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The Gar family species, habitats, characteristics, fishing methods.

Comprised of seven species, all of which inhabit the Americas, gars are considered to be living fossils; primitive fish that have maintained several prehistoric features that modern fish have long evolved away from. Along with the bowfin, the gar is almost unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs.

Gar Family Species Diagram

Gars can be recognized by a elongate body covered with heavy armored scales (diamond-shaped) and long, thin nose, gars are ferocious ambush predators. Their slim mouths are lined with needle-like teeth, which pierce and hold on to prey like razor-sharp Velcro. The dorsal and anal fins are placed well back on the body, and nearly opposite each other. The tail fin is rounded and a little lopsided, heterocercal. Possessing a modified gas bladder, used for breathing air, gar can survive in a very stagnant waterAs an ambush predator, the gar drifts near motionless, waiting for prey to cross its line of sight. With a lightening speed snap it snags them across its jaws and begins working them around to swallow head-first. Their eggs are toxic to predators. They are highly voracious predators, with long rows of needlelike teeth.

    A unique characteristic of gar is their ability to breathe atmospheric air and ability to exploit waters that many other large predators avoid that makes the gar a successful predator. The gar swim air bladder is connected to the throat and operates as a primitive lung, and the inner lining of the swim bladder is cellular and somewhat roughened, thereby facilitating gas-absorption. Gar have been observed to rise to the water surface where they release a bubble of air before swallowing another air bubble, then sink slowly below the surface. This ability to breathe air at the surface allows gar to live in low-oxygen conditions frequently found in shallow, freshwater habitats associated with coastal wetlands. Low metabolism helps them to conserve oxygen and energy, and make them near-motionless when they hunt.
    Gar tend to be slow moving fish except when striking at their prey. They prefer the shallow and weedy areas of rivers, lakes, and bayous often congregating in small groups. They are voracious predators, catching their prey with their needle-like teeth, obtaining with a sideways strike of the head. Gar feed extensively on smaller fish and invertebrates such as crabs. Shallow water, with little flow and higher temperatures are just fine for the gar. Here their colors and patterns help them blend into the environment. Appearing to be a drifting log or stick, they can sneak up on prey without being detected. Gars are generally freshwater fish but their tolerance of various water conditions allow them to successfully populate brackish waters and they can sometimes migrate out to sea.
    Spawning occurs in the spring in shallow bays and sloughs. The dark green eggs are adhesive and attach to weeds or other objects. The young are solitary, and beginning early in life they lie motionless close to the surface; in shape and color they resemble floating sticks. Both young and old accasionally break the surface to expel gases and gulp air into the swim bladder.

Alligator Gar

    Alligator gars are the largest of all gar species with a head that looks very much like an alligator's. They have long, slender, cylindrical bodies, their long snouts, and the fact that they are equipped with diamond-shaped interlocking (ganoid) scales. Additionally, the dorsal and anal fins are placed well back on the body, and nearly opposite each other. The tail fin is rounded. Their eyes are small. Alligator gar may be distinguished from other gars by the presence of two rows of large teeth on either side of the upper jaw in large young and adults. They are grayish green to brown color on their dorsal surface and yellowish or white colored ventrally. They may also have brownish spots on their dorsal surface.
    Alligator gar are usually found in slow sluggish waters, although running water seems to be necessary for spawning. They appear to spawn in the spring from April to June, concurrent with spring flooding, when they move into backwaters and flooded lowland swamps. Females are attended by several males as they lay large, sticky eggs in vegetated shallow water. The parents offer no protection to young fish and the eggs are toxic to warm-blooded creatures. Young fish may consume insects. Adults feed primarily on fish, but will also take waterfowl. This species is able to tolerate greater salinities that other gar species and feeds heavily on marine catfish when they are available. They inhabit sluggish pools and backwaters of large rivers, bayous and lakes. They rarely are found in brackish or salt water.

Longnose Gar

    Streamlined, torpedo-shaped body and long, narrow snout. The snout can be up to twice as long as the rest of the head and their mouths are lined with tiny, razor-sharp teeth. Their color ranges from light brown to dark olive with white undersides. The fins have large round spots, while the body usually has smaller spots or individual scales that are darker in color. In some specimens, particularly older ones, body spots may be missing. Younger specimens may have spots all over the body; often so abundant they almost form striping. The scales are large, bony and rough. The pelvic fins are located midway down the body, while the dorsal and anal fins are at the rear of the body near the round tail. Gar lie very still and often resemble a floating log or stick.
    Shallow, slow-moving sections of large bodies of water; often near weeds or floating logs. They can tolerate a variety of oxygen, salinity and pollution levels. They prefer warm waters and will often bask in the sun near the surface. They hunt fish a third of their size or less. Occasionally crustaceans. Gar either float motionless (mimicking a floating log or stick) or slowly stalk prey. They usually attack from the side, catching the prey across their long jaws. They will swim around thrashing to lock the prey in their teeth. Once the prey is under control it works it around to swallow it head-first. They are night-feeders.
    Mating occurs in spring when gar congregate. Females can be approached by up to 15 males at a time. During mating, the group will shake and move about frantically, helping mix the sperm and distribute the eggs. Eggs are left to settle in shallow areas, usually with plenty of weeds, gravel or debris. They are sticky and will adhere to any substrate. The parents provide no care to the eggs or hatchlings and leave shortly after spawning.
    Anglers rarely fish for gar due to their bony skin and toxic eggs. Longnose gar are tough to catch because of their peculiar feeding behavior (see below) and long, slender snout. The best strategy is to use a hookless rope lure and spinners. A garís teeth will get tangled in the hairs of the rope lure, so a hook is not needed. Fish in warm shallow areas where the water is near stagnant. Look for basking gar or signs of baitfish. Cast and then retrieve in 1-2 ft bouts. It is best to allow the "roped" gar to run a bit to ensure a good tangle.

Shortnose Gar

    The shortnose gar is the representative species of the Family Lepisosteidae. This prehistoric appearing fish is cylindrically shaped, with an elongated bony head and snout containing one row of sharp, conical teeth. The dorsal fin is located well posterior and the pectoral and pelvic fins have no spots. The skin is covered with diamond shaped ganoid scales arranged in oblique rows, providing a very protective surface armor. Scales number 60-64 along the lateral line. Color varies from brownish or olive green on the dorsal surface lightening to yellow on the sides and white on the belly. Young gar less than 10 inches in length process a black stripe along the midline. Shortnose gar may reach a size and weight of about 31 inches and about 3.5 pounds.
    Shortnose gar become sexually mature at three years of age and typically spawn in May or June as water temperatures reach the mid 60s. Adhesive eggs are deposited in quiet shallow water over aquatic plants or other submerged objects. A sticky gelatinous adhesive holds clumps of yellowish green eggs to the vegetation for 8 to 9 days whereupon hatching occurs. Gar eggs are documented as being poisonous to mammals. The diet of the shortnose gar is primarily composed of fish. However, crayfish and insects are also utilized. Young gar are known to feed on small insects and zooplankton, with fish entering the diet when gar are 1.25 inches in length. Gar is known as fierce predators of smaller fish using ambush as a primary hunting technique

Spotted Gar

    As the name suggests, the spotted gar has many dark spots on its body, head and fins. The body is a deep olive-green to brown color above, and yellowish or whitish below. Juvenile spotted gars have stripes along the sides of the body. The snout is moderately long, with the upper jaw longer than the rest of the head. There are 17-20 scales along the diagonal row from the scale at the front of the anal fin to the scale on the midline of the back, and 54-58 scales in the lateral line. Adults are generally 16-36 inches long and weigh 1 to 5 pounds, although a specimen has been caught that was 44 inches long and weighed 6 pounds. Females tend to be larger than males A spotted gar has from 54 to 58 lateral line scales and 17 to 20 diagonal scale rows, counting obliquely from the anal fin origin upward to the dorsal midline. Predorsal scales generally number from 45 to 54. The head, back, and sides are medium brown with scattered round, darker brown spots. The venter varies from light brown to cream. The fins are light yellow to brown with round brown or black spots. The spotted Gar have a profusion of dark spots on the body, head and fins.
    Unlike longnose gars, which prefer flowing water, spotted gars seem to like areas of little or no current. They are also frequently associated with floating and attached aquatic vegetation and other heavy cover. It occurs in quiet, clear pools and backwaters of lowland creeks, small to large rivers, oxbow lakes, swamps and sloughs. It occasionally enters brackish waters. The fish is a voracious predator feeding on various kinds of fishes and crustaceans. They are notable for being one of the few extant fish species with ganoid scales. The spotted gar eats small crustaceans as a juvenile, but its diet quickly changes to fish as it matures. Gar are stalkers, slowly following behind prey, until they rapidly strike at the prey from the side. Gars initially grip the prey with their sharp teeth in a sideways fashion. After the prey ceases to struggle, the gar turns it in the jaw and swallows the prey headfirst.
    Spawning season is from April to May. The number of eggs varies greatly, but up to about 20,000 green, adhesive eggs are attached to aquatic plants. Fry hatch after 10 to 14 days. Young gar have specialized pads on their upper jaws that allow them to adhere to vegetation. They remain attached to plants until they are about 0.75 inches (2cm) long. The pad is lost when last of the yolk sac is absorbed. The spotted gar typically spawns in late spring or early summer. Eggs hatch within a week, and larvae cling to aquatic plants. Growth is rapid in the first year of life, with young spotted gar reaching a length of 10 inches after the first year. Males are sexually mature in 2-3 years, and females in the 3rd or 4th year.
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