Alligator gar are the dinosaurs of Texas lakes and rivers. These prehistoric fish are some of the oldest and most unique creatures that swim in the state’s waters, and some of the most misunderstood.
Blame it on their ferocious, toothy jaws, or the fact that they have the word “alligator” in their name. But alligator gar are unjustly feared by many, hated by some, and dismissed by far too many anglers as “trash” fish.
But what other fish in Texas waterways can grow longer than 8 feet and exceed 250 pounds?
In just a moment, we’ll show you the top rivers in Texas where you have a shot at landing a fish bigger than you are.
First, let’s clear things up a bit more and set the table for one of the most unique fishing experiences you’ll find in the Lone Star State.
No case of an alligator gar attacking a human in the water has ever been confirmed. In fact, the only real danger this toothy fish poses is during the unhooking process (thick gloves are recommended).
Also recommended are heavy rods and reels, and at least 40-pound test line. Many gar anglers also employ an 80-pound or greater leader to prevent gar from cutting the line with their sharp teeth.
The bait of choice is either live or cut bait. Small carp are favored by many Texas gar anglers, but large shad, bluegill and other baitfish can work as well.
Alligator gar will strike a live fish if it’s easy for them to catch, but their large size makes them less agile than most smaller fish, and they prefer to scavenge when they can.
A size 2/0 to 3/0 hook with a good-sized chunk of cut bait is the way to go.
Several other species of gar also live in Texas. Spotted, shortnose and longnose gar all inhabit various rivers across the state, though there are few anglers who specifically target them.
Only longnose gar, which can occasionally max out at 5 feet and around 30 pounds, come anywhere near the size of an adult alligator gar. The two species are easily differentiated by the length of their snout relative to their body.
In most Texas rivers, alligator gar favor deep, relatively slow moving water. Soaking your cut bait in a deep hole near thick cover is often the best tactic. You may also see surface activity that indicates that gar are active, especially in summer.
Even in the best alligator gar waters, these fish are notoriously hard to catch. Any day in which a gar is landed is a good day, but there are also local guides on most of the best gar fishing rivers who can help put the odds in your favor.
Now, let’s get to it. The following aren’t the only places you can catch gar in Texas, but if you want to have the best chances, these are the places to bring your big fishing rods and chunky baits.
Stretching 710 miles across Texas, the Trinity River is the longest river entirely within the state lines. It begins in North Texas, where its three forks—the East Fork, Elm Fork and West Fork—join to form the main stem.
The Trinity River is the undisputed champ when it comes to alligator gar fishing in Texas. More giants have been caught here than just about anywhere else.
Almost any deep hole in the river has potential. Generally speaking, alligator gar become more abundant the farther downstream you go. Up in the DFW area, most of the gar in the Trinity River are smaller longnose and spotted gar.
Fishing for gar can be challenging on the Trinity due to fluctuating water levels and gar’s preference for snag-infested waters. The baits of choice tend to be cut carp or buffalo fish.
Lack of access is also a challenge, but the boat ramp on the Trinity River underneath the US Highway 287 Bridge, south of Trinidad, is an excellent starting point.
This launch site provides access to a stretch of river between Cedar Creek Reservoir and Richland Chambers Reservoir, which has numerous deep holes and a healthy alligator gar population.
Large reservoirs along the river, including both of the impoundments mentioned above, also contain alligator gar, though they tend not to be as common as in the river itself.
Lake Livingston, a 90,000-acre reservoir north of Houston, has especially been noted for producing some massive gar.
Backwaters and sloughs tend to be the best areas on Lake Livingston. A lot of gar are caught at the upper end where the Trinity River feeds into the lake.
Be aware when fishing cut baits in this popular Houston catfish fishery, because a giant gar may have meal plans of its own.
Flowing 120 miles through East Texas, the Angelina River could easily be called the second-best bet for alligator gar in Texas. It’s a meandering, slow-moving, often muddy river with an abundance of deep, sluggish holes.
The stretch of river below Sam Rayburn Reservoir has long been considered the best part of the Angelina River for alligator gar fishing.
Anglers can access this area from Overlook Park, which includes the Sam Rayburn dam and a boat ramp on the river immediately below it. A few miles downriver, there’s another boat ramp just off the TX Highway 63 bridge.
The Angelina River also boasts a healthy population of longnose gar, including some measuring 4 feet or more.
Longnose gar will often bite cut shad or bream more readily than alligator gar, so if it’s big ‘gator gar you’re after, use larger bait to avoid catching only the smaller gar.
Sam Rayburn Reservoir, a 114,000-acre impoundment on the Angelina River, may be better known around Texas for its bass fishing and its catfishing.
However, the big reservoir is also a good place to catch alligator gar in its own right. A massive alligator gar measuring 8 feet, 2 inches and weighing 244.5 pounds was caught in Sam Rayburn in 2014.
Areas within the few river miles above the reservoir are worth exploring too. The Angelina River unravels into a network of channels and sloughs as it enters the lake, with plenty of deep backwaters where alligator gar prowl.
Kurth Reservoir, a small and relatively under-fished lake just off the Angelina River a few miles above Sam Rayburn Reservoir, also has a sizeable alligator gar population.
Rio Grande River
The largest alligator gar ever caught by rod and reel was pulled out of the Rio Grande back in 1951. That long-standing world record (also listed in the Texas game fishing records) tipped the scales at a massive 279 pounds.
Anglers on the Rio Grande are still chasing the next record. These days, alligator gar are not quite as common in the Rio Grande as they are in the rivers mentioned above, but few places give up more fish in the 6-foot, 100-pound-plus range.
Given their preference for deep holes and warm, relatively slow-moving water, you can eliminate a lot of the upper Rio Grande from your search grid.
Most of the best gar fishing is in the middle Rio Grande, below lake Amistad and above Falcon International Reservoir.
This stretch, which meanders along the U.S. border with Mexico, is slow and plodding, with plenty of deep water in which gar can hunt. The bait of choice among local gar fishermen is cut bait in the form of carp.
There’s quite a bit of river access in and around the city of Laredo, including a network of trails that meander along the riverbank in Chacon Bat Park. A little farther upriver, Dos Laredos Park also has bank access and a primitive boat launch.
It’s also with casting around Falcon Reservoir itself, where quite a few massive gar have been caught. The Arroyo Veleno Boat Ramp in Falcon Lake County Park is a good place to start.
The Sabine River zigs and zags across 320 miles of both Texas and Louisiana.
Along the way, the river has been dammed to form Toledo Bend Reservoir. The massive 185,000-acre impoundment straddles the line between the two states and is more famous for fishing for bass, catfish and panfish including bluegill and crappie.
For gar, head to slowly moving water. Some huge alligator gar have been pulled from the Sabine River, including plenty that have topped 100 pounds. It would be a stretch to call such fish common, but you have as good a shot at one here as almost anywhere.
There is some very productive water in the section of the Sabine River above Toledo Bend. The gar fishing starts to warm up in April here, and remains solid throughout late spring and summer.
The stretch of river near the cities of Carthage and Longview is particularly well known for gar fishing. Local anglers have a lot of luck locating alligator gar between the US-79 and US-59 bridge crossings.
Within this area is a spot known as Watt Shoals (some locals just call it “the shoal”) which is always a good area to target. As always, look for gar in deep holes, especially along a river bend, below a current break, or around woody cover.
The river has a lot of fallen timber, which requires caution from boaters, but provides excellent ambush cover for gar. A boat launch is located just off the US-79 bridge, and there’s bank fishing access below FM-1794.
The Sabine River becomes low and difficult to navigate by traditional watercraft by mid-summer, which makes spring your best bet for exploring the river by boat.
Other Texas Gar Fishing Spots
Many lakes and rivers in Texas contain one or more of the smaller species of gar. When it comes to alligator gar, the options are more limited.
In addition to the rivers and lakes mentioned above, alligator gar are caught in the Neches River in East Texas, which also is known for white bass fishing.
A few have also been caught in B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir, a large lake just downstream of the spot where the Neches and Angelina rivers merge.
The Red River, in North Texas, also contains a moderate number of alligator gar, though other species are far more abundant. The Red River Basin also offers the only fishery for shortnose gar in Texas.
This river forms the border between Oklahoma and Texas, and the stretch above the striped bass mecca of Lake Texoma has produced a handful of truly monstrous alligator gar.
A 254-Pound alligator gar was caught from the Oklahoma side of the river in 2015, and is currently the largest ever caught in that state.