Gar are powerful fish and jump like tail-hooked tarpon when hooked. Landing a true heavyweight is one of freshwater fishing’s most exciting challenges.
Besides the monstrous alligator gar and little Florida gar, which are restricted to a few small areas of the country, anglers can pursue longnose, shortnose and spotted gar, which are widespread and abundant in waters from Canada to Mexico. Here are tips to help you catch them.
When and Where to Find Gar
The hot summer months serve up gar fishing at its finest. In good waters, you’ll have little trouble finding fish. They’re usually rolling noisily near the surface, especially near dawn and dusk and at night. A lung-like air bladder allows them to gulp air to aid the gills in breathing.
Gar inhabit all types of waters from small creeks to giant impoundments, but some of the best fishing is in oxbow lakes, bayous and sluggish delta rivers. Flowing water hotspots include lock and dam tailwaters, outside stream bends, sandbar/river channel abuttals, quiet backwater pools and the mouths of in-flowing tributaries. On lakes, fish in shallow reaches near the edges of woody and weedy cover.
Best Tackle for Gar
To subdue a big gar, 20 pounds or more, it’s imperative to use heavy tackle: 30- to 80-pound-test line, a stout rod and a sturdy reel with an excellent drag. For smaller, more common gars, a durable rod and reel with 15- to 25-pound-test line may be adequate. Most serious gar anglers also use several feet of steel leader as insurance against the gar’s sharp teeth and violent thrashing.
Topwater Tactic for Gar
Fishing topwater plugs is the ultimate form of gar fishing fun, but to be successful, the angler must be extraordinarily patient. The angler sights a gar on the surface, then casts a baitfish-imitation plug a few in front of it, allowing the lure to remain motionless except for an occasional twitch. If actively feeding, the fish will soon propel itself toward the bait with a furtive flick of its fins. There will be no headlong dash for the plug as you might expect. Instead, the gar will move very slowly, thinking itself disguised as a stick or log.
Do not move the lure at all when you see the gar swimming toward it. If the bait remains still, the gar will swim forward until the lure is alongside and very near its head.
This is where the fun really begins. The gar will remain stock-still so long as the lure remains motionless. But give it just the slightest wiggle and ... bam! The gar gives a sudden, convulsive, sideways jerk of its head and grabs the intended prey. In the next instant, the angler tries to set the hook with several hard upward thrusts of his rod. If he’s lucky, one of the trebles will be driven into the bony snout, and the gar will take to the air. If not, he targets another gar and prepares for another round of fun.
Catching Gar with Rope
Another successful gar-fishing tactic employs a 4- to 6-inch length of 3/8-inch nylon rope attached to a wire leader. The fibers on the loose end of the rope are unraveled for several inches, bucktail style. This “lure” is then cast and retrieved near surfacing gars, which seem to find it irresistible. When one strikes, the nylon threads tangle in its teeth, holding it securely while the angler plays it in – if he’s lucky. No hooks are required, and it really works.
Noose the Gar Nose
Another clever technique uses a lasso of sorts. A baitfish is impaled with a 2-foot piece of thin, strong wire, then the wire is fashioned into a noose that will close when the main line is pulled. The idea is to get the gar to thrust its bill through the loop or to seize the wire while trying to get the fish. A quick yank then snares it by the bill and the excitement begins.
Live Bait Fishing for Gar
Dean Peace of Jonesboro, Arkansas, fishes more conventionally. He prefers live, 4- to 6-inch-long shiners for bait, and rigs them on a 5/0 to 6/0 treble hook tied six inches below a bright orange, 4-inch-diameter bobber.
“You’ll catch a few gars using a single hook,” Peace says. “But your chances of hooking one are greater if you use a well-sharpened treble hook. I run two of the three hooks through the shiner, then cast the rig upstream and let it float back through schools of gar feeding on the surface. The big bobber is easier to see at night.”
On the August night when Lew and I fished with Peace, this rig proved extremely productive. The bobber would submerge when a gar took the shiner, then we’d wait for the fish to stop, swallow the bait and begin a second run before setting the hook.
The response was always instantaneous—several feet of thrashing, splashing gar testing our prowess with a rod and reel. Often as not, the bruisers were just too much to handle. But before the night ended, we landed several longnose gar in the 10- to 15-pound range.
Sitting on the houseboat that night, Lewis summed up the gar-fishing experience.
“This ain’t no sport for sissies,” he said. “Skeeters eatin’ you up, sweat burning your eyes. Every time you throw a bait out, it’s like casting into a castle moat full of alligators. You never know what’ll hit next, but you know it’s likely to be big and mean and have one wicked set of teeth. You don’t really feel safe unless you’ve got a .38 strapped on your leg.”
Of course, what Dean Peace said was true, too. When you tell folks you’ve been gar fishing, they’re gonna look at you like you’re some kind of alien.
If they do, just smile and act nonchalant. Remember, the folks pointing fingers and laughing won’t be crowding your favorite gar holes. And most good gar fishermen would just as soon keep it that way.