June 13, 2023
Everything is big in Texas and that includes alligator gar. But even a 200-pound gar caught and released recently to set a lake record at Lake Corpus Christi wasn't quite big enough.
According to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department social-media post, Paul Hefner broke the lake record with a 207-pound specimen caught in late May. "Move over, Rover. This 207-pound alligator gar set a new record for Lake Corpus Christi before being released back to swim another day," the agency posted on May 23. The record was caught on a jugline.
Due to its immense size, Hefner's gar captured plenty of social and media attention, despite it being dozens of pounds lighter than the state record. The gar measured 90 inches long.
It was a far cry from state- and world-record size, however. The Texas rod-and-reel record for alligator gar is a 279-pounder caught in 1951 in the Rio Grande River by Bill Valverde. That fish also is recognized as the world record by the International Game Fish Association. The state alternate-methods record is a stunning 302-pounder caught on a trotline on Jan. 1, 1953 by T.C. Pierce, Jr. at the Nueces River, the same river that feeds Lake Corpus Christi.
Hefner's fish was longer than the state length record. The Texas catch-and-release record for alligator gar, also caught in Lake Corpus Christi, is 89 inches (Manuel Vargas, Jr.; March 26, 2023).
Texas has a strong alligator gar population, and triple-digit catches are common. If you’re looking to battle a 200-pounder, you have many options. The famed Trinity River, a world-class hotspot for the species, or even further south at Lake Corpus Christi, are must-fish waters for gar anglers.
The TPWD rates the fishing for alligator gar at the 18,256-acre Lake Corpus Christi as excellent. Some of that angling reputation is likely due to the features of the lake, including water quality, vegetation like cattails and water hyacinth, and depth of 60 feet or less as the Nueces River feeds in.
Back to the Lone Star State record book, TPWD's private water body rod and reel record for the species is a 202-pound alligator gar caught by Joshua Unruh on March 2, 2003. For junior anglers, the state record is an 84-pounder caught on July 9, 2012 in the Trinity River by Blake Wilkinson. And the TPWD state record for fly-rod anglers—yup, these aquatic dinosaurs can be caught on the fly—is a 40.7-pound alligator gar caught by Ryan S. King on Aug. 1, 2020 as he fished the Brazos River with a Red Dragon fly.
For bowfishing enthusiasts, the benchmark alligator gar for Texas is a 290-pound specimen that measured 96 inches long when it was arrowed on July 8, 2001 in the Trinity River by Marty McClellan.
If 2023 seems like a particularly good year for gar anglers, it has been. In fact, back in April the Houston Chronicle newspaper reported that angler Art Weston of Union, Ky., came to Texas seeking a record-breaking alligator gar on a trip with Trinity River guide Capt. Kirk Kirkland, a specialist in chasing these fish. During that trip, they were able to catch and release a 251-pound alligator gar that stands poised to beat the IGFA world record for alligator gar in the 80-pound line class by nearly 60 pounds.
And that came on the heels of a monster alligator gar that was caught and released last spring, a fish that looks to be among the biggest ever observed for the species. It was caught on May 5, 2022 in an unnamed southeast Texas river by YouTube angler Payton Moore and was reported to be 8 feet, 2 inches, or 98 inches, and estimated at 300 pounds in weight when it was caught.
As big and scary-looking as these fish might look, they are actually much calmer than you’d think. They are typically sluggish and docile, and not really a threat to people according to TPWD.
TPWD has an entire section dedicated to alligator gar, which are under increasing pressure. The agency has restrictive statewide limits in place for alligator gar, allowing no more than one fish of any size to be harvested. Anglers have to enter a permit drawing for a harvest tag.
All alligator gar harvested from Texas public waters other than Falcon International Reservoir must be reported to TPWD within 24 hours of harvest. The taking or attempted taking of alligator gar is currently prohibited in specific areas of the state for a period of up to 30 days when spawning conditions are conducive for alligator gar to produce their offspring.
"Most people remember their first encounter with an alligator gar," the TPWD says. "In the world of fishes, their appearance is striking. Alligator gar get big — really big — and they look like something that should be swimming around with dinosaurs, not bass and crappie."