Grand Lake Alligators

Alligators primarily live the southern states from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida on the Atlantic Ocean and through the southeastern states on the Gulf of Mexico to Texas. They tend to range a bit into states north of the states bordering the Gulf Coast, but not too far. Gators also live in the southern halves of Georgia and Alabama, and a corner in extreme southeastern Oklahoma. 

Are There Alligators in Grand Lake?

Grand Lake sits in the far northeastern Oklahoma in Craig, Delaware, Mayes, and Ottawa Counties, which are in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. An alligator’s physiology restricts them to living in warmer tropical areas because they cannot regulate their body temperatures. The mountain climate is too cool for them. 

No, there are no alligators in Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees. It is simply not warm enough year round. The states recording the highest populations of gators are Florida, Louisiana, and East Texas. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation confirmed the latest sighting of a gator north of southeastern Oklahoma in Rogers County at Claremore Lake. 

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) believes someone brought this gator to Claremore Lake illegally before confirmation in May 2022 because the lake is too far out of range of an alligator’s natural habitat. The ODWC decided to euthanize this 9-foot, 6-inch gator because they did not know its origin, and the area is highly populated. 

Claremore Lake is about 240 miles north of the southernmost region where gators live in southeastern Oklahoma on the northeastern border of Claremore, Oklahoma, and 40 miles southwest of Grand Lake’s southern shores. Gators cannot survive winter weather conditions that far north, nor would a gator migrate there on its own. Gators cannot survive in Grand Lake’s climate either. 

Alligators like slow-moving freshwater rivers, swamps, marshes, and lakes in tropical and semi-tropical climates. Alligators have inhabited the Red Slough Wildlife Management Area (WMA) in McCurtain County on the Red River in the Ark-La-Tex region of Oklahoma long before humans were present. Game wardens installed cameras at the Red Slough (WMA) to monitor the winter behavior of baby alligators in 2018. 

A Grand Lake alligator, like this year’s Claremore Lake alligator, would be a rare sight, and would have to be brought illegally to the lake. In the American gator’s southern homes, they bask in the sun on banks of waterways when not swimming and hunting. In winter, they spend most of their time in a semi-dormant state in burrows in banks, lairs above the land, or underwater lairs. Alligators go into brumation when the daylight temperatures drop to around 55 degrees like most other reptiles.

Is there Alligator Gar in Grand Lake Oklahoma?

The alligator gar’s name derived from their resemblance to the American alligator, specifically because of its broad snout and long, sharp teeth. Evidence suggests that an alligator gar can grow up to 10-feet long, but 300-pound, 13-footers have been caught. If allowed to mature, the alligator gar can grow from 8 to 10 feet long, the same size as a mature female alligator.

Yes, there is alligator gar in Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees, but they are not a predominant game species in the lake. Grand Lake is known for monster catfish. Alligator gar is a protected species in most U.S. states. In Oklahoma, the daily limit for alligator gar is one per day except from May 1 to May 31. Otherwise, they must be immediately released. 

Alligator gar prefer slow-moving water of rivers, bayous, and oxbows, but appear to spawn in flooded areas. They will eat birds, turtles, and game fishes such as bass and crappie, but those are an uncommon food sources for garfish. They usually feed on buffalo, carp, and shad. The ODWC began studying what happens to alligator gar after one is caught and released in 2012. It is an ongoing study. In his experiments, ODWC biologist Richard Snow, designed a hooking study with a large captive alligator gar held in large ponds at Tishomingo National Fish Hatchery. 

Snow uses a rod and reel, allows gar to run with the bait, play for 30 minutes, and then brings it ashore. Then he examines it for noticeable internal injuries such as bleeding or air loss from its vent. This controlled environment allows him to monitor the wellbeing of the garfish over a long period to detect effects of hooking that could not be studied in wild fish. Although Snow has published results on his other alligator gar studies, he has not published the results of this research study as of 2022. 

Since the beginning of this century, these giant fish have garnered a growing, almost cult-like following of anglers, and for good reason. Hang on when you hook one on a line. An eight-foot-long garfish typically takes the bait and then you for a ride. Lifting a heavy garfish over a boat gunnel may cause an internal injury in the fish, so it is a better practice to land them on the shore and keep them in the water to support them during handling times and photo ops.  

Alligator gar ancestors have been found in Permian deposits as fossils from 215 million years ago, making them one of the most ancient fishes on earth. They can live up to age 60. Alligator gar play an important role in keeping aquatic ecosystems healthy. Like sharks in marine systems, alligator gar help to maintain healthy numbers of many other fish species in lakes. 

Biologists have learned more about alligator gar in recent years, which is why they are they are a protected species. They do not damage nets or commonly eat game fish and the reputation of the species has improved. The alligator gar has become a popular target for anglers, and especially bowfish anglers. This led conservationists to develop policies of protection by law of this alligator gar in its geographic ranges to preserve its numbers. 

Conservation biologists believe native fish are not trash fish. Efforts to reintroduce the alligator gar to some U.S. bodies of water where their numbers were previously low include developing captive breeding programs for alligator gar. A captive breeding program breeds and releases garfish that are at least 12-inches long to ensure their highest chances of survival.

Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC)

Alligator gar taken by bow and arrow, gigs, spears, or spear guns must not be released. Alligator gar caught and placed on a stringer or otherwise held in possession cannot be released and culling is illegal. Anglers must cease snagging when they have taken their daily limit of alligator gar into possession.

Harvest of alligator gar must be reported by the harvesting angler to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation within 24 hours of harvest. Instructions for reporting harvest will be provided in the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Fishing Guide and on the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation website.

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