In 2011, a commercial fisherman unintentionally netted the biggest alligator gar ever recorded. Today, the giant fish, which weighed 327 pounds and was 8 feet, 5 inches long, is still considered the largest gar ever documented. Though some seriously impressive alligator gar have been caught in recent years, none have bested the behemoth from 2011. This led us to wonder: Can this world record ever be topped?
The answer is yes, according to the world-renowned gar expert Dr. Solomon David, who leads the GarLab at Nicholls State University. “Our GarLab research team has encountered alligator gar over 8 feet long in Mississippi and Louisiana, and those fish were from both major population segments of the species: the Mississippi River and coastal populations,” David says in an interview with Field & Stream. “Alligator gar fishing guides in Texas have also caught and released 8-foot alligator gar over the past five years. Some of those giants are still out there, perhaps in fewer numbers due to habitat loss and overfishing, but they’re out there. An 8-foot 1-inch fish we caught in Mississippi was ‘only’ 56 years old, while the world record fish was estimated to be 97 years old. Another few decades and the fish we caught could very well grow larger than the world record.”
David says the next world record gar will likely come from a big river in Texas, perhaps the legendary Trinity River, or out of the Mississippi River, itself. Several key factors contribute to fostering alligator gar of epic proportions, including ample access to food and easy access to places with flooded terrestrial vegetation, which “are not only spawning grounds but important nursery and feeding areas,” according to David. “Aquatic connectivity between big rivers and their floodplains is key. I’ve observed high early-life growth rates of gar in these habitats unlike anywhere else.”
David notes that despite his optimism, there are some concerning threats that could prevent big gar from growing today, including the loss of habitats and the reduction of access to floodplains from rivers. If anglers want to catch giant gar, preserving and restoring the connections between big rivers and their floodplains is critical—and it would benefit other native wildlife.
“Big alligator gar are apex predators in their respective ecosystems,” says David. “Those big predators help maintain balance in an ecosystem, for example, by keeping forage fish populations like shad in check. A healthy population of predators is often associated with a healthy ecosystem…Conserving species [like alligator gar] that move through multiple aquatic habitats can help conserve other wildlife—such as waterbirds, amphibians, reptiles, and game fish—that rely on those individual habitats. In this case, the alligator gar can serve as an ‘umbrella species’ by helping to protect co-occurring species.”
According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, the alligator gar is the largest of the gar species. Recent surveys indicate that alligator gar populations may be declining in many parts of the Southeast. David adds that “protecting alligator gar during spawning season is important to the survival of the giants—and also producing future giants…Spawning season, when alligator gar move into shallow vegetation, is when the giants are most vulnerable to harvest methods like bowfishing. Closing the fishery, or greatly reducing harvest, during this period [would be] a great step toward the conservation of world-record alligator gar.”