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Through the Lens

What to Do if You Harvest an Alligator Gar in IL

Mon, May 22, 2017

There’s much ado about alligator gar in Illinois these days due to the recent release of the Alligator Gar Reintroduction Management Plan. Sadly much of that ado centers around the persistent myth that Illinois waters are level full of alligator gar already. This stems from the fact that many anglers and the public tend to consider or call all gar species “alligator gar”.

The most commonly seen gar in Illinois waters are the Longnose, Shortnose, and Spotted Gar. It’s important to know the differences, and to be able to accurately identify each species.

The images shown below from USFWS are an excellent tool to use when determining which type of gar you have in hand. An additional quick method when in the field is to look for the second row of teeth in the upper jaw. While some shortnose gar will occasionally also display a second row of teeth, it’s generally unusual enough that the second row of teeth is good indicator of an alligator gar.

Although alligator gar remain few and far between it’s still possible that anglers can encounter one.  IDNR has provided us with some tips and instructions should you be one of the lucky anglers to encounter an alligator gar.

First and foremost - take great care to insure that you have properly identified the fish as an alligator gar. Use the images above, look for the extra row of teeth. If your smart phone is handy, do a quick online search for images and identification tips.  Once you are certain you indeed have an alligator gar here’s a handy guide:

What to Do If You Harvest an Alligator Gar:
Notify your regional fisheries biologist of your catch/harvest. Directions for contacting the IDNR regional Biologists can be found on I Fish Illinois web site ( in the How Do I section under Contact My District Biologist. Alternately, contact Rob Hilsabeck at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or (309) 370-5296.  Per IDNR Biologist Rob Hilsabeck, “If the fish is kept, IDNR fisheries would like to scan the fish for a potential internal PIT tag, and take the front pectoral fin ray for age analysis.”

If the fish can be safely released alive:
Measure length, girth, and obtain weight. Note location where harvested, using gps if possible.
Take Photographs:
Side view, top view, view of the mouth open showing the two rows of upper teeth.
Also include photos of the tape measure with the fish as well when possible.
Take care not to overly stress the fish during the process.

If the fish cannot be returned to the water to survive:
Follow the same procedure as above, including photographs and measurements, but also place fish in a freezer so that IDNR fisheries staff can scan the fish for a PIT tag, examine the fish and take any needed samples.

It’s an exciting time for alligator gar in Illinois right now, and all anglers can help contribute to restoration and understanding of these wonderful prehistoric native fish by notifying IDNR if they encounter an alligator gar.




“If the fish cannot be returned to the water to survive:
Follow the same procedure as above, including photographs and measurements, but also place fish in a freezer so that IDNR fisheries staff can scan the fish for a PIT tag, examine the fish and take any needed samples.”

Is there some type of agreement in place as in regards to incidental take ? If not good luck with the reports. I could see the A.gar juvenile getting mistaken for the short nose real easily, especially at night while bow fishing. You catch them on a rod and reel, no problem with a release, but bow hunting these fish is where the problems will arise. I s wish them luck.



Posted by Ringtailtrapper on May 22

FYI, I don’t hate bow fishing either, just pointing out the obvious.


Posted by Ringtailtrapper on May 22

RTT - if you look in the 2017 fishing guide, they were added to the allowable species list for bowfishing. Hopefully most bowfishers will pass on gator gar so that they have a chance to grow and thrive, but if there is an incidental take, it’s most important that bowfishers not try to hide the fish, feel like they will be in trouble etc. and in turn make the fish available for IDNR data collection.

Posted by G on May 22

G, that is the same approach that the DNR took with trappers as in regards to otters & bobcats over the years until we established seasons for both. It worked real well, and helped in many ways to gain an insight to what was happening with both species.

The thing I fear with the gar is the shear number of people, and the many different types of take the A.Gar is facing. Far more people will be participating within this project. LOL

Posted by Ringtailtrapper on May 23

I think you have a very valid concern. Couple the number of people with the unfortunate abundance of myths, misconceptions, and general hatred of gar in general, not sure how this will ultimately work out.

Posted by G on May 23

Was it ever released by DNR how many and where these gar were released? That would be helpful information for people. Maybe they did tell where and how many were released, if so I missed it. Anyone know where to find that data?

Posted by peoriacountyarcher on May 23

The management plan lists the locations stocked and the number stocked at those locations in the timeline section.

Posted by G on May 24

I just feel this whole approach is going to be an uphill challenge. The approach the DNR has taken may have worked well for certain species in the past, but that does not mean it’s a one trick pony cure for any species.

Many factors need considering within a management plan like this, I’m not sure how well though out this plan was. First the shear number of people that fish is far greater than those that hunt, so more people in the pool brings a whole slew of problems to bear.
Just disseminating the new information will be a huge task in itself. Then your having to try to change the general perception the public as concerning gar in general. Most people view them as trash fish, and many will just discard them instead of releasing them back once caught. Like I said don’t hate me for exposing the obvious, but that is actually happening, just trying to keep it real.

Maybe the best approach would have been increasing the stocking program. Fight numbers with numbers, and I ‘m not sure that approach would work either. Just hard no matter how you go about it.


Posted by Ringtailtrapper on May 27

Don’t disagree with you at all RTT - I think the points you bring up are most valid. It’s a lot to take on, and I don’t know that we will ever convince most folks that gar aren’t trash fish. Totally agree it’s going to be a big task and an uphill battle. All I can really do is keep getting the word out and teaching anglers when I run into them. Oh and keep feeding people gar so they realize how good it really is to eat LOL

Posted by G on May 27

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