Although most anglers think of bass, crappie, or catfish when they think of freshwater fishing in Texas, there is a small but dedicated following of gar anglers.
Texas is home to several species of gar: longnose, shortnose, spotted; but it’s the giant alligator gar that attracts the most attention. The reason being is these fish grow to monstrous proportions: capable of measuring 8 feet long, weighing 300 pounds and living to be more than 70 years old. The state record alligator gar weighed 279 pounds and was caught in the Rio Grande. The world record longnose gar weighed 50.31 pounds and was caught in the Trinity River. Shortnose and spotted gar are much smaller.
Gar are prehistoric fish that have lived in Texas for millions of years, pretty much unchanged from the days they shared the planet with dinosaurs. They are slow-growing, long-lived fish.
Where to Fish for Gar
If you’re in search of a trophy gator gar, the Trinity River may be your best bet, although you’ll also find good numbers of them in Sam Rayburn, Amistad, Choke Canyon, Toledo Bend, and Falcon reservoirs, along with their associated river systems.
Although bass and crappie anglers may hate them, in reality, gar eat mostly rough fish like carp, buffalo, and shad and have little impact on game fish populations.
Bow-fishing for alligator gar has really grown popular in recent years. It takes a powerful bow and a sharp arrow to penetrate a gar’s armor-like scales. Angling with rod and reel is popular too, due to the incredible fight these powerful fish provide.
The best gar fishing occurs on hot, clear, sunny days in summer. In clear water, you can often see gar congregating in schools just below the surface, feeding on schools of baitfish. Look for them anywhere baitfish gather or are washed downstream. Try below dams, in shallow flats adjacent to deep water, in weedbeds, or slack backwaters. Fish will often be near weed, rock, trees, or some type of cover that harbors baitfish. If you can find schools of shad, odds are you’ll find gar nearby.
You’ll need a stout rod with a heavy-duty baitcaster spooled with at least 100-pound line. Gar have dozens of razor-sharp teeth, so you’ll want a steel leader to prevent bite-offs. Many anglers use cut carp, shad or buffalo as bait, suspended below a float on a 5/0 bronzed treble hook. Gar have incredibly tough, bony mouths.
When a fish hits, let it run a minute or two. They generally take off with their prey before stopping to eat it. When the gar stops, set the hook as hard as you can, in the opposite direction the fish is running. Getting a good hookset into bone and teeth isn’t easy. For the best hooking percentage, let the fish swallow the bait. You’ll have to cut the leader, rather than reach into that toothy mouth. Bronzed hooks dissolve in a few weeks, giving a gar the best chance at survival.
Some anglers use a rope fly, which is a “fly” made out of twisted nylon rope. It doesn’t even have a hook. When a gar grabs it, the frayed rope ensnares the gar’s teeth. The result is usually a “hooked” gar with little damage done to the fish. If you like tangling with powerful fish that can weigh hundreds of pounds, gar fishing can be a real thrill!
Texas Fishing Maps and Field Guide
For the lowdown on the best Texas lakes, look no further than the Texas Fishing Map Guides published by Sportsman’s Connection. These large format, full-color guides contain detailed maps and editorials on every major lake in the state. In addition to these, you’ll get fishing tips and advice from our expert writers, in addition to local experts.