Biologists use Lake Greenlee for alligator gar research

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Arkansas's alligator gar are the source of fishing legends,including plenty of scary tales to tell around a campfire.

Yes, they can grow to huge sizes, and they are such a challenge that hundreds of people have paid serious money to go after gator gar on guided fishing trips.

But little accurate scientific information is available about the gar and how they live, said Lee Holt, fisheries biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

A research project is under way on an AGFC lake to add to this scanty database on the big, toothy fish.

About 40 young alligator gar have been marked, tagged and put into Marion McCollum Lake Greenlee on the edge of Brinkley in east-central Arkansas.

The 300-acre lake is contained within four levees with water pumped into it. That is a major plus, Holt said, because it eliminates the possibility of outside aquatic life entering the lake.

No wild alligator gar or other fish can get into Greenlee's waters to skew the studies.

Alligator gar are found primarily in the major river systems in Arkansas, especially in the lower White River, the Arkansas River and the Mississippi River.

Their numbers have declined, perhaps because of anglers hunting for them through the years.

Alligator gar are slow in reproducing, most gar enthusiasts believe.

Regulations in Arkansas have restricted the taking of alligator gar.

Fishermen must get a free permit from the AGFC before going after them, and the limit is one per day.

No alligator gar longer than 36 inches can be taken May 1-July 1.

Holt said the young alligator gar were put into Lake Greenlee in two batches, one in 2009 and another in 2010.

These fish came from the federal Pvt. John Allen Hatchery at Tupelo, Miss., and were grown to 12-14 inches long at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff before being released.

"They have plenty of food in this lake," Holt said. "There are a lot of gizzard shad, a lot of green sunfish and rice field slicks, in the lake."

Fisheries biologists believe that alligator gar feed primarily on forage fish like shad and small carp because they are easier to catch than gamefish.

One bit of evidence that the gator gar are thriving in Greenlee turned up when one of the fish was found dead, Holt said.

"It was pretty well decomposed when we got it, but the fish measured 31 inches long. If it was one we put in the lake in 2009, that's quite a bit of growth in a little less than two years."

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