How to Catch Alligator Gar: Fishing Tips [2022 Update]


Updated on September 27, 2022 by

One of the most unique fish species that anglers target in the southeastern United States is the alligator gar. These gnarly creatures are capable of growing to immense sizes and often tip the scales at more than 200 pounds in some areas. 

If you’re curious about how to catch alligator gar and you’re looking for information about fishing for these prehistoric-looking fish, we’ve compiled this article on some of the most prominent alligator gar fishing tips you need to know. 

Alligator Gar Overview 

Many anglers who have fished along rivers in the southeast portion of America commonly target alligator gar. Still, others often catch them while fishing for other species like catfish or crappie. I’ve caught alligator gar in places where I didn’t expect them to be, and they are much more prevalent than many anglers realize in lakes that connect to large river systems throughout the South. 

Biologists believe that the alligator gar is a fish that’s managed to somehow survive for over 100 million years into the present day (source). While the alligator gar is native to North America, they can also be found in parts of Asia as they have been brought to different regions like Thailand illegally to be farmed and cultivated. They feed on a variety of different creatures that live in freshwater lakes and rivers. This includes everything from turtles to ducks and other small animals as alligator gar are mostly opportunistic feeders. 

Most alligator gar will grow to be about 4 to 6 feet long and typically weigh up to 100 or 150 pounds. However, there are instances where alligator gar might grow twice that size if they have the right habitat and diet. This is usually true in areas further south where the warm weather allows alligator gar to have more abundant food choices and longer growing seasons. 

alligator gar
Alligator Gar’s Teeth, Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife

Alligator Gar Fishing Tips 

Alligator gar are typically targeted using a variety of different methods that include bow fishing, trot-lines, as well as using a rod and reel. Catching an alligator gar on a rod and reel can be extremely challenging due to their immense size, and you’re usually fighting them against a river current. They might also get tangled up around large stumps, rocks or other debris commonly found in rivers. 

If you’re one of the few anglers who intend to target alligator gar using a rod and reel, you’ll need to expect to encounter a few obstacles along the way. It’s common to have snags and hang-ups when fishing for alligator gar, so if you’re in an area with a lot of debris in the water, you’ll want to use a very heavy line that will allow you to pull it free. 

You must use a long steel leader when fishing for alligator gar as this will protect your line from being cut by the fish’s sharp teeth, or having the line snapped by rubbing against underwater objects. 

Topwater Fishing for Alligator Gar

One of the most exciting ways of catching alligator gar is to use topwater lures that you might commonly expect to employ while fishing for bass or other species. The bulk of an alligator gar’s diet consists of various creatures mostly found on the water’s surface, making topwater lures a great choice for luring these fish in for a bite. 

The best topwater lures for alligator gar are typically those that closely resemble baitfish. A large topwater popper is always a good choice, especially one that has a color pattern that mimics certain types of fish found in the waterway you’re fishing in. I fish in rivers where there are abundant populations of bluegill and sunfish, so I like to use topwater poppers that have blue, orange and green colors as this usually appeals to the alligator gar in that particular river. 

One of my absolute favorite choices of topwater lures for alligator gar is the River2Sea Whopper Plopper lure. I like to use the 5-inch version of this lure in the bluegill color pattern as this is often very productive in getting alligator gar of all sizes to bite. These lures are especially effective when the water is relatively clear on rivers with good numbers of alligator gar. 

gif of a popper water in action underwater

Natural Bait 

The best way to attract a bite from an alligator gar is to use natural or live bait. This can be anything from minnows to chicken livers or shiners. These fish are not known for being overly picky, and most anglers fishing for catfish or other species in rivers or lakes where alligator gar are present often catch gar instead of the fish they’re targeting. 

The best bait for alligator gar includes:

  • Minnows
  • Chicken liver
  • Shiners
  • Carp
  • Smallmouth Buffalo
  • Mullet
  • Gizzard Shad

If you’re fishing in a river with a fast-moving current, it’s best to have a heavy sinker on your line to keep it in place and prevent it from being swept downstream with the current. If you’re fishing from a boat, you can fish without a sinker and allow the bait to float in the current using a bobber or cork. 

I’ve found that most alligator gars bite more often if you’re fishing closer to the surface using a bobber and natural bait. It’s best to use a large treble hook because these large fish can sometimes be a bit finicky with their prey. Alligator gar often hold their prey in their mouth and swim far away from the site where they initially bit the creature (or bait, in this instance) before they begin swallowing it. 

using mullet as alligator gar bait

Best Tackle for Alligator Gar

It’s best to have heavy tackle and gear for alligator gar. Most of these fish will be quite a bit larger than anything else you’re probably used to and it’s easy to get caught unprepared if you’re trying to catch something like catfish and accidentally hook a large alligator gar. If you’re specifically fishing for alligator gar, it’s best to have a fishing line that’s no less than 40-pound test. I typically use a 50 or 60-pound test if I’m trying to catch gar, and I like to also use braided line when fishing in fast-moving rivers. 

Summary of tackle for alligator gar:

  • Fishing Line: 50 pound braid line
  • Leader: Wire Trace
  • Hooks: Treble
  • Fishing Rod: Heavy boat spinning rod
  • Fishing Reel: 6000-sized spinning reel
  • Other Tackle: Bobber, Sinker

Alligator gar are known as some of the toughest-fighting fish in North America. It’s not uncommon for anglers to take more than half an hour to land a full-grown alligator gar. They usually pull extremely hard when first hooked and gradually tire out over several minutes. 

Sometimes, it’s common for alligator gar to sit completely still once they are initially hooked. When I’ve often caught a large alligator gar, I thought I had been hung on something on the river bottom for the first few moments until the fish pulled away. 

alligator gar swimming

Conclusion 

Alligator gar are quite prevalent in rivers and lakes throughout the southeastern United States. These fish are very exciting to target and are one of the largest freshwater fish species in the world. If you’re fishing for them, you can use the tips and information we’ve provided as a good head-start in catching and landing your first gar. 


Photo of author

Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler and writer whose work has been featured in magazines for nearly a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States, as well as trout fishing in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. He enjoys keeping up with the latest news and gear items in the fishing industry and is always looking forward to his next outdoor adventure. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, The Outdoor Trip, Man Can Outdoors, Global Fishing Reports, and Bassmaster.