Imagine being in the water with an 8 foot, 300 pound fish having a torpedo shaped, armor-plated body and the head of an alligator – complete with the teeth. If you’ve ever been swimming in Central Texas lakes or rivers, you’ve lived that scenario.

The alligator gar is a prehistoric fish that has been swimming through area waters since before mammoths were splashing around, and although they are menacing to look at, they’re pretty laid back creatures – especially when it comes to interacting with people.

In fact, there’s not a documented case I could find of an alligator gar attacking a human. That’s not to say there aren’t gar-related injuries, but that usually occurs when people catch one and try to handle it without taking precautions. Not only can their teeth cause damage, but their scales are extremely thick and sharp, and grabbing one by the tail bare-handed is a mistake that will usually leave an angler in need of a first-aid kit.

Most of us grew up looking down on gar, because the story goes that when a gar shows up where you’re fishing, it’s time to move to another spot. They supposedly run off bass, crappie, and other game fish species, sending them away in a panic toward open water.

The truth is, I’ve caught fish before, during, and after seeing a gar prowling through my fishing hole. They have little or no impact on the majority of fish in an area. Plus, if you’re fortunate enough to trick one into hitting your bait (and successfully set the hook into its bony mouth), you’re in for a whopper of a fight.

Bow fishing is one way to catch gar, but if you’re using a rod and reel setup, you’ll want to use rigging like you would for saltwater fishing, including steel leaders to keep your line from being snapped by the fish’s sharp choppers. A good way to catch them is to hook a chunk of cut carp onto a circle hook and either fish it on the bottom or suspended slightly off the bottom. Gar will typically take a bait and swim with it for a while before swallowing it, and they’re a wary fish – any sign of trouble and they’ll quickly spit the bait and move on.

There’s a limit of one alligator gar per day with no minimum length limit in Texas. Bow fishing, rod and reel, and jug lines are all legal methods.

I’ve never eaten gar (as far as I know), but people who have tell me the meat is similar to striped bass and catfish. It’s white, firm, and mild tasting, and the hardest part of eating gar is cleaning the fish – cutting through the armor-like bony scales will put a filet knife to the test.

The alligator gar is Texas’ largest freshwater fish as well as the most misunderstood because of its ferocious appearance. But gar, like sharks in the ocean, provide a valuable service for river and lake ecosystems by keeping other species’ populations in check and helping to maintain a balance. They primarily feed on rough fish like carp and drum, and have little or no negative impacts on bass, crappie, catfish, and other fish prized by anglers.

Heat-shmeat

Summer temperatures seem to be socking in, but that doesn’t mean you have to put your fishing gear away until things cool off. Granted, fishing during the midday heat is tough, but the best fishing during summer months comes at dusk and dawn, as well as overnight.

A lot of Central Texas anglers are reporting excellent catches, including Willie Davis, who has been hauling in good numbers of big catfish on the Bosque River, including a 36.1 pound blue cat caught using a live bluegill near the spillway. Look for his story in next Sunday’s Tribune-Herald outdoor column.

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