jaws down on the prey.
Occasionally, gar surface to gulp air. Fisheries biologists call this breathing behavior “breaking.” It allows gar to survive low oxygen levels in the water.
Seventy-seven-year-old Richard Woods grew up on the Black River in Butler County and remembers seeing gar up to 8 feet long rolling on the surface.
“Alligator gar would move up in the spring and hang around in the river holes,” Woods says. “We watched two of them that moved into our swimming hole. We’d jump off of a leaning tree into that water time after time. It’s a wonder we never hit either of them. And they never attacked.”
The History of Gar
Native tribes were first to harvest gar. They worked the tough scales into arrow points and breastplates. They fashioned the ribs into needles.
Early farmers stretched gar skin over their plows. The result was a tool armored like a shield. The skins were also used for covering pictures, making purses and decorating fancy boxes.
Probably the biggest use of alligator gar was for dinner; the meat is tasty.
However, European settlers disdained the big predators. Gator gar tore their nets and were difficult to keep on a line because they were so big. People believed gar ate the same fish they wanted—a misconception that persists to this day.
They even imagined these toothy, gigantic fish ate humans. However, there are no documented cases of alligator gars attacking people in North America.
Responding to pressure, state and federal authorities sought to eliminate gar to protect game fish and prevent human attacks.
In the 1950s, anglers came to Arkansas from all over the country to catch alligator gar. Fishermen would hire guides to help them kill huge numbers of the big fish. One participant noted, “We were catching gar like there was no tomorrow. When we got one to the boat, we’d shoot it and just let it sink. We thought we were doing a great service.”
Bootheel folks also fished for gator gar. Catching one was a spectacular event. The ensuing tussle gave any angler the right to be proud, and people seldom let the flesh go to waste.
Market fishermen butchered the fish for meat. Some fish markets would sell gar alongside catfish and other sport fish. But, given the fish’s generally poor reputation, most Missourians were glad to see gator gars nearly disappear from southeast waters, which they did by the late 1960s.
Gar in Our Future
The Mingo National Wildlife Refuge