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An alligator gar caught in the DuPage River: The hows, whys and where-froms; plus Stray Cast

Jon Reith caught an alligator gar from the DuPage River, and it appears to be a pet-trade fish; plus there’s the Stray Cast.

A close look at a juvenile alligator gar caught from the DuPage River. Credit: Jon Reith
A close look at a juvenile alligator gar caught from the DuPage River.
Jon Reith

Jon Reith messaged photos and wondered whether he had caught an alligator gar in the DuPage River.

I thought, ‘‘Not a chance.’’ But Reith is a serious guy, so I tweeted photos to Solomon David.

‘‘That is most definitely an alligator gar (juvenile)!’’ tweeted David, whom I met when he was at the Shedd Aquarium and is now an assistant professor of biological sciences at Nicholls State University in Louisiana with an ongoing gar focus.

‘‘The shorter, broader snout (relative to a spotted/shortnose/longnose) and stockier body are key diagnostics,’’ he tweeted. ‘‘If you were to open the mouth, you would see two prominent rows of teeth in the upper jaw.’’

Reith, a real-estate agent, caught and released the alligator gar last Wednesday around 5 p.m. while drifting golden-roach minnows.

‘‘Fish looked very pretty and healthy,’’ said Reith, who estimated it at 14 to 16 inches.

‘‘From the pictures, it definitely does look like a young alligator gar,’’ emailed Rob Hilsabeck, a fisheries biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, who has been involved in the reintroduction of alligator gar in Illinois from the beginning. ‘‘It is not a fish from an IDNR stocking. We did not receive any fry from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year or this year. It is most likely a release by a private individual from the pet trade.’’

The last known alligator gar, about 7 feet in length and weighing about 130 pounds, that was caught by hook and line in Illinois before reintroduction began in 2010 was in 1966 from the Cache-Mississippi Diversion Channel in Alexander County. By 1994, alligator gar were considered extirpated.

David figured the gar was a yearling, so it couldn’t be from the last stocking in Illinois several years ago.

Could it survive?

‘‘Given its locality, survival likelihood seems very low,’’ David tweeted. ‘‘They aren’t adapted to those much harsher (relative to the South) Midwest winters.’’

So it most likely was a pet release.

‘‘Another opportunity to say do NOT release pet fish into the wild under any circumstances,’’ David tweeted. ‘‘Often means death for the fish and sometimes can lead to full-blown invasive species.’’

In a follow-up call, David said their latest survey down South included an alligator gar 8 feet long and just under 300 pounds, heavier than their scale.

‘‘We expect that fish to be decades old,’’ David said. ‘‘The otolith is being studied.’’

A full-length view of the alligator gar caught from the DuPage River last week. Credit: Jon Reith
A full-length view of the alligator gar caught from the DuPage River last week.
Jon Reith

Wild things suggested: ‘‘During fall migration, it is recommended that hummingbird lovers leave up their feeders for about two weeks after they sight their final bird [for stragglers].’’

Stray cast

A brawny smallmouth bass, caught and released on the lakefront, compared to a walleye, filleted and breaded for a Friday fish fry, reminds me of the Chicago dailies.