This is the heavyweight champion of American freshwater predators. Forget your big catfish, your muskellunge, and yes, your salmon. Here is a fish that can snap them all in half. Here is the King of Kings.
To call this fish primitive is disrespectful. Its form is old because it is good. When, many ages ago, before time was time, the gar evolved to its present physique, it was done. And as the world and its inhabitants changed around it, the gar abided. Landscapes, species and climates came and went, the gar remained. Occasionally surfacing to take a gulp of air with a mighty “cloomp,” the gator gar saw dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes. Some, though flawed, earned the gar’s respect with their imposing size, some were good to eat. Later, the gar watched as the mammals appeared and started fiddling around to find their furry form. Later still, strange, hairless bipeds emerged and spread like a crawling virus. The gar abided. The gar still abides.
One look at its massive, wide snout and vast arsenal of impressive teeth explains why humans call this fish the alligator gar. Its ganoid scales provide it with a suit of armor that has withstood time. Though it is a predator, and though it is enormous (up to ten feet and several hundred pounds), the alligator gar has a fairly tranquil lifestyle. These days, it makes its home in the Southeastern United States (Texas, Oklahoma, occasionally Illinois, Misouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida), where it calmly cruises around in the slower parts of rivers, backwaters and manmade lakes. Gator gar will take a break from tranquility to ambush their prey, but they will also gladly gobble up any recently dead creature they come across. It is said they migrate to areas with stronger current to spawn.
Should you wish to take it upon yourself to angle for these beasts, first you must ask yourself if you can bring yourself to use a fish that would normally be a nice catch on an ultralight for bait. A large shad will do, as will a small carp. In a pinch, you could get your bait from the fish section at the supermarket. You must ask yourself if you can use fishing gear that feels less like gear and more like heavy machinery or tools. You must ask yourself if you can sit under the scorching Southern sky, your bait positioned in a likely spot, an eddy, a confluence, a current seam, yourself sulking in the warmish mud in water moccasin and snapping turtle territory, as you wait for all hell to break loose. If you can answer “yes” to these questions, you might well meet the mighty Alligator Gar.