Angler pulls fish never documented before in Kansas out of Neosho River

Midday in Kansas
Published: Oct. 12, 2021 at 2:53 PM CDT
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PRATT, Kan. (WIBW) - One Kansas angler pulled a one-of-a-kind catch out of the Neosho River - an Alligator Gar, which has never been documented in the state before.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks says one Kansas angler caught a 4.5-foot, 39.5-pound Alligator Gar as he was fishing the Neosho River east of Parsons. This is the first time a fish of this kind has been documented in the State of Kansas.

Though not always common, KDWP said Alligator Gar are found from southwestern Ohio and southeastern Missouri and Illinois, south to the Gulf of Mexico and a small part of northeastern Mexico. These are predatory fish sometimes referred to as “living fossils” due to fossil records tracing them back to almost 100 million years.

As the name implies, KDWP said Alligator Gar can be easily identified by their broad snouts that loosely resemble the American Alligator. These are the largest gar species with specimens that weigh over 300-pounds and measure over 8-feet long.

The Department said only three species of gar are native to Kansas - Longnose, Shortnose and Spotted Gar. Longnose Gar are the most common and largest species in the Sunflower State, with a smaller snout than that of the Alligator and reaching lengths of over 5-feet.

So, KDWP said its Fisheries biologists must ask, “what’s an Alligator Gar doing in the Neosho River?”

“We’re confident the information from the angler is accurate and the fish was, in fact, caught from the Neosho River,” said KDWP Fisheries biologist Connor Ossowski. “However, that doesn’t mean the fish originated from the river.”

To find where the fish came from, KDWP said biologists have several unique options.

Because all states that participate in Alligator Gar reintroduction efforts tag each hatchery-produced fish, KDWP said staff could look for the tag. After using a wand to find any identification markers, it said staff are confident this catch was not part of a formal reintroduction effort.

“Because most populations of this species can be distinguished from one another with a sample of the fish’s fins, another option we’re considering is genetic identification,” said KDWP assistant director of Fisheries research, Jeff Koch. “This will tell us if the fish came from an existing population in another state.”

If genetic testing does not yield confident results, KDWP said biologists still have one more option.

“Microchemistry is another technique at our disposal,” Koch added.

KDWP said microchemistry is done by measuring the elemental proportion of bone on a fish and comparing it to the elemental concentration of a surrounding body of water. If there are consistencies, it said the data could help biologists find at least how long the fish had been in the Neosho River.

KDWP said it believes the fish in question could have been released from an aquarium.

“It’s not unlikely that this fish was once somebody’s pet or purchased from a pet store, and simply released into the river once it became too large,” said Doug Nygren, KDWP Fisheries Division director. “These techniques should allow us to determine which mode of introduction occurred.”

KDWP said time will tell of the Neosho River Alligator Gar made its way to Kansas naturally or if it had help. While it would be very difficult for the fish to have come to the state naturally because of the distance to the nearest population and the series of dams along the way, biologists said they will not jump to conclusions, but instead, rely on verifiable data from proven research methods.

Once the research is complete, KDWP said biologists will publish the results on its website and the Kansas Fisheries Division Facebook page.

In the meantime, the Department said it is important to remember that transporting and releasing fish or other species in public waters, whether they are native or not, is illegal.

“Transporting and releasing fish risks spreading other harmful species such as microscopic zebra mussels, fish diseases, or aquatic vegetation that might be present in the water used to transport the fish,” warned Chris Steffen, KDWP Aquatic Nuisance Species coordinator.

To report a rare species find in Kansas, email, or click HERE for more information.

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