|While cruising your
boat along the shoreline, casting plugs and spinnerbaits to muskie and northerns, we see
them. While we're working along undercut shoreline flipping into weed pockets for the
largemouth bass, we see them. Even trolling for walleye we catch a glimpse of a
school, their beaks surfacing for air. But we ignore them. Sometimes we even
cast to these prolific creatures, trying to catch one. With long follows and short
hits, we don't often succeed. But since they are not considered a gamefish, we just
carry on fishing for what we set out for.
The gar pike, and yes we have lots, live in the Bay of Quinte, the Moira River and the Trent/Severn Rivers as well as many other bodies of water. There are 5 species of gar that are found in North America: the Spotted Gar, Florida Gar, Shortnose Gar, Longnose Gar and the giant Alligator Gar. Most common in our area is the Longnose Gar.
The range of the Longnose Gar extends from the St. Lawrence Seaway throughout the Great Lakes then southward to Texas and Florida. They can reach lengths of up to five feet, including their spout. Longnose Gar can weigh up to 50 pounds, though they commonly weigh much less. The Shortnose, Spotted and Florida Gars all pretty much have the same characteristics as the Longnose Gar and are widespread throughout the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River system, Florida's Lake Okeechobee, the Gulf states, Alabama, Texas and the Gulf of Mexico. The Goliath and most ferocious of the Gar family is the Alligator Gar. They can grow to lengths of 10 feet and weigh over 300 pounds. They are found in large tributaries of the Gulf of Mexico, including the Mississippi, and as far north as St. Louis and Florida. The Alligator Gar was rated among the top ten toughest fish in the world, according to In-Fisherman staff.
Here are some of the ways I use to catch these fish. You will need heavy equipment. For baitcaster and spinning rods a 6-7 feet rod rated for 15-30 pound class is recommended. One piece sticks are preferable. A flippin stick is good or even a light musky rod will do. For line, anywhere from 17 - 25 or even 30 lb. test. Some of todays braided lines will do just as well. Also, an 18 - 24 inch steel leader. Gars have teeth and lots of them. They will cut through mono like a hot knife through butter. If their teeth don't cut it, then their armored body with sharp scales will as they roll and twist into your line. So use those heavy leaders, around the 30 - 60lb class.
As for bait or lures, Gars will hit anything that resembles a minnow, such as Rapalas, Rebel Minnows and Topwater lures. Hooking into these fish is like setting the hook on a saturated floating log. With their bony beak and razor sharp, lightening fast hit, they are hard to get a good hook set into.
Once on, the fun begins, with pounding head thrashes and split second out of the water dancing. When this happens, hold on. Only 3 out of 10 strikes are landed. Trying to get a good hook up is slim with their bony beak and sharp teeth. The only soft spot on the Gar's mouth is underneath the beak, where soft tissue skin is exposed. Get a hook placement there, and you're laughing.
Another way of catching Gar is bait fishing for them under a float, with a 4 - 6 inch sucker or chub minnow. Rigged below the float, about 2 - 4 feet down, with a "quick strike" rig or two trebles along side of the minnow. Cast out to areas where Gars have been spotted, wait a while, and within a matter of minutes ... whoosh! The float goes down and starts taking off, but don't set the hook right away. Gars tend to run off with the bait for a long time before taking it down. So it's a matter of waiting and it's up to you when you're ready to set the hook. Don't be discouraged if you miss alot, that's part of the game. Just watching the float take off is the best part of this technique.
One other way of catching Gars, also far and away my personal favorite, is fly fishing for them. Nine - ten foot fly rods loaded with 8-9 weight forward floating lines and large streamer flies about 4 - 5 inches long with a stringer hook behind it. This is the ultimate in fly fishing. My leader is 4 feet of braided Dacron line. I use Fireline or Mason's, but any braided line will do. Fly fishing for gars is the next best thing to fishing for bonefish on the flats down south. I usually wade while flyfishing for them but you can do it from a boat. Wading is less likely to spook them when trying to make an accurate cast. Three summers ago I took Bob Izumi out to shoot an episode called "Gar Pike on The Fly." It was a hot day in August of '95 and we were wading the weedy flats on a shoal in the Bay of Quinte. We managed to catch a few, even Bob caught his first Gar Pike on the fly. The main thing is to have fun.
So if you're ever out on the water again fishing for bass, pike or walleye, and you see a Gar pike, take advantage of this opportunity to fish for them. It may surprise you in a way unexpected and enhance your sportfishing experience. It did for me and I enjoy going after them anytime, anyplace and any which way. Until next time,