Gar Species of New York (Upstate)

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About Gar

Gar fish parts

Comprised of seven species, all of which inhabit the Americas, gars are considered to be living fossils; primitive fish that have maintained several prehistoric features that modern fish have long evolved away from. Along with the bowfin, the gar is almost unchanged since the age of the dinosaurs.

Characterized by their elongate bodies, armored scales and long, thin nose, gars are ferocious ambush predators. Their slim mouths are lined with needle-like teeth, which pierce and hold on to prey like razor-sharp Velcro. As an ambush predator, the gar drifts near motionless, waiting for prey to cross its line of sight. With a lightening speed snap it snags them across its jaws and begins working them around to swallow head-first.

What makes the gar a successful predator is its ability to exploit waters that many other large predators avoid. The gar’s vascular air bladder, used to regulate buoyancy in most fish, is connected to the gar’s throat, allowing them to take in gulps of air like primitive lungs. This allows them to survive in waters with little or no oxygen content. Low metabolism helps them to conserve oxygen and energy, and make them near-motionless when they hunt. Shallow water, with little flow and higher temperatures are just fine for the gar. Here their colors and patterns help them blend into the environment. Appearing to be a drifting log or stick, they can sneak up on prey without being detected. Gars are generally freshwater fish, but their tolerance of various water conditions allow them to successfully populate brackish waters and they can sometimes migrate out to sea.

In New York State, we have only one species of Gar: the Longnose—named for having the longest snout in relation to the rest of the body. Although a large fish for our region, the Longnose certainly isn’t the largest gar in the world. That honor goes to the Alligator Gar, a native of the southeastern US that can weigh more than 300 pounds!

The details presented below generally represent adult specimens, not juveniles.

Click here for New York State sportfishing regulations

Fishing Books and Guides

New York State Gar Identification Guide

Longnose GarLongnose GarLongnose GarLongnose GarFind more images of this species on Bing

Longnose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus)

AKA: Garpike, Needle-nose gar

Identifying characteristics: Streamlined, torpedo-shaped body and long, narrow snout. The snout can be up to twice as long as the rest of the head and their mouths are lined with tiny, razor-sharp teeth. Their color ranges from light brown to dark olive with white undersides. The fins have large round spots, while the body usually has smaller spots or individual scales that are darker in color. In some specimens, particularly older ones, body spots may be missing. Younger specimens may have spots all over the body; often so abundant they almost form striping. The scales are large, bony and rough. The pelvic fins are located midway down the body, while the dorsal and anal fins are at the rear of the body near the round tail. Gar lie very still and often resemble a floating log or stick.

Size: Often reaching 3 ft in length and up to 7 pounds. Females grow faster and larger than males.

New York State record: 13 lb. 3 oz. (7/25/99) – Lake Champlain

Habitat: Shallow, slow-moving sections of large bodies of water; often near weeds or floating logs. They can tolerate a variety of oxygen, salinity and pollution levels. They prefer warm waters and will often bask in the sun near the surface.

General range: Native to the Northeast, they can be found in various large bodies of water across the state; specifically the St. Lawrence and Niagara Rivers, Lakes Erie, George and Champlain, eastern Lake Ontario, Cayuga Lake, as well as any large tributaries.

Food: They hunt fish a third of their size or less. Occasionally crustaceans. Gar either float motionless (mimicking a floating log or stick) or slowly stalk prey. They usually attack from the side, catching the prey across their long jaws. They will swim around thrashing to lock the prey in their teeth. Once the prey is under control it works it around to swallow it head-first. They are night-feeders.

Recommended baiting: Anglers rarely fish for gar due to their bony skin and toxic eggs. Longnose gar are tough to catch because of their peculiar feeding behavior (see below) and long, slender snout. The best strategy is to use a hookless rope lure and spinners. A gar’s teeth will get tangled in the hairs of the rope lure, so a hook is not needed. Fish in warm shallow areas where the water is near stagnant. Look for basking gar or signs of baitfish. Cast and then retrieve in 1-2 ft bouts. It is best to allow the “roped” gar to run a bit to ensure a good tangle.

Predators: Pretty much all larger predatory fish and some birds of prey. Gar are the fastest growing freshwater fish in the state giving them a large advantage against predation.

Stocked? Native species. Not stocked in New York State.

Reproduction: Mating occurs in spring when gar congregate. Females can be approached by up to 15 males at a time. During mating, the group will shake and move about frantically, helping mix the sperm and distribute the eggs. Eggs are left to settle in shallow areas, usually with plenty of weeds, gravel or debris. They are sticky and will adhere to any substrate. The parents provide no care to the eggs or hatchlings and leave shortly after spawning.

Nesting: No nesting habits.

Other Info.: Although often blamed for game species decline, it has been found that Longnose gar rarely feed on popular game species in large quantities. In some regions of the country they are stocked in order to help control overpopulation of sunfish and yellow perch. Gar scales are as hard as stone and can be polished for use in jewelry.

Note

Some fish images originally prepared by Ellen Edmonson and Hugh Chrisp as part of the 1927-1940 New York Biological Survey. Permission for use granted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Others were acquired from the public domain. Some are used as part of a Creative Commons license.

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