The Gar

Sitting on the bank of the Trinity River or on the waters of Lake Livingston, Texas, USA the ancient spotted, longnose and alligator gar can be subdued. In general, the gar family is characteristic of long slender bodies covered in rock hard interlaced ganoid scales. These fish have a nearly solid bone, beak-like face that contains many large pointed teeth. Gar have a rare characteristic found in very few species of fish: they can breathe air. Their specially adapted air breathing lung allows the fish to remain out of water for nearly an hour without dying.

The spotted gar is the smallest of these species, only getting up to a little over ten pounds and can live in fresh and brackish water. These fish live in North America, specifically in Texas, the Mississippi River, Lake Erie, and Lake Michigan. These brown and dark spotted fish live in creeks off of main rivers, particularly in backwater of the creek. These fish are caught by slowly moving the boat down the creek looking for spotted gar surfacing for air. Once you see them, cast a cut bait right in front of them. They normally suck it up right away and go down to the bottom, swimming with the bait. To attain spotted gar world records, it is necessary to go equipped with a certified scale, a sling, and light spinning tackle.         

  

The longnose gar is the second largest gar species in Texas, reaching a maximum weight just over fifty pounds. Longnose primarily live in freshwater, but have the ability to live in brackish water as well. This gar species live in lakes and rivers from Quebec, Canada to northern Mexico. In Texas they are in Lake Sam Rayburn, Lake Livingston, and the Trinity River. The longnose are the most slender of the gar and are tannish brown on top and white on the bottom. To catch longnose gar, set out cut baits with floats.  Sharp hooks are completely necessary to successfully hook and catch these fish, otherwise the bone of their jaw will not allow for a hook set and they will inevitably spit the hook out.

The alligator gar, largest of all gar species and one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, can reach an astonishing weight of nearly four hundred pounds. Most common catches are between 20 and 70 pounds. Alligator Gar are usually located in freshwater rivers and lakes, but can go to brackish  and even saltwater areas, such as the bay where the Trinity River meets the ocean. There are stories of alligator gar swimming near large bull sharks in the close coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico. This gar can be found from the Mississippi river in Ohio and Illinois to the Rio Grande river all the way to Veracruz, Mexico. They have been introduced into a few stocked lakes in Thailand for recreational fishing purposes. The largest of the alligator gar are found in Texas in the Trinity River and Lake Livingston. The alligator gar is green on top and white on the bottom. This gar is stockier than the longnose and has a short, stout mouth like an alligator with large pointed teeth. To catch these beasts, use a huge chunk of carp or buffalo fish on a circle hook with thick cable leader and a float. Throw about three or four baits on bite alarms to alert you when the fish starts to take line. Once the gar takes the bait be patient. The gar will eat the bait for almost ten minutes. Once it has swallowed the bait completely and has started swimming fast, it's time to set the hook. A good fight ensues with a possible jump or head thrash and some peeling line with screeching drag. Towards the end of the battle, the gar will be exhausted and feel like dead weight. Once the fish is back up, it gets netted and brought into the boat. Small fish are easy to weigh, but with a one hundred plus pound fish, you need to use a Scale Master electronic scale that goes up to a max of two thousand pounds. After weighing the fish, take the fish back into the water as quickly as possible.  Be sure to take photographs of the freshwater goliaths of Texas.

None of the gar in Texas are currently threatened or endangered. However, the lack of limits on these fish allows bow hunters to shoot all the gar they want just for a picture. Catch and release is always the best method since the fish may live to be caught again. Concerning the best bait for these fish, I would use shad for longnose and spotted gar, and a big chunk of carp for the alligator gar. Fishing for gar is not very dangerous, but you always have to be careful because they all have large teeth and a powerful bite. Gar species include the alligator, spotted, longnose, Florida, Cuban alligator, tropical and shortnose gar. All in all, fishing for gar is an experience of a lifetime.  

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A thick coat of bony scales make alligator gar better protected than any other fish species.

Native American indian tribes were first to harvest gar. They worked the tough scales into arrow points and breastplates. They fashioned the ribs into needles.

Early farmers stretched gar skin over their plows. The result was a tool armored like a shield. The skins were also used for covering pictures, making purses and decorating fancy boxes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) Rachel Lette caught this species of gar from Lake Marion, Georgia, USA. Notice how long the nose of this gar is.

 

 

2) Buddy Croslin caught this typically smaller mouthed gar from Sally Jones Lake, Oklahoma, USA.

 

 

3) Martini Arostegui caught this species of gar from Trinity River, Texas, USA while casting cut bait. Notice the spots on the gar’s tail.

 

 

4) Coy Kenneth Turner caught this species of gar on a piece of cut mullet from a body of water south of Port Mansfield, Texas, USA. This fish weighed 26 lb.

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Alligator Gar Bait Rigging

 

  • Since it is hard to hook gars, most gar fishermen use large circle hooks attached to a steel leader as a rig.
  • The leader is connected to the main line with a bobber attached above the leader. Line strength depends on your own preference, but remember it is quite possible that you will be tangling with a fish that weighs over 100 pounds and possibly double that! They aren't line shy so don't let that worry you. A typical all around gar fishing rig consists of a 40 lb main line tied to a barrel swivel. A 2-3' length of wire leader is then tied to the other end of the swivel with a haywire twist.
  • To complete the rig, use another haywire twist to tie a medium sized circle hook on the tag end of the steel leader. Put your hook through the bait only once.  Hiding your hook is not a priority since gars tend to be found in murky, slow moving waters.
  • For bait, use a whole mullet that has been scaled. This makes it much easier for the gar to swallow the bait. Hook the mullet through the back just behind the dorsal fin or in the lips. For smaller sized gar, use chunks of mullet instead.
  • Gar like to swim away from the other fish once it has its prey secured so that it may eat without being bothered by other gar.  It is important to let the fish take your bait and swallow it before setting the hook. When the bobber takes off, follow it until it stops. This is the fish positioning it to swallow. When the fish starts to move off again you should not try to set the hook so you don't pull the hook out. Instead, begin reeling in the slack until you come tight and hold on for the fight.
  • Be sure to carry a dehooker with you so that the release of the fish is safe for both you and the fish. If you can't reach the hook, cut the leader as close to the hook as possible so the hook may fall out on its own.