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July 12, 2011 / philosophermouseofthehedge

A Fish too tough to noodle

No noodling this freshwater fish. Guess it’s the two rows of ice pick sharp teeth. Face it. It has reason to be defensive. Ugly creatures are just treated more harshly. And alligator gars are, well, monster-like with a telephone pole shape body armoured with triangular interlocking kryptonite-like scales. A gator-like snout definitely adds to the ferocious image. Animal Planet even featured the alligator gar as a “river monster“. So, is it an ancient prehistoric remnant or some nuclear plant mutant from the Simpson’s cartoon show?

The second largest freshwater fish in North America, the Trinity River tarpon or alligator gar grows 6 feet or longer and can weigh over 200 pounds. Once found in 14 states, their populations are shrinking with Texas and Louisiana containing the largest populations of big gar. Gars don’t have any natural predators. So why are they disappearing?

Once considered trash fish that probably ate the “good” sports fish, Alligator gars were often targeted for elimination. During the 1930’s Texas officials even allowed the “Electric Gar Destroyer” vessel to slowly moved down East Texas Rivers sending large surges of electrical current into the water to kill the gar. Early Stories about Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana portrayed alligator gars as satanic water beasts that would attack small children and women (although there are no documented incidents of alligator gars attacking humans). But the fish are ugly. Lots people found it amusing to stab them with spears, hack them with an ax, whack them with a hammer, or intentionally run over them with motorboats. These lumbering fish can bring waterskiing to a dead stop in an instant.

But more recently, sport fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts like Animal Planet Jeremy Wade have begun to appreciate this fish because of its ability to fight like crazy. Bow Fishermen see the fish as a worthy opponent demanding skill and strength in order to be conquered. (The Texas legislature recently passed new regulations concerning bow fishing.)

Alligator gars have become “trophy” fish of another sort, too. It’s said that private aquarium collectors in Japan will pay as much as $40,000 on the black market for a large alligator gar – a very tempting venture as discovered in June, 20011.  Trying to reel in the money, a group of men attempted to illegally capture and smuggle wild gar from Texas’ Trinity River and ship them to collectors in Japan. Didn’t work out too well for them as authorities caught them. The locals were shocked. “They’ll pay what for gar?!” All a matter of perception, I guess.

Could the alligator gar be really more of a fishy Beauty and the Beast story? A watery Phantom of the Opera? Shy misguided loners bullied by a cruel crowd?

These fish are relatively passive and solitary; content to remain in freshwater rivers, bayous, and backwaters with little current or flow. Alligator gar generally swim near the surface because of an odd feature: a buoyancy bladder (nature’s flotation device!) connected right to the throat so the fish can actually gulp air from above the water line to fill it up. Although they may live 50 years, biologists have discovered they do not travel far, but prefer to stay in one spot. Shy awkward geeks of the river? Maturing slowly, a female won’t breed until 10 -14 years old and are about 60 inches long. Despite their tough appearance, they are very picky about breeding conditions and only spawn during the spring floods when rivers swell over their banks spilling into floodplains. Mature gars float to the flooded shallow weedy areas to lay/fertilize eggs. Fertilized eggs cling to the flooded vegetation and will hatch after just a few days. The problem is that floods don’t happen every spring, and flood waters may drain off before the eggs hatch. It’s a delicate situation. Fish managers also have discovered that the alligator gar don’t take over waterways and eat all the sport fish. Dinner for gar apparently consist of gizzard shad, fresh water drum, and so-called “rough” fish like carp and buffalo. So alligator gar keep those fish populations in check to help create a beneficial eco system for the preferred sport fish.

With a new appreciation of the alligator gar, Texas only allows a one-fish-a-day limit on these fish. So maybe the odd alligator gar is gaining some respect as a valuable resource. Perhaps this fish is simply an Animal Planet gentle giant deserving a quiet bit of room to swim. So just noodle that thought rather than messing with the alligator gar?

(Want to read more about noodling or fish tales? Click the sidebar tag “Texas fishing laws”)

Splashingly yours

Phil, the Philosopher Mouse of the Hedge.

2 Comments

  1. Joy / Nov 1 2011 2:46 am

    I actually think alligator gar are quite interesting…and I haven’t thought of noodling in a long time! Lots of folks noodle back home – not so much here in Florida…

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