Alligator Gar in Tennessee

Alligator Gar are among the largest freshwater fishes found throughout North America and attain the largest size of all gar species.  The largest Alligator Gar ever documented was over 8ft in length and weighed over 300 pounds.  They are also a long-lived species with individuals often exceeding 60 years of age.

The Alligator Gar once occurred throughout the Mississippi River Basin from the Gulf of Mexico to Ohio and outside of the Mississippi River basin in several coastal drainages of the Gulf of Mexico. 

The historic range within Tennessee once included all the waters of the Mississippi River basin in West Tennessee including the Mississippi River, Obion River, Forked Deer, Hatchie River, Loosahatchie River, Wolf River, and Reelfoot Lake.  

Due to lost and declining populations in Tennessee, they are listed as a protected species


Tennessee has 4 different species of gar in the state including Alligator Gar, Spotted Gar, Longnose Gar, and Shortnose Gar. 

Alligator Gar have a distinct short, wide snout (like an alligator when viewed from above) compared to all other species (see below). 

Longnose Gar have a much longer, narrower snout.

Spotted Gar have dark spots on the head and body. 

Shortnose Gar are similar in appearance to Spotted Gar but lack the dark spots found on the head. 

From left, Alligator Gar, Longnose Gar, Spotted Gar, Shortnose Gar. Photo from Etnier, David A., and Wayne C. Starnes. The Fishes of Tennessee. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1993.

Reporting Your Catch is Important for Conservation

The current status of Alligator Gar across West Tennessee is unknown.  You cannot specifically fish for or target Alligator Gar, so they must be released if caught.  However, TWRA encourages anglers to report pertinent information from incidental catches, such as the date and location of capture, and the length of the Alligator Gar. 

This data will provide important distribution, movement, and growth information needed to monitor Alligator Gar populations in West Tennessee. In appreciation for reporting this information, anglers will receive an Alligator Gar Certificate.

This information will help us learn more about the species in the state.  Submit your information by either:

1) Filling out and submitting the Alligator Gar Angler Report Form

2) Emailing information to

3) Calling the Fisheries Division at 615-781-6575

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Aren’t all gar Alligator Gar?
    All gar are not Alligator Gar.  Tennessee has 4 different species of gar including the Alligator Gar, Spotted Gar, Longnose Gar, and Shortnose Gar.
  •  Where do they live?

     The native range of Alligator Gar in Tennessee once included the Mississippi River, and its oxbows and tributaries such as the Hatchie, Loosahatchie, Obion, Forked Deer, and Wolf Rivers.  Alligator Gar are not known to occur in middle or east Tennessee.

  • Do Alligator Gar eat all the sportfish like bass and crappie?

    Alligator Gar primarily feed on fishes such as buffalo, carp, and shad.  Although they can eat sportfish like bass and crappie it is relatively uncommon and does not pose a threat to their populations.  For example, many of Texas’s most famous bass fishing lakes such as Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend have healthy Alligator Gar populations.
  • Are Alligator Gar a threat to humans?
    There have been no confirmed attacks on humans. In fact, they are quite sluggish.  Just be careful if you do accidentally catch one because they have a mouth full of teeth and are covered in sharp, bony scales.
  • Can I fish for or bowfish for them?
    No.  Alligator Gar are a protected species in Tennessee and cannot be targeted.  If you do incidentally catch one, please take a quick picture and release it.  If you send TWRA your catch information, we will send you a certificate commemorating your catch.