Species Spotlight: Longnose gar

Angler Drew Gregory was targeting largemouth bass when this longnose gar hit a spinnerbait in the tailrace below a dam, a common area for this species to search for prey. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Common across North America, longnose gar are long, skinny predators

The longnose gar, Lepisosteus osseus, is one of the most prehistoric fish swimming in North American waters. It is native to much of the United States, and it has been around for 100 million years.

Longnose gar are common in all types of water throughout the Southeast and are very adaptable. Fisheries biologists believe longnose gar prefer the calmest waters they can find, but they will venture into swiftly moving water in search of prey. Rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, swamps and drainage ditches are all home to longnose gar.

These fish are one of five subspecies of gar that live in the U.S. The longnose gar, as its name implies, has the longest nose and also the skinniest. It resembles a long beak more so than a nose or mouth. The species is sometimes referred to as needlenose gar. A longnose gar’s nose is more than twice as long as the rest of its head.

The color of these fish varies widely. Usually olive brown or green with dark spots across its body, some longnose gar are all silver, and others are solid black.

A longnose gar’s snout jaws are more than twice as long as the rest of its head, meaning it’s well-named. (Photo by Brian Cope)

Needle teeth

The fish’s long mouth is full of small, sharp teeth, which the fish uses to impale prey. They then toss the prey around until they can swallow it head-first. Their diet is mainly small fish. They will eat vegetation at times.

Longnose gar can use their swim bladders as lungs, gulping for oxygen above the surface when in very shallow water or water with poor or low oxygen levels. They have been known to live for more than 24 hours completely out of water.

Spawning takes place in the spring, mainly May and early June. When spawning, a female is surrounded by several males in shallow water. The males circle the female, often splashing violently. In a single spawning season, one female can release up to 77,000 eggs.

Longnose gar are often confused with shortnose gar, alligator gar and spotted gar. They have very little food value, although a small but dedicated number of anglers swear the meat is sweet and tasty when cleaned and cooked properly.

Hook unnecessary 

They are rarely targeted by anglers, but some anglers who often encounter them will tie a short piece of frayed rope onto a hookless fishing line just for fun, as in “Watch me catch this fish without a hook.” Mistaking it for a meal, the gar will slash its mouth at the rope, entangling its small teeth.

The Mississippi state record weighed 48 pounds, 1 ounce. Don Henson caught this fish, which is also the world record for the species, at Sardis Reservoir Spillway in September 2016.

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