The most exciting part about fishing is that you never know what exactly is fighting on the other end of your line until you reel it in.
From that magic moment the lure gets hit, thoughts start racing about the wide variety of species that could be hauled up from under the water. But, most of the time, fisherman can narrow their expectations down to a handful of common species in the area they’re fishing.
Well, a Kansas man got the shock of a lifetime when he hauled in a 4-foot 6-inch Alligator Gar that weighed just shy of 40-pounds. The size of the fish isn’t the surprising part though.
Alligator Gar are often referred to as “living fossils” since the species can trace their origins back to more than 100 million years ago. This particular strain of gar draws their name from characteristics that resemble actual alligators, most identifiably their color and their flat, broad snouts lined with big, sharp teeth. They are the largest of all gar species, with the biggest documented fish tipping the scales at more than 300-pounds and measuring more than 8-feet long.
The species is relatively rare compared to other fish throughout a native range that stretches from southwestern through southeastern Illinois and Missouri down through the Mississippi River drainage in parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma and into a small portion of northeastern Mexico.
Kansas is notably absent from that list. The only species of gar native to the state are the Longnose, Shortnose, and Spotted gar. Each of those is easily distinguishable from Alligator Gar.
With the first-ever confirmed case of the species in the state, fisheries biologists from KDPW are scratching their heads and wondering what an Alligator Gar was doing in the Neosho River. However, Connor Ossowski, a fisheries biologist with the state, said his team does believe the angler is being truthful about where he caught the fish.
Soon after KDPW was notified abou“We’re confident the information from the angler is accurate, and the fish was caught from the Neosho River. However, that doesn’t mean the fish originated from the river.”t the fish, they began investigating its potential origins.
Several states have alligator gar reintroduction projects underway that involve stocking fish raised in artificial hatcheries. All of those fish are marked with tracking tags, though, and after scanning for a tag, experts were able to determine the fish was not part of a formal reintroduction effort. The next step is to collect a DNA sample from the fish to see if that clarifies where the fish came from.
“Because most populations of this species can be distinguished from one another with a sample of the fish’s fins, another option we’re considering is genetic identification.
This will tell us if the fish came from an existing population in another state.”
If the genetic testing proves to be inconclusive, the last resort would be a process known as microchemistry.
The process would entail measuring the elemental proportion of one of the fish’s bones and comparing it to the elemental concentration of the water in the Neosho River to determine how long the fish had been in the area. If the elemental proportions don’t align, then it would become apparent that the fish was recently transplanted into the river from an outside source.
“It’s not unlikely that this fish was once somebody’s pet or purchased from a pet store and simply released into the river once it became too large.
These techniques should allow us to determine which mode of introduction occurred.”
Additional research should hopefully determine where the fish came from. While it’s pretty improbable that the fish made its way to the Neosho River naturally due to the extreme distance between the site where this gar was caught and the closest natural population.
The likelihood the fish traveled that distance is further reduced when the number of dams the fish would have had to navigate is factored in.
While the discovery of such an iconic species of fish so far from its native waters is a fascinating story, KDPW is also using the attention to remind folks that transporting and releasing any species of fish or wildlife into public waters is illegal whether the species is native or non-native.