RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – They are the largest and longest-lived freshwater species in Texas, and Alligator gar are gathering in secluded backwaters of deep South Texas.
These primitive fish are only present in a handful of southern states in the country, and Texas has the most robust population.
Alligator gar ancestors have been discovered in fossils dating back more than 200 million years, and you can almost imagine these huge, scaly creatures lurking with the dinosaurs.
The largest Alligator gar taken in Texas was caught on a trotline in 1953 and weighed 302 pounds, while Bill Valverde holds the world and state record on rod and reel for a 279 pounder he caught in the Rio Grande in 1951.
The world record Alligator gar was netted in Mississippi in 2011 and at 8 feet 5 and a quarter inches weighed approximately 327 pounds and was estimated to be 95 years old.
It is mating season for these impressive living fossils. Gathering to spawn in the remote waterways of the Rio Grande Valley, the toothy creatures surface to gulp air supplementing their gill respiration.
Like most ancestral species, Alligator gar are very long-lived. Females do not reach sexual maturity until they are ten years old, and can attain an age of perhaps 100.
However, conditions have to be just right for them to reproduce, and in most Texas waters this happens only a few times each decade.
To successfully spawn in the late spring and early summer, gar need overbank flooding to create optimal areas of shallow inundated grasses where females lay their eggs to be fertilized by males.
It remains to be seen whether this will be a successful spawning year in the Valley, but gar are gathering in anticipation.
To protect the species, Texas law allows for only one gar per day to be taken by fishermen and bow hunters.