Who dat splash!
Who Dat Splash?
by Nick Napoda
Paddle down a bayou in Louisiana, and chances are you will see something splashing in the water.
People on our tours often assume it’s alligators, but this isn’t typical gator behavior. The majority of the
time, it’s a different kind of monster lurking below!
Imagine a ‘living fossil’, a fish that has hardly changed in 100 million years, with an elongated, toothy
snout and scales so tough they’re like a plate of armor. This is the Gar fish, and Louisiana is home to
four different species. The largest of these is the Alligator Gar, which can grow to over 300 pounds and
10 feet in length! Although the Alligator Gar is the most famous for it’s incredible size, what we typically
see observe in Manahac Swamp are their smaller cousins, the Spotted Gar – which average 2-3ft in
Spotted Gar live in slow moving water and prefer to float very still near the surface to ambush prey,
which they attack with a quick sideways strike. Sometimes you will see the movement of a gar feeding
or being startled from a distance, but observant onlookers can occasionally catch a glimpse of their fins.
If you are stealthy enough, it’s even possible to spot them in the water before they dart away – especially
from a higher vantage point. Areas around weeds, logs and overhanging branches are perfect haunts
for Gar as they help disguise their presence to the fish, crawfish, amphibians and insects they feed on.
Gar have a few interesting adaptations including the ability to live in fresh or salt water, as well as the
ability to gulp air from the surface with the help of a special duct when oxygen levels in the water are
low. Decades ago, Gar were viewed as a pest to be eradicated, but scientific research and conservation
efforts have redefined this fish’s public image and have allowed populations to rebound tremendously.
Gar are occasionally fished for sport, with decidedly mixed opinions on their taste.
I have been startled by Gar while paddling many times. In narrow, shallow, isolated bayous, large Gar
can slap the bottom of your kayak with so much force it send chills up your spine! However, just by
knowing a little bit more about them, we can appreciate rather than fear or scorn this majestic creature.
So next time you’re out paddling in the swap, now you know who made dat splash!
Picture is a spotted Gar I caught and released in Shell Beach, LA.