A crisp kerplunk reverberates off the surface of Monopoly Marsh in Mingo National Wildlife Refuge.
“Did you hear that?” asks Chris Kennedy, a fisheries biologist with the Conservation Department. “That is the sound of balance being restored, and I’m proud to play a role.”
Until today, the creature making that sound—a young alligator gar—hadn’t set fin in these waters for more than 30 years. This June morning, Kennedy will introduce 300 young kerplunkers to their native dark waters.
Alligator gar were the top predators in Mingo’s swamps until about 1970, when habitat loss and wanton harvest drastically cut their numbers. In 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Conservation Department approved a plan to restore this legendary leviathan to its former habitat.
“My dad used to take me fishing, and when we caught a gar he would snap its beak and throw it up on the bank to die,” Kennedy recalls. “He was told it was the right thing to do, but I remember sitting in the back of his boat, actually feeling sorry for those gar.”
Kennedy slips his hands into a fish tank in the back of the airboat, cradles a 30-inch gar, lifts it out of the tank, swings it over the side of the boat and releases the wriggling 2-pounder. Before the day is over, he will repeat this bare-handed procedure 298 more times.
About Alligator Gar
Alligator gar are among the largest freshwater fish in North America. They can reach 10 feet in length, though 5 to 8 feet long is a more common size for adults. An adult can weigh between 100 to 300 pounds. The largest known Missouri gar mount is located in the Hornersville Duck Club. This 8-foot, 3-inch behemoth weighed 228 pounds.
A thick coat of bony scales make alligator gar better protected than any other fish species. Adult alligator gar can be distinguished from other adult gar species by the double row of teeth they have in their upper jaw.
Commonly known as “gator gar,” these fish occupy slowmoving backwater sloughs and rivers looking for large prey.
While every fish is a potential meal, gar usually eat whatever is most common. Studies show that gar mainly eat shad, buffalo and drum. Surprisingly few sport fish make their way into a gar’s stomach.
Gar hunt by ambush. They float along, still as a log, until a tasty morsel gets close. They then sling their head to one side and slam their