The Alligator Gar (Atractosteus spathula) is the largest of the living gars and one of the largest freshwater fishes in North America. These fish are capable of reaching lengths of over 9 feet and weights of over 300 lbs. The largest reported size of an Alligator Gar is 9 feet, 8 inches. This specimen weighed approximately 302 lbs. Its native range once occurred from the Florida panhandle west into the Gulf Coastal Plain to Veracruz, Mexico and throughout the Mississippi River Basin, including the lowermost Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers. In Kentucky, the Alligator Gar is native to the Ohio, Mississippi, and lower Cumberland and Tennessee River systems. Alligator Gar are found in large and slow moving rivers, reservoirs, oxbow lakes, bayous, and bays. They are usually found in fresh or brackish water, but this species can occasionally stray into salt water.
Alligator Gar records have been confirmed from five locations in Kentucky: 1) Cumberland River, 3 miles below Dycusburg, Crittenden County (1925); 2) Ohio River at Shawnee Steam Plant, McCracken County (1975); 3) mouth of the Ohio River, Ballard/Carlisle County (1966); 4) mouth of Bayou du Chein, Fulton County (1974); and 5) Kentucky Lake at Cypress Creek embayment, Calloway County (1976). Alligator Gar have not been reported in Kentucky since 1977, despite numerous surveys. Currently, the Alligator Gar is listed as endangered by the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission and is listed as a "Species of Greatest Conservation Need" by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Wildlife Action Plan.
The last Alligator Gar to be verified in Kentucky was in 1977 when a dead specimen was found floating in Kentucky Lake near the Cypress Creek embayment. In an effort to restore this species back to the waters of the Commonwealth, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) implemented a captive propagation and stocking program in 2009. In partnership with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the KDFWR has committed to a long-term restoration effort of this species. Annually, the KDFWR receives Alligator Gar fry from the Private John Allen National Fish Hatchery. These fry are reared in Kentucky at the Pfeiffer and Minor Clark fish hatcheries prior to being released into the wild. Alligator Gar stocking sites are located in areas within the historic range of the species where suitable habitat remains.
At present Alligator Gar have been stocked in the following counties: 1) McCracken; 2) Ballard; 3) Livingston; 4) Crittenden; 5) Union; 6) Carlisle; 7) Fulton; and 8) Hickman. Restoration and research will continue in this long term project.
Please contact the following KDFWR biologists with Alligator Gar sightings in Kentucky:
Stephanie Brandt (1-502-564-7109 Ext. 4547)
Matt Thomas (1-502-564-7109 Ext. 4463)
Ryan Oster (1-502-564-7109 Ext.4461)