Licensed fishermen interested in taking a trophy alligator gar on the Trinity River have until Sept. 30 to apply for a limited number of Alligator Gar Harvest Authorization permits available through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
For several years now TPWD has been issuing 150 of the free permits that allow anglers to use any legal means or method to kill one alligator gar over 48 inches — during day or night — from a section of the Trinity River that some experts say is one of the last strongholds for trophy-class fish in North America.
The most common methods used by winning permit holders are bow and arrow or rod and reel.
The 400-mile section of river where the restrictions are in place passes through 16 counties between the Interstate 30 bridge in Dallas and the Interstate 10 bridge in Chambers County. It includes Lake Livingston and the East Fork of the Trinity River upstream to the dam at Lake Ray Hubbard. Counties included are Anderson, Chambers, Dallas, Ellis, Freestone, Henderson, Houston, Kaufman, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Navarro, Polk, San Jacinto, Trinity, and Walker.
Anglers may apply for permits individually or as small groups of up to four people. Winners of the permits will be decided by a random drawing with notification made by Oct. 15.
The non-transferable special permits will be valid through Aug. 31, 2023. That’s when the application process starts over again. Check out TPWD website for details on how to apply.
Getting to know Gar
Alligator gar are prehistoric-looking throwbacks capable of growing beyond 8 feet long and 300 pounds during a slow growth life cycle that can last more than 75 years.
The fierce-looking fish are found in major reservoirs and river systems all around the state. The Trinity has a rich history of producing big ones. It’s a bucket list fishing destination with anglers around the globe.
Once considered a “rough fish” with no real sporting value, gator gar got some love from TPWD in 2009. That’s when the agency placed the fish under a restrictive one-fish per day bag limit that applied to recreational and commercial fishing statewide. The lone exception was Lake Falcon, where the limit was set at five per day.
The restrictive limit was meant to help protect the fish from the possibility of overharvest that scientists feared could happen under a historic no-limit regulation that afforded them no protection at all. There were also concerns because the fish may not reach sexual maturity for 10 years, and that they require specific spawning conditions that don’t exist every year.
In September 2019, TPWD lawmakers restricted Trinity River harvest regulations even more by prohibiting the harvest of any alligator gar over 48 inches and outlawing nighttime bow fishing on the river without the special Alligator Gar Harvest Authorization permit.
Permits are not required to catch and release alligator gar from the river on rod and reel, nor is a permit required to harvest fish less than 48 inches in length by legal means.
It is worth noting that the TPW Commission’s decision to tighten the noose on the harvest of big gator gar on the Trinity was made with no scientific research that it was necessary.
Another 2019 rule change made it mandatory that any person who takes an alligator gar from Texas’ public waters report the harvest via the department’s website or by mobile app within 24 hours of take. Falcon Lake anglers are exempt from mandatory reporting.
Fisheries experts claim the harvest data provided through mandatory reporting will provide valuable information they can use to monitor and manage alligator gar populations in the future.
“In order for us to manage our alligator gar populations among growing angler interest, it is crucial to know how many are being harvested in Texas,” said Craig Bonds, TPWD director of inland fisheries. “By gathering data on alligator gar harvest through the My Texas Hunt Harvest app and online, our fisheries management team will gain a better understanding of this species’ distribution, sizes, and numbers and can use that information to help manage for quality fishing in the future.”
Adding it up
Annual participation in the drawing for Alligator Gar Harvest Authorization permits on the Trinity has fluctuated since 2019, as have angler success rates.
In 2019-20, there were 347 applications for the 150 permits, including 256 individuals and 34 groups totaling 91 anglers, according to TPWD. Those fishermen harvested 71 fish, including 25 over 48 inches with three measuring 6-7 feet.
The following year — the height of the pandemic — application numbers dropped to 194 with 139 filed by individuals and 25 groups accounting for 55 fishermen. Those anglers took 40 fish, including 22 longer than 48 inches and three measuring 7-8 feet.
In 2021-22, there were 241 applications from 171 individuals and 30 groups totaling 40 anglers. They killed 44 fish, including 22 over 48 inches — one upward of 9 feet long and a pair of 7-8 footers.
As statewide mandatory reporting goes, TPWD data shows anglers have harvested 1,991 alligator gar since 2019-20, including 1,330 fish upward of 48 inches, 9-feet plus (2), 8-9 feet (12), 7-8 feet (64), 6-7 feet (192), 5-6 feet (399) and 4-5 feet (661).
Rod-and-reelers accounted for nearly 70% of the overall harvest, followed by bowfishers (22%) and passive fishing such as jug lines, throw lines and trotlines rounding out the rest.
The data also indicates a downward spiral in the number of alligator gar harvested statewide since mandatory reporting started. In 2019-20, 960 harvests were reported statewide. The number dropped to 598 in 2020-21 and 433 in 2021-22.
Bonds said the reason for the drop in reported harvests is unclear.
“At this time, we are unsure whether this is a true reflection of less harvest, less compliance with the reporting requirement, or some combination of factors,” he said. “We intend to promote the harvest reporting requirement through a variety of public engagement strategies in an effort to remind the public of this requirement.”
TPWD’s mandatory harvest data also sheds some light on where Texas’ best alligator gar fisheries might be located. The Trinity River, Brazos River, Arroyo Colorado, Lake Corpus Christi and Galveston Bay ranked among the top 10 in harvest numbers all three years.
Interestingly, Choke Canyon Reservoir near Three Rivers ranked No. 1 and No. 2 during the first two years of harvest reporting, but fell completely out of the top 10 in 2022 despite research data that indicates the population of big fish there is thriving.
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original Source: https://www.dallasnews.com/sports/other-sports/2022/09/22/deadline-approaching-for-permits-to-fish-for-alligator-gar-along-trinity-river/