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Heat Wave Gar

By Mark Blauvelt

As I left the air conditioned car and walked the back of my truck, I was thinking, “What the Hell am I doing out here in this 100 degree heat in the middle of August?” I shrugged off the notion, as if on a mission, and swapped my sandals for wading boots.  I headed into the stream where even the near 90 degree river water felt good against my legs.  I wet waded into waist deep water. 

 I was headed to a favorite sweat from my brow.  Again, I thought, “Dam, its hot out here in the mid afternoon sun!”  Shrugging off the lethargy, I quietly tied on a white streamer fly and waited.  Just thirty seconds went by before I saw it, just under the surface, cruising slowly from one side of the pool towards the other. I was ready; I had my 6 wt, floating WF line, and a leader of six feet of straight 10 lb mono.

 I quickly stripped off about thirty feet of line and shot a cast just two or three feet past the cruising fish’s nose.  I let the streamer sink about a foot or so under the surface and started a simple strip retrieve.  I could just barely make out the fly in the water column as it came past my target’s pointed nose.  The fish inquisitively turned and started to follow the bait, but then slowly descended down below the fly.  I kept stripping because I knew he was under it, watching it, waiting for the right time to pounce on the fly!  

As I made the final strip before I picked up the fly there is a silver flash.  The long solid fish turned and I felt the weight of the beast as it snaked away into the pool.  Its fury was evident with a searing run that took nearly half my fly line.  The persistent pressure of my rod turned the fish, but I sensed its anger.  That anger was demonstrated as it jumped and tail-walked across several feet of the pool.  The battled headed subsurface as the feisty fish bulldogged back and forth across the pool.  As I prepared to tail the fish, it saw me and nearly jerked the rod from my hand with its last desperate surge.  The drag whined but the long limber rod did its job well, and I circled the 5 lb fish around to me to tail it.  

This sounds like a great story, but some of you skeptics are thinking “There is no way anyone can go out in August, in mid day heat and get active, feeding, jumping fish!”  I’ll tell you its true and the fish I landed is not what you are thinking.  My quarry on this day was the Long Nose Gar (Lepisosteus osseus), sometimes known as the Gar-Pike. The long nose gar is a tremendous game fish!  Remember, you read that first right here!

 The long nose gar is a native Ohio fish.  It has a wide range within the state.  Typically it’s found in all the Ohio River tributaries and can be found within these systems up through the first several obstructions.  For example, the Great Miami system has gar in its lower ranges but, with over 20 named dams along its path, by the time you near Dayton it’s very rare.  In the Scioto River system, with few dams until you get near Columbus, the species can migrate far into the central parts of the state.  Along the northern border, all the major tributaries of Lake Erie hold populations of Long Nose Gar. Again, the gar can be found in abundance to the first dams or major migration obstructions.

 Ohio fly fishers are blessed with abundant steelhead and trout opportunities during the cold season, and smallmouth bass, panfish and other species during the spring and fall.  But what opportunities are at their peak during July and August? Fishing for gar is at its very best when the water temperatures are in the high 70’s to mid 80’s. I might mention that the gar will also hit well long after even carp have stopped biting because of high temperatures! This makes them a favorite species for me to target and I look forward to fishing them when all else is shut down.

 Now, any Ohio stream angler on the water, even occasionally, has had a run-in or two with the gar.   You’ve probably found them to be quite tricky to land.  Even more likely, you’ve found the real trick to be hooking them!  Gars have a long bonelike snout that is full of small, needle-like teeth. This means they often will hit the fly or lure but when you set the hook, you either pull the lure away from them or just pull them to the surface without actually hooking them.

 The key to regularly hooking gars lies in the flies you use.  Since the long snout is full of conical teeth, which are pointed inward to hold prey, it is advisable to use longer streamers that resemble minnows. Deceivers and Clousers will get you plenty of hits, but you’ll seldom have a solid hookup.  If you’re serious about gar, check out a design commonly called the “Rope Fly”.  The rope fly is a streamer made by unweaving nylon braided rope.  You can tie the rope strands to a hook using a heavy red thread, but in reality using a hook is optional since the teeth get tangled in the rope instead of the hook!  I like the total length of these flies to be four to six-inches long.  It helps if you comb out the strands and then singe the bottom of the fly with a lighter.

 To rig a rope fly, attach it to a six foot length of 10 to 12lb test line (1X).  Any longer and you’ll have a problem turning over this big, bulky fly. You’ll find that with one false cast all the weight of the water in the fly will dissipate and you’ll really need to load the rod to punch this out more than forty feet.  Fish the fly with simple six-inch staccato strips, and keep it moving if you see a gar following the fly.  If you stop the fly, the gar will likely lose interest and swim away.  Gar can be frustrating!

 When a gar strikes it is of the utmost importance that you not set the hook!  All you will do is pull the fly away from them!  The trick is to let them pull the line tight and then pause for three or four seconds (it can feel like three or four days!) .Using this gentle technique you’ll find that if the fish is on, it will stay on until you unhook it.  When the fish grabs the streamer, it twists its head back and forth, which entangles his teeth into the rope part of the fly.

 When you go gar fishing, I suggest bringing a single leather glove.  Tail the fish with one hand and, with the gloved hand; grab them by the beak. They have very, very sharp teeth.  The teeth aren’t big, but they are razor sharp and if they thrash around and nick your hand you’ll find yourself bleeding without ever feeling the hit!  Be very careful around their mouth. 

Unhooking these fish is sometimes a two person job, especially if you are new at this. I suggest one person with forceps focus on the fly while the other angler controls the fish.  You mush push the rope fly backwards to get it untangled.  Sometimes this can take a few minutes.  Fortunately, the gar is tough and equipped with a primitive lung, so keeping a gar out of the water for a few minutes is seldom overly stressful for the fish. I like to push a pencil or short stick cross-ways into the back of the mouth to hold the jaws open.  This makes it much easier to unhook them if you’re fishing alone.  Also, be aware that the gill plates are very sharp.  Hold the fish gently behind the gill plates, preferably using a fishing glove, in the same way you’d handle a pike or muskie. 

It is important to know that if you break a fish off, or just cut the line, the fish will die.  It will not be able to open its mouth because, like an alligator, the musculature of the gar is designed for a powerful, vicious snap shut.  The gar has almost no strength to open its jaws!  It is just as important to be sure the entire rope fly is out of the mouth before releasing the fish. I’ll often sacrifice the fly so I can get the fish back in the water safely.  This is no big deal since rope flies are the easiest flies you will ever tie!  

For more information, be sure to check out the webpage for the Gar Anglers Sporting Society at www.garfishing.com

 Tight lines to all!















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