Lake Texoma

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Garmania: The Much Under-Appreciated Gar Fish Species

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Vicious-looking teeth, armored bodies, and huge in size describes the Gar fish. Sport fisherman know this fish to be as great of a fighter as the Striped Bass, and they love to hunt and fish for them. Before this, the only thing I knew about the Gar was that they left long skeletons on the beaches of lakes and rivers. There have been no reported attacks on humans who swim in their waters, but I found out that they frighten some people. There had to be more than a skeleton to the Gar’s story. There is so much more!

The fact that Gar and Striped Bass do not like the same water temperatures leaves the options open for exciting fishing at different times of the day and year. My neighbor in Sherwood Shores, Harold Hurst, a life-long Gar fisherman, served as my guide for this article. There are four species of Gar in Oklahoma and Texas along with a hybrid species. Gar are predators, not scavengers; they eat live prey and attack artificial bait.

Gar Fishing and Bowfishing Anecdotes

In my neighborhood, we have a beach called Gar Bay, and come to find out, Harold says there are a bunch of Gar in Gar Bay. There are different methods for bowfishing and fishing for Gar. Harold has been bowfishing for Gar since he was a kid. He bought his first hunting bow when he was 12 years old by hauling hay for a whole summer just so he 

Harold built his own boat customized to his needs for how he likes to catch Gar. He mounted an air motor above the stern to serve as a replacement for a trolling motor. With this, he can navigate shallow water without the trolling motor running aground and investigate extremely shallow water during Gar spawning season. Harold installed lights across the front of his boat. He can drop his lights on the bow at night into the water. The lights do not phase the Gar’s behavior. 

Gar move into Lake Texoma in August. Striped Bass do not like hot water, but the Gar do not seem to mind it at all. In hot months, the Striped Bass move into deeper cooler waters. Harold will take a large cork attached to 2 ½ to 3 foot line (maximum) down to the hook with live bait. The Gar will grab the bait, then he sets the hook and lets the Gar run with the line. At times Harold has tied himself to the front of his boat to hunt Gar.

Harold remembered that they caught a 375 lb Gar at the OU Bio Station where Buncombe Creek flows into Lake Texoma in the 1960s. While bowfishing in an area called Limestone on the Oklahoma side with one of his childhood friends, Harold shot a Gar with 220 lb test line on his arrow. The Gar began pulling the boat to Texas, but the anchor stopped his boat, and when the arrow popped out of the water, the only thing on the hook was one 4-inch in diameter Gar scale.

In the Mississippi Bay while bowfishing, where they have bigger Gar than in Lake Texoma, Harold has wrapped fishing line around a coffee can, attached one end of the line to jugs, and the other end to the arrow. It can take up to five jugs to finally stop a Gar.

Another neighbor, Duane Dodson, used to fish for Gar on Cooper’s Creek in Gainesville, Texas, with a frayed nylon rope for a good fight when he was a kid. The Gar attack the frays on the end of the rope that you throw into the water which get stuck in their teeth, and then the Gar roll like an alligator.

Robert Dennis, in Gordonville, Texas, reported, “My grandfather was a commercial fisherman on the Mississippi River, and Gar was one of the fish he could sell anytime he caught them. My Dad has a picture of a Gar my Grandfather caught many years ago. They tied the nose to one end of a 14-foot boat and the tail to the other end, and that Gar was still sagging in the water. They taste great, kind of like frog.”

Cassie Finley, from Sherwood Shores, says, “Gar is some of the best fish I have ever tasted. It's a bit of a challenge getting past the armored-like skin but completely worth it...”

How Do You Clean a Heavily Armored Gar? (You Need Tools)

Harold said, “If a lot of people don’t give Gar the respect they deserve, then I recognize that there will be more Gar for me!” Then he explained the cleaning process:

A. Nail the snout to a 2 x 12 board about 6’ 0” long. Use a sharp hatchet to cut right behind the head taking no more than a 1” cut. Take a pair of aviation snips (tin snips), and proceed to cut from the center down toward the tail past the dorsal fin a few inches from the tail. Chop the remaining tail section off with a hatchet. Then peel the hide using a filet knife to separate the meat from the hide.

B. Then utilizing the filet knife, cut down the backbone to the end of the section, then cut the meat right over the rib cage. You will have a long boneless meat section which you can slice into ¼” pieces ready for frying.

Wait! There’s More: Alligator Gar Laws and Regulations

Of the four species of Gar, the Alligator Gar, is a protected endangered species. The other species in Oklahoma and Texas include the Spotted Gar, the Longnose or Needlenose Gar, the Shortnose Gar, and the hybrid Alligator/Longnose Gar. Wildlife Conservation professionals attribute the reduced numbers of Alligator Gar to overfishing and habitat loss. Gar like wide, slow-moving rivers, and many governments are restructuring and dredging Gar habitats through hydromodification processes leaving the Alligator Gar susceptible to extinction. (1)

Oklahoma Alligator Gar Regulations

• Alligator Gar may be caught by use of rod and reel, trotline, and throwline. Alligator Gar taken by bow and arrow, gigs, spears, or spearguns cannot be released. Alligator gar caught and placed on a stringer cannot be released (a practice called culling).
• Alligator Gar Tagging Requirements: Anglers who harvest an Alligator Gar must report their harvest within 24 hours via E-Check at wildlifedepartment.com. Check "Public Fishing Waters" special regulations for areas with additional daily and size limits. Effective July 26, 2019.
• Alligator Gar: from May 1 through May 31, angling for Alligator Gar by any method is prohibited between the State Highway 99/U.S. 377 bridge upstream to the Interstate 35 bridge
• The daily limit is one with no size limit. (2)

Texas Alligator Gar Special Restrictions and Reporting

During May, no person shall fish for, take, or seek to take alligator gar in that portion of Lake Texoma encompassed within the boundaries of the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge or that portion of Lake Texoma from the U.S. 377 bridge (Willis Bridge) upstream to the I35 bridge.

Temporary Closures

When conditions are conducive for spawning of alligator gar, the TPWD Executive Director may temporarily prohibit taking or attempting to take alligator gar in a specified area for a period up to 30 days. Examples include water temperatures between 68 to 82°F and occurrence of moderate flood levels as defined and reported by U.S. Geological Survey gauges. Notice of this action will be posted on this web page, distributed to news media, and shared through social media. The notice will specify the area to be closed and the date by which lawful fishing for alligator gar may resume.

Mandatory Alligator Gar Harvest Reporting

All alligator gar harvested from the public waters of the state other than Falcon International Reservoir must be reported within 24 hours to the department via mobile app or online.

• Report using the “My Texas Hunt Harvest” mobile app (for iOS and Android), or
• Report online.
Statewide Gar Bag Limits
• For alligator gar, daily bag limit is 1 fish of any size.
• No bag limits on other species of gar.
• Certain areas may be temporarily closed to alligator gar fishing when optimum spawning conditions occur.

Exceptions to Statewide Alligator Gar Regulations

Trinity River Alligator Gar Exceptions

From the I-30 bridge in Dallas downstream to the I-10 bridge in Chambers County, including Lake Livingston and the East Fork of the Trinity River upstream to the dam at Lake Ray Hubbard:

• Only alligator gar less than 48 inches in length may be retained.
• Daily bag limit = 1.
• Between one half-hour after sunset and one half-hour before sunrise, no person may take or possess an alligator gar by means of lawful archery equipment or crossbow unless they possess a harvest authorization.
• Certain areas may be temporarily closed to alligator gar fishing when optimum spawning conditions occur.

Falcon Lake Alligator Gar Exceptions

• For alligator gar, daily bag limit = 5 fish.
• Possession limit = 10.
• No bag or possession limits on other species of gar.
• Mandatory harvest reporting of alligator gar harvested is not required for Falcon.
• Certain areas may be temporarily closed to alligator gar fishing when optimum spawning conditions occur. (3)

Gar Conclusions

It is very important to obey the regulations regarding Alligator Gar in Oklahoma and Texas. For the record, an Alligator Gar snout closely resembles that of an alligator. Here is a website that will help people who want to identify what kind of Gar they catch: https://tpwd.texas.gov/fishboat/fish/management/alligator-gar/identify-gar.phtml


I had no clue that fishing for Gar was so wildly popular. But thanks to my neighbors, and the 39 comments in reply to my Gar post on my neighborhood website, I learned a lot, and I hope you have too! If you are like me, a person who can fish with moderate success, but spends more time on the beaches with their dogs instead of fishing equipment, you have only seen Gar skeletons. I do not know why it took me years to ask questions about Gar!

 Pictures

1. Gar Species Snouts for Identification Purposes

2. Harold Hurst with His First Gar Bowfish

3. Harold Hurst’s Customized Boat: Built by Harold

4. Harold’s Boat Motor

5. Cleaning a Gar: Courtesy Cassie Finley, Sherwood Shores

6. Gar Caught at 2019 Catmasters Lake Texoma Tournament, Courtesy Ty Nail, Cedar Bayou

 

Sources

1.https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/discover-fish/species-profiles/atractosteus-spatula/#:~:text=Numbers%20for%20alligator%20gar%20are,now%20protected%20in%20many%20areas.

2. https://www.wildlifedepartment.com/sites/default/files/2019_2020_OK_Fishing_Guide.pdf

3. https://tpwd.texas.gov/regulations/outdoor-annual/fishing/freshwater-fishing/gar-closure

 



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Lake Texoma Fishing Report from TPWD (Oct. 21)

GOOD. Water lightly stained; 73 degrees; 3.47 low. Striped bass and white bass are good on live shad, swimbaits, and slabs. Diving birds are marking feeding schools feeding on the surface throughout the lake. Largemouth bass are fair fishing Texas-rigged plastic worms, jigs, and diving crankbaits in 16-28’ with some fish moving into shallow water in the 3-10’ range. Crappie are fair on minnows near boathouses, timber and brush piles in 15-25’. Catfish are excellent on cut bait and punch bait.