GarAlligator Gar 2019 Update

Alligator Gar is the largest fish native to Illinois. With records dating back to prehistoric years, this species had not been seen in the state since the last documented Alligator Gar catch in the Cache River cutoff channel in southern Illinois in 1966. Alligator Gar were officially declared extinct in Illinois in the 1990s.

In 2010, the IDNR's Division of Fisheries began an Alligator Gar reintroduction program. During that time, Alligator Gar were stocked in a few waterways, including the lower Kaskaskia River.The program had a brief hiatus in 2014 – 2015, however in 2016, this program become active again with more research backing up this stocking initiative to help ensure success of survivability.

Read more about the Reintroduction Program here.

Alligator Gar Accomplishments in Illinois for 2019:

  1. Illinois IDNR received no Alligator Gar fry to rear from the USFWS in 2019. The USFWS had a very poor production year on fry from the brood fish collection in 2019. However, on July 26th, the USFWS, Pvt. John Allen Hatchery was able to provide the Illinois IDNR with approximately 800 Alligator Gar from their limited 2019 year class. These fish averaged approximately 10 inches in length and were all tagged with Sequential Coded Wire Tags by the USFWS.
  2. On July 26, approximately 750 of these fish were stocked into Horseshoe Lake in Alexander County. Horseshoe Lake SFWA encompasses an old Mississippi River oxbow that is 1890 acres in size with a maximum depth of 6 feet. In recent years it has been occasionally reconnected to the Mississippi River with the historic floods and levee failures. This site is in the southern tip of Illinois and adjacent to Missouri and Kentucky, most likely harbored the species historically.
  3. Fifty-nine fish were transferred to the Illinois Cordova Exelon hatchery. These fish will be reared in raceways for the remainder of 2019, and will be used for propagation hosts for the endangered yellow sandshell mussel in early 2020. Like most native mussel species, the yellow sandshell requires a "host" fish for their young to attach to fish's gills throughout part of their early life stage. The plan is to stock these fish into an appropriate Illinois water in the late summer of 2020 after further growth at the Exelon hatchery.
  4. A statewide administrative rule for Alligator Gar was started in Illinois on 4/1/2019. The regulation allows the sport harvest of one Alligator Gar per 24-hour period, and no commercial harvest is allowed. Anglers are encouraged to report any Alligator Gar harvest or catches with a picture to the IDNR. An informational page is included in the annual regulation book and the number to report your catch is also shown below. Requested information will help biologists to collect data from anglers and bow fishers regarding fishing pressure and harvest. No Alligator Gar collections by the public were confirmed by IDNR Fisheries in Illinois in 2019.
  5. Personnel with the IDNR Division of Fisheries and the Exelon Hatchery completed multiple interviews with print and television media on the reintroduction of Alligator Gar in Illinois and the management plan. The overall response was positive and good biological education was provided to the public. Rob Hilsabeck with IDNR Division of Fisheries and Jeffrey Stein with the Illinois Natural History Survey were able to attend the Southern Division of the American Fisheries Society meeting in January. At this meeting they attended the Alligator Gar Technical Committee meeting, symposia and workshop. Current techniques for Alligator Gar rearing, sampling and management were shared by the leading biologists in the field.
  6. Powerton Lake is on the warm water temperature extreme for water bodies in Illinois. On 8/6/2019, a total of six Alligator Gar were collected by IDNR Fisheries(one is pictured above). Four of these fish were 10-year-old fish that were stocked as 2-year-old fish on 6/9/2011. On 8/6/2019 they had an average length of 1467 mm (57.7 inches) and 24,062 grams (53 pounds) each. Two additional fish were collected from the 9/20/2016 stocking of Alligator Gar into Powerton Lake. These 3-year-old fish had an average length of 1194 mm (47 inches) and 14,500 grams (31.9 pounds) each. All of these fish were collected with the 4" Alligator Gar gill nets. In 6 sampling trips over 6 years, we have collected 41 of the original 78 stocked fish (52.6%) from 2011! These fish had moved to an interior intake canal at this warm water power plant lake (coal fired). This interior canal has no fishing access, and a constant supply of forage of Gizzard Shad and Silver Carp. Stomach content analyses was not attempted with the high water and air temperatures. We should be able to sample them at this location for many years to come.

Report Your Catch!

If you catch an alligator gar, we are asking anglers to please call (309)543-3316 to report your catch. Fisheries biologists can gain valuable information about Alligator Gar growth and movements with help from anglers like you. Be sure to take a picture!