Discover the Largest Alligator Gar Ever Caught in Florida

The alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) is a ray-finned euryhaline fish related to the bowfin in the infraclass Holostei.
© TKBackyard/Shutterstock.com

Written by Cindy Rasmussen

Updated: August 28, 2023

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This spectacular Alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) swims in the freshwater with sunlight rays shining on its body.

The alligator gar is a freshwater fish that can get to be 4-6 feet long and longer!

©Cheng Wei/Shutterstock.com

You are probably familiar with alligators in Florida, but what about alligator gars? Alligator gars are freshwater fish, really big freshwater fish! They average 4-6 feet long and weigh 100-160 pounds, but larger ones have been recorded. They’re torpedo-shaped fish with long snouts. From the top view, their snout looks like that of an alligator, which is how they got their name. The rows of sharp teeth also add to their alligator-like image. The only place in Florida you will find them is in the panhandle, the northwest corner of the state, but they do have some big ones there. Let’s find out about the largest alligator gar ever caught in Florida!

What is an Alligator Gar?

Close up of Alligator Gar swimming

The largest alligator gar ever caught in Florida was 132 lbs., much larger than the average of 60 lbs.!

©tristan tan/Shutterstock.com

Alligator gars are one of the largest freshwater fish. They are members of the “gar” family that includes seven different species like the longnose gar and spotted gar. The alligator gars are distinguished by their relatively shorter and rounded snout. They live in the Mississippi River Valley and its tributaries in Louisiana, eastern Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the panhandle of Florida. They are freshwater fish but can adapt to salt water, so they can be found in the brackish mixes of the Gulf as well as slow-moving rivers and tributaries. Alligator gars are large, 4-6 feet long, and covered in silver scales. While most are 100-160 pounds some can get quite a bit larger.

The Largest Alligator Gar Ever Caught in Florida

Infographic for the Largest Alligator Gar Ever Caught in Florida.
An alligator gar of this size can be 4-6 feet long.

Researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service were working to tag and trace alligator gars, and in 2011, they found the largest one ever recorded in the Yellow River. Of all of the Alligator gars tagged between 2010-2013, the average size was 60 pounds. However, the largest alligator gar ever caught in Florida was 132 pounds! One of the findings from the tagging research was that alligator gars spend their winters moving very little, preferring to float in the slough areas. But in the spring they can travel up to 40 miles in a week!

Where is the Yellow River Located on a Map?

The Yellow River is a small river near the Alabama border, just west of Laurel Hill, Florida, and east of the Conecuh National Forest. This 118-mile-long river empties into the Blackwater Bay, an arm of Pensacola Bay, leading to the Gulf of Mexico.

The Largest Alligator Gar Ever Caught in the World

The largest alligator gar ever caught in the world was 327 pounds! More than double the size of the largest one from Florida. This giant gar was 8 feet 5 inches long, for reference an average kayak or SUP is around 10 feet long. Can you imagine looking down next to your SUP to see a fish almost as long as your board?

The story behind the largest alligator gar is a great fish story. It wasn’t caught on a guided fishing tour, it was caught accidentally by a commercial fisherman, on Lake Chotard in Mississippi. Kenny Williams was using nets to catch buffalo fish. When he went to pull in one of his nets it got caught on a log…or what he thought was a log. It turned out to be an enormous alligator gar. Williams was able to pull the massive fish onto his 16-foot boat and bring it to shore to be measured. To grow to be that large experts believe the fish was between 50-70 years old with some estimates closer to 95! This record has stood the test of time with no one catching a larger one since his record catch in 2001.

What is the Largest Freshwater Fish in the World?

Biggest Fish in the World: Beluga Sturgeon

The Beluga

Sturgeon

is the largest freshwater fish in the world.

©Максим Яковлєв / CC BY-SA 4.0 – Original / License

The largest freshwater fish in the world are beluga sturgeons. These massive fish live in the Caspian Sea which borders Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran. With gray-blue scales and a humped back, they look similar to alligator gars but their snouts are a tad shorter and not as wide across. Beluga sturgeons are an average of 20 feet long and weigh as much as 3,500 pounds. The long bed of a pick-up truck is only 8 feet long, so it would be tricky hauling one of these home.

The Largest Beluga Sturgeon Ever Caught

The largest Beluga Sturgeon on record was 3,463 pounds (1,571 kg) and 23.6 feet (7.2 m).

How Does an Alligator Gar Compare in Size to an Actual Alligator?

The alligator gar (Atractosteus spatula) is a ray-finned euryhaline fish related to the bowfin in the infraclass Holostei.

Alligator gars are 4-6 feet long and 100-160 pounds.

©TKBackyard/Shutterstock.com

Some people refer to alligator gars as an alligator with fins instead of legs. There are some similarities between the two but there are also a lot of differences. Alligator gars actually can breathe air, just like alligators, with a built-in air bladder that serves as a lung of sorts. This makes them very adaptable creatures. When it comes to comparing their sizes, alligators are 10-15 feet long and weigh 400-800 pounds. The muscular arms and legs of the alligator really pack on the weight in comparison to the largest 350-pound alligator gar that simply has fins. The average alligator gar is also closer to 100-160 pounds, so much smaller than an actual alligator.

The Largest Alligator Ever Found in Florida?

 The largest alligator ever found in Florida was 17 feet 5 inches long. As there is always some debate about measurements and official records the largest animals are sometimes compared by weight and sometimes compared by length (or height, think giraffe). One of the heaviest alligators ever caught (outside of Florida) was by Mike Cottingham which was verified by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. His gator was not the longest at 13 feet 3 inches, but it weighed 1,380 pounds!

Florida man catches a gator

Alligators live in all 67 counties of Florida.

©iStock.com/LagunaticPhoto

Do Alligator Gars and Alligators Live Together?

Alligators live in all 67 counties of Florida, whereas alligator gars are only in the counties in the panhandle of the state. Their habitats could overlap in this area. They both live in rivers, lakes, and marsh areas, and can tolerate brackish waters as well. Alligators have much larger mouths and teeth and strong jaw, and can easily kill and eat alligator gars. Alligators are one of the few predators of the alligator gar. Once the alligator gars reach a size of about 3 feet there is not much else that is large enough to kill it. If an alligator ever found an alligator gar larger than 327 pounds it might pass it by and wait for something a little smaller and more manageable.


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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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