How to Catch Garfish

Four Methods:Deciding What Variety to FishAngling for Alligator GarFishing for Longnose GarFishing for Shortnose, Florida, or Spotted Gar

Gar are a freshwater fish that lives in North America, in upwards of 100,000,000 years old. They are also great sport fish. Gar are aggressive predators, will eat nearly anything, and can put up a tremendous fight – not to mention that some grow up to 8 feet long and weigh over 300 pounds![1] If you want a memorable fishing adventure, consider rigging your lure for one of the five different varieties: Alligator, Longnose, Shortnose, Spotted, or Florida.

Method 1
Deciding What Variety to Fish

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    Read up different varieties of gar. Gar or garfish are a family of freshwater fish that live in North America, distinguished by their long, cylindrical bodies, short snouts, and rounded tail fin. They are also good sport fish. If you are thinking about trying gar, you should know that they come in several varieties, however. Take some time to learn about the different types, their habitat, and characteristics.
    • Alligator gar are probably the most striking. They are huge, growing up to 8 feet long and up to 300 pounds. Gator gar are brown or olive above and lighter underneath, with light spots, broad snout, and two rows of very sharp teeth.[2]
    • Longnose gar are very slender fish. They are smaller than alligator gar, maxing out at about 6 feet 8 inches and 35 pounds, but with a similar coloration, and most known for their elongated snouts, which are about twice as long as their heads.[3]
    • Shortnose gar lack spots. They also have much shorter snouts than longnose gar, as their name implies. The typical adult is about 2 feet long. [4]
    • Spotted gar usually grows to a length of about 2 feet, as well. Their bodies are brownish-olive, even on the belly, and are covered with dark spots.[5]
    • Florida gar have a ranged centered on the states of Florida and Georgia. They are olive-brown in color with spots, and mainly distinguished from spotted gars by their shorter snout. They grow to about 2 feet.[6]
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    Decide which variety to fish. Although gar are generally good gamefish, each variety will give you a slightly different experience and require slightly different preparation. For example, Florida gar are usually found in streams or lakes with abundant vegetation, unlike their cousin the longnose gar, which prefers open water.[7]
    • Alligator gar will pose the biggest physical demands, certainly, because of their great size. They are also increasingly rare.[8]
    • Longnose are pound for pound the most challenging of the gar family. They are built like torpedoes and their slender snout is very difficult to hook.[9]
    • Shortnose, spotted, and Florida gars are fairly easy to fish, with broad snouts that take a hook quite easily. They still put up a fight, though![10]
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    Plan an outing. Once you’ve decided which variety to fish, you’ll need to start planning your trip. You may need to do some traveling. Most gars across the Midwest or Eastern United States, but a few varieties have a much more limited range.
    • Longnose, shortnose, and spotted gar can be found throughout Eastern North America. The longnose inhabits streams, rivers, and lakes in the Midwest, while the shortnose ranges mainly in the Mississippi watershed. The spotted gar also lives in the Mississippi watershed, with a northern range near lakes Erie and Michigan.[11]
    • Shortnose gars like big rivers and lakes and don’t mind murky water as much as other varieties, while spotted gar prefer shallow open water or stagnant backwater.[12]
    • The Alligator gar was once found in the lower reaches of the Mississippi river watershed. Nowadays, it is mostly restricted to the states of Texas and Louisiana. Gator gars like slow-moving water, either fresh or brackish, and can be found in lakes and bayous.[13]
    • To get a Florida gar, you’ll have to go either to Georgia or Florida. Their range is limited to the swamps, streams, and canals, with a preference for slow water and vegetation.[14]

Method 2
Angling for Alligator Gar

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    Head south. You’ll have to go a locality where you can fish for Alligator gar, for starters. That means packing up and heading south to the lower Mississippi river and the Gulf of Mexico.
    • Places in Louisiana like the Henderson Swamp and Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans have Gator gar.[15]
    • In Texas, try the Colorado, Trinity, Guadeloupe, Sabine, or other large rivers or Lake Livingston.[16]
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    Look for prime habitat. Alligator gar spawn in the spring, around April, but the best time to look for them is in the summer in July or August or whenever is hottest.
    • Concentrate on slack water or sloughs. Gator gar like to hang out in slow waters and especially like to congregate in deep holes near shallower water, where they can surface to feed.[17]
    • Keep your eyes open for large river bends that naturally create deep holes surrounded by sandbars. Alternately, you might try an oxbow lake. These are lakes that were once bends in a large river but silted over, became cut off from the main stream, and are slack water except for during floods.
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    Bring heavy duty gear. Alligator gars are extremely large and will need very heavy gear. Growing up to 200 pounds or more, with sharp teeth, you’ll need to be well prepared and to have a clear plan for what to do when (or if) you hook one.[18]
    • Most people use a large circle hook attached to a steel leader as a rig – this is because the fish is generally pretty hard to hook. Some people use a treble hook, however.
    • You’ll want to have a stiff composite rod with pretty robust-strength test line. A typical strength is anywhere from 30 to 100 pounds and a reel capable of spinning out 150 to 200 yards.
    • Bait up with a small fish like a whole, descaled mullet. Other people will use live bait like shiners, scad, carp, or perch.
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    Work the deep pools. Cast into the deeper areas, as this is where a gator gar will most likely find your bait. Gar like to swim away once they have taken the bait, so allow it to take a bit of line before setting your hook.
    • Don’t set the hook too early. Otherwise, you will hook the fish in a poor place or dislodge the hook entirely.[19]
    • Wait for about seven second after the bobber and line take off, then set the hook. Pull hard and perhaps several times, as the setting will require a good deal of force.
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    Exhaust the fish. Once you’ve got it on the line, try to tire out the fish. Being so big, alligator gars are a tough fight and can easily injure you with either their body or sharp teeth. Slowly bring the fish in, avoiding logs and other obstructions.
    • Do not try to pull the fish aboard a boat unless it is completely exhausted. If may be useful to use a gill gaff in this instance to position the gar’s head away from others on the boat.
    • Because they are so potentially dangerous, many fishermen advise against fishing for gar unless you plan to kill them. Use extra caution if you choose to release the fish.
    • Make sure to bring along a de-hooker or pliers in order to remove the hook, if you are planning to catch and release, as well as protective gloves and arm protection. [20]

Method 3
Fishing for Longnose Gar

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    Choose your equipment. For fishing longnose gar, you’ll want a solid rod with good strength test line. It needn’t be as strong as for alligator gar, but don’t underestimate the longnose. It is still a formidable fish.[21]
    • Many fishermen will recommend a 6 foot spinning rod with a good quality reel.
    • Use 14 to 30 pound test line. Also consider getting a superbraid, like Fireline or Cabela’s Ripcord. Not only does super braid have very little give – important for setting the hook – but it also is more difficult for the gar to snap with its sharp teeth.
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    Make a rope lure. According to some fishermen, a lure made from a nylon rope is ideal for longnose gar. It is very hard from them to pull the lure free, nor can they cut the line as their teeth get entangled in the nylon.[22]
    • Take a 6 inch piece of 3/8th inch soft braided nylon rope. Then, using a lighter, melt one end and unravel the main braids from the other end. Leave about 1.5 inches for the lure head, and tie off the head with some unraveled strands
    • Take this artificial lure and tie onto your main line with a standard half-hitch or slip knot.
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    Try bait fish, alternately. Other fishermen like to use cut or live bait for longnose gar. It really is up to you. You might use a 4-6 inch minnow, for example, in which case, rig the bait through the eye on a #4 treble hook.
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    Fish your lure in open water. Longnose gar prefer open water, so cast and gently retrieve your bait, keeping the rod held high. Watch your bobber for signs that a gar is hitting the bait.
    • Like an alligator gar, a longnose gar will take off as soon as it gets your bait. Let it go for at least a minute before you try to set the hook.
    • Wait until the fish stops to swallow the bait. Then, set the hook quickly and firmly.
    • Enjoy the fight! Longnose gar as known to be ferocious fighters on the line, but they usually fatigue quickly.[23]

Method 4
Fishing for Shortnose, Florida, or Spotted Gar

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    Prepare for your outing. General rules for equipment apply to shortnose, Florida, and spotted gar as held for the longnose. These fish will give you a good fight, so don’t underestimate them when preparing your rod, line, and tackle.
    • Keep in mind that fishing for these types of gar will be rather more easy than fishing for alligator or longnose gar, mainly because their snouts are broader. This should allow you to set a hook with more ease.
    • Go again with a 6 foot spinning rod with a good quality reel.
    • 14 to 30 pound test line will work well, as will a superbraid line.
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    Bait your lure. As with other kinds of gar, many fishermen will go with either live or cut bait like shiners, perch, or scad. However, gar might also attack worms or grasshoppers. In general, they are voracious eaters and will tend to attack anything, live or dead.[24]
    • If you go with bait, use smaller fish or cut larger ones into smaller chunks.
    • Rig the bait on a treble hook. Some fishermen might recommend using a Kahle hook, but gar will sometimes swallow these whole. Removing a hook from the fish’s throat will do a lot of damage and probably kill it.[25]
    • A treble hook, on the other hand, will more easily snag the gar’s snout.
    • Another option is the Lambo lure spinner. These spinners are made specifically for gar and are smooth, so that they will not get caught up in the fish’s teeth and thus not set properly. Change the spinner’s hook to the treble to increase its effectiveness.
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    Fish away. The best time to go for shortnose, spotted, and Florida gar is the high summer. During this period you be able to find spots where gar congregate – look for them resting just under the surface of the water.
    • Cast just in front of or beyond the gar. Reel in the bait slowly with the rod held upright so that it passed just in front of the fish.
    • When the gar takes your bait, wait as with other varieties. The fish will swim away to swallow the bait, so you do not want to try to set the hook too soon.
    • Give the fish anywhere to a minute or more to swallow the bait. Then, reel in all of the slack line and give it a firm tug. Set the hook hard![26]
    • Reel the gar in slowly until it is within reach of your boat. A net may be useful to land the fish and bring it aboard your boat.

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Fishing