Arkansas State Fish: A Southern Behemoth
Oct 6, 2020 | 4 minute read
Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you’re looking for a state that has a variety of things to offer, Arkansas tops the list. Known as the capital of quartz, spinach, archery bow production, and folk music, the Natural State is also home to the Watermelon Capital of the World, an alligator farm, and the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest.

Just when you thought you’d heard enough about unusual Bear State things, enter the Arkansas state fish! Alligator Gar is exactly what it sounds like – a dinosaur fish whose parents could definitely be an alligator and a pike (they’re not, though). Don’t believe us? Continue reading and see for yourself!

One Boy’s Dream

A large Alligator Gar, Arkansas State fish, being held on top of a cooler on a boat by an angler in a green shirt.

When we say that the Alligator Gar is a dinosaur fish, we’re not kidding. They’re native to southern states of the US, where they’ve lived for more than 100 million years. Even though they look very scary with their elongated jaws and sharp teeth, they’re passive towards humans.

Arkansas declared the Alligator Gar its state fish as recently as 2019, thanks to a young boy named Henry Foster. When Henry was just 10 years old, he launched a campaign, named “Support #GARkansas” to make Alligator Gar the state fish of Arkansas.

Henry’s selling point was “Don’t be a copy-catfish! Vote for Alligator Gar!” and he constantly pointed out how tough and unique Gator Gars are. Just a couple of months after Henry launched the campaign, governor Hutchinson signed the bill, making Alligator Gar the official state fish and one young boy very happy!

Arkansas State Fish – The Looks

An Alligator Gar swimming in freshwater with sun rays, plants, and water bubbles in the back of the picture

As mentioned before, an Alligator Gar looks like a cross between a Pike and a crocodile, and they’re just as strong! They have elongated jaws, with razor-sharp teeth. The rest of their body is shaped like a torpedo, and they’re usually olive-brown. Even though they don’t attack humans, their eggs can be poisonous if ingested. Although, who would want to eat an Alligator Gar’s eggs?!

The fish regularly grow up to 6 feet in length, and they can weigh more than 100 pounds. Alligator Gar have been around for a very long time, and as you can imagine, they’re very persistent. The scale of an Alligator Gar is so tough that people used to use them as arrowheads!

If that’s not tough enough, then let’s let you in on another cool fact. They can survive out of the water, just like Snakehead! We hear you, Henry! This fish is ferocious and deserving of the state fish emblem.

How, When, and Where to Catch Alligator Gar

Lake Catherine in Arkansas where you can catch Alligator Gar

Alligator Gar are native to the lower Mississippi River basin. Besides Arkansas, you can also find them in Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma. They’ve also been introduced to Thailand and Central America. These fish love slow rivers, landlocked lakes, reservoirs, oxbows, and brackish estuarine waters.

The best time to catch them is during July and August when the warm weather creates small, landlocked lakes. At this time of year, you’ll easily notice them in the shallows where they prey for their next meal.

The best bait for catching Alligator Gar is large whole bait, such as shad, carp, perch, mullet, shiners, or suckers. In addition to this, you should use a bobber to keep your bait close to the surface. You can find more information on how to fish for these monsters here.

Can I keep my catch?

An angler kneeling in water next to a monster Alligator Gar he caught

When it comes to fish smaller than 36 inches, you can keep one a day. In order to keep an Alligator Gar larger than 36 inches, all anglers and bowfishers must have a free permit from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. But, there’s a catch. The AGFC issues only 100 of these permits every year between November 1 and December 31. You can apply for one here. The permit helps AGFC biologists gather important details on the Alligator Gar harvest in the state.

In addition to having a permit, there are a few more rules for harvesting Alligator Gar. 

  • Alligator Gar can’t be taken from the water after noon between May 1 and July 1. 
  • Specimens of 36 inches and longer may only be kept if the angler or bowfisher has an Alligator Gar Tag. 
  • Alligator Gar measuring 36 inches and longer must be tagged by an AGFC fisheries biologist before transporting the fish from the body of water where it was taken. Call 1-800-364-4263 to report your harvest.

Alligator Gar meat is edible, and some say it’s tasty. However, they’re very hard to clean and fillet because of their tough skin and scales. Their eggs are highly poisonous and you should avoid them at all costs.

Arkansas State Fish: A Freshwater Monster

A flag of Arkansas waiving in the air, blue sky in the background

Alligator Gar didn’t become the Arkansas State Fish by accident. It took an exotic fish and one boy’s dream to make the fish a legend around here. This remarkable fish offers great freshwater action and a rush of excitement to everyone who tries to catch it.

Have you ever caught an Alligator Gar? What do you think is the most fascinating thing about this fish? Let us know in the comments below!

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