: After the first filet is removed, do the same process on the other side by removing the skin and cutting away the filet. When finished, you will have two long and narrow strips of gar meat perfect for frying, baking, breading, boiling, or preparing any way you want!

How to Cook Alligator Gar: Recipes

Alligator gar
Alligator gar is a versatile fish that can be cooked using various methods. One popular recipe for gar is to make garfish balls, which are similar to meatballs and can be eaten as a side dish, snack, or main meal.

Alligator gar filets can be prepared in a number of ways. In fact, alligator gar meat can be perfectly suitable for almost any cooking method, including deep oil frying, baking, air frying, broiling, grilling, roasting, stewing, and more. 

One of my personal favorite recipes for gar is to make garfish balls. Similar to meatballs, these finger-food-type items can be a side dish, snack, or main meal.

In order to make garfish balls, you will need:

  • 2 pounds of garfish, ground
  • 1 cup of onions, green
  • 1 pound peeled potatoes, boiled and chopped
  • 2 medium-sized onions, chopped
  • ¼ cup Seasoning, I prefer creole
  • ¼ cup flour, all-purpose is best
  • 1 cup of corn flour

Start by boiling the potatoes and grinding your garfish meat in a meat grinder. Once this is done, mix the potatoes, garfish meat, onions, all-purpose flour, and seasoning together in a large bowl. Stir it until you have a thick paste-like consistency.

Use an ice cream scoop or your hands to portion out meatball-sized rounds of this paste-like mixture and roll it in the corn flour to coat it thoroughly. After the balls are all coated, drop them in a deep oil fryer until they float and take on a golden brown color.

Garfish balls are great as appetizers, snacks, or a main meal. Dip them in your favorite dipping sauce, or eat them plain.

Another extremely popular way to serve small-sized alligator gar is by coating it in your favorite breadcrumbs or seasoning mix. Similar to “Shake-N-Bake” chicken or pork, crumbed garfish is an old favorite of mine as well and is the perfect way to utilize smaller fish you won’t be able to get a good filet from.

In order to make crumbed garfish, you will need:

  • Garfish, head removed and gutted
  • Breadcrumbs, your choice
  • Egg, beaten
  • Clove of garlic
  • Flour, all-purpose
  • Peanut oil

Start with a cleaned garfish body, already skinned, gutted, and cleaned. The head should be removed, but the tail should be left on for now. Use a rolling pin or bottle to roll the gut cavity open and poach the fish in water with a glove of garlic. This should take a minute or less.

After poaching lightly, pull the spine and ribs away from the body, leaving the tail intact. Sprinkle flour on the fish and dip the body in your beaten egg. You can also baste the egg on if that is easier. After the egg coating is on the fish, coat it in your favorite breadcrumbs.

Feel free to use seasoned breadcrumbs, or add your own favorite spice mixture to plain breadcrumbs. Some of my favorite breadcrumb flavors for garfish are honey-lemon and garlic.

After the small longnose gar is fully coated in breadcrumbs, deep fry it in peanut oil. Once the fish is a golden brown color, remove it and let it drain on a paper towel or dripping rack. Serve as a main meal with your favorite veggies or a salad.

Alligator Gar Fishing FAQs

What’s the Best Time to Fish For Alligator Gar?

Alligator gars are highly active in warm weather, so the mid-summer months of July and August will normally yield the best results for anglers.

What’s Considered a Trophy Alligator Gar?

Catching alligator gars that are 3 and 4 feet in length is not uncommon, with several 5 and 7-foot fish being out there as well. Trophy gar is normally more than 7 feet long. In some states, any alligator gar over 36 inches is considered a trophy and will need a special alligator gar fishing license or tag in order to keep.

What’s the Best Season to Catch Alligator Gar?

Summertime is the best season to catch alligator gars. When water temperatures reach 90 degrees and oxygen levels are low, gar is still highly active and feeding daily.

What Is the Best Bait or Lure to Catch Alligator Gar?

Most anglers will use cut carp as their bait of choice for catching alligator gars.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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