How to Catch Gar
Gar are an oddly designed, yet very powerful fish that can run and jump like tarpon and pull line like bull reds. Landing a spotted gar is really one of freshwater fishing’s most exciting challenges. These fish look slow and calm when they’re suspended in still water, but I can guarantee they’ll give you a ride once that hook is set!
What You Need to Know to Catch Gar
Fishing Gear for Gar
Gar are strong fish and require a strong fishing setup similar to what you’d use for inshore fishing. It depends on the species, but some gar such as alligator gar or longnose gar can get over 6 feet long and weight up to 100lbs. I’d suggest tackle that can handle at least a 30lb fish. Some of the rods, reels, and line I personally use are below, but also take a look at any of the inshore spinning rods and inshore spinning reels on this list, they are all perfectly suited for gar fishing.
Fishing rods for gar need to have some backbone to handle strong runs. A good starting point is around a 7ft rod with a 10-20lb weight rating on it. Rods for gar can double as gar rods, catfish rods, and inshore rods. Here are some additional gar rods if you’re looking for more options.
A well built reel with an excellent drag is a must for gar fishing. Uneven drag can cause issues with the amount of force on the line at any given time and make it more prone to snapping. I’ve experience this firsthand when trying to use a cheaper reel. I hooked a large fish and when it ran and pulled drag the reel itself would bend at the foot attached to the rod and the line would come flying off the spool looking like I do when I try to hula hoop; not something you want to see. Smooth strong drag is key, these are my go to reels, but here are some additional reels to check out if these don’t meet your needs.
Fishing line for gar should be anywhere from 20-40lb test fluorocarbon or braid. I would also recommend a wire leader since gar have very sharp teeth and can break the line quickly. At the very least use a 50lb fluoro or mono leader.
These accessories aren’t necessary, but they’re something to think about if you value your fingers, especially if you’re fishing for alligator gar. Gar teeth are sharp and with the treble hooks typically used to catch them you will have to get your hands in and around their mouth.
Bait and Lures for Gar
Gar are all about sneaking up slowly on their prey then violently lashing out with their bony tooth-lined bill to snap up minnows and baits. It is terrifyingly sneaky, but so cool to watch. Try these baits for catching gar:
Fishing Techniques for Gar
Gar fishing techniques can be very unconventional when you compare them to bass fishing or saltwater fishing. In fact some of these tactics are downright absurd, but also very effective. Give these a try, it can be very fun and a challenge to try to catch fish in a way you’ve tried before. Make sure that you consult your state fishing laws first to see which ways are legal to take gar.
Sight fishing plays a major role in fishing for gar. Almost all of gar fishing is done by locating them and then cast to a gar or school. Utilizing a topwater plug or crank is an exhilarating way to catch a gar, but you must be very patient. Once you spot a gar, cast your lure just in front of it and just let it sit there; only add the occasional twitch. If the gar is feeding it will very slowly move toward the lure, much differently than any other fish that actively strike. It uses stealth to approach and will wait until the lure is right beside it’s head. Don’t move your lure at all, just let it sit. Then give it the smallest twitch, and boom it’s on! The gar will snap at the crankbait with a sideways slash and take off with it. Give several hard attempts at setting the treble hooks into the bony bill of the gar and then hold on.
Catching Gar with Nylon Rope
Another successful gar-fishing tactic that a lot of people have heard of but never tried involves using a small length of nylon rope attached to a wire leader. Unravel a few inches of the rope to form a bucktail style lure with a fluffy end and cast it near surfacing gars. They will strike the rope and then get the fine threads tangled in their teeth. No hooks are required, and it really works well.
Fly Fishing for Gar
Throwing a lightweight fly and waiting for a gar to hit is is the closest freshwater experience you can get to tarpon on a fly. This is a huge fish with a bony mouth that will be difficult to hook and a challenge to fight. I would love to be able to catch a gar on a fly one day, it’s a bucket list item for sure. Better yet, build your own nylon rope fly and give it try.
Lasso for Gar
Fishing for gar is quite creative, and this approach holds true to that. Lasso fishing for gar sounds like it was invented in Texas. It involves snaring gar using a thin wire with a baitfish and a noose. The bait is impaled on the end of a wire and a noose is fashioned around it. When the gar takes the bait the wire noose closes around the gar’s bill and and off it goes.
In states where gar are not considered game fish you can use a bow to fish for them. This requires archery skills and a whole lot of practice and knowledge of bowfishing, but is also a fun and different way to get into gar fishing. I have never bow fished before, but I am a bow hunter and would love to give it a try. If you have a bow you can add a reel, or you can get something already setup like the Cajun Bow made by PSE
Where to Catch Gar?
The best places to search for gar are backwater creeks, slow moving stream bends, bayous, lakes edges near woody and weedy cover, backwater pools, and dams. Gar fishing starts to heat up when the water is warm. Target these fish in the hot summer months at dawn and dusk in almost any freshwater environments. Gar don’t need flow or high oxygen environments to survive, in fact you’ll see them breaking the surface to breathe – yes, gar actually have a lung-like air bladder that lets them breath air to supplement the oxygen from their gills. That’s why the can survive in shallow sluggish hot water. Geographically gar can be found along the east coast of North and Central America, and go as far west as Kansas, Texas, and New Mexico in the US.
Can You Eat Gar?
Yes you can, but be prepared for a lot of work. Take a look at those armor like scales in the pictures above, then combined that with all of the bones inside. I’ve literally come across people suggesting to filet a gar with a Sawzall and a pair of tin snips. If you ask me that is just too much work for a gar steak with an average flavor with the consistency of alligator or chicken. Also bear in mind that the eggs are poisonous. I love fresh fish as much as the next guy, but in this case I’ll keep the power tools at home and stick with the sporting value over the meat value. I can always order fresh fish to eat, too.