How To Catch Gar: Ultimate Guide To Gar Fishing (Tips & Techniques)
Fishing For Living Fossils
Have you ever wanted to catch a prehistoric animal? I'm not just talking about dusty bones and chipped teeth. There are actual prehistoric fish swimming in our waterways, and you can catch them in nearly every state.
I'm talking about gar. Those annoying fish that snap your line off when you're targeting catfish are actually some of the meanest fish in the United States.
They're smart, fast, and incredibly powerful. And contrary to popular belief, they're also quite tasty.
If you want to target something that’s been swimming around since long before humans decided to build civilizations, then keep reading this ultimate guide to gar fishing.
Why You Should Try Fishing For Gar
There aren't many fish in the United States that actually put up a tough fight. We have plenty of feisty fish, but modern equipment can usually overpower them within a matter of seconds. It's gotten to the point where we have to downgrade our equipment to feel challenged sometimes.
Gar fish are the exception. If you want a fish that jumps like a tarpon, bites like an enraged alligator, and swings its tail like a catfish, then you've come to the right place. Gar are incredibly vicious fish, and they'll prove to be a worthy challenge for even the most experienced fishermen.
And to make things even more challenging, they can shred through steel leaders like they're made out of butter.
These aren't the fish that you should target if you're looking for a relaxing day on the water. You'll have to stay focused, and you'll really have to work on your hooking technique if you want to catch gar. In short, they're a great way to test your fishing skills.
What You'll Need For Gar Fishing
You won't want to whip out a cane pole or an ultra-light rod for gar. Even the smaller variants are extremely powerful, and they'll burn out reels all day long. If they jump in the wrong direction, they'll easily snap a light rod in half.
Medium Heavy Fishing Rod
When it comes to fishing for gar, you’re going to want to pull out the big guns. A medium-heavy rod will be necessary for short-nose gar and Florida gar, but you'll have to upgrade to an even heavier rod if you target bigger versions like the highly sought after alligator gar.
A Reel With Plenty of Drag
You can use any type of rod that you want. Spinning gear and baitcasting gear are equally effective. Just make sure you have a lot of drag power.
Tackle Needed For Gar Fishing
The rest of the equipment that you'll need will depend on the approach you take. Here’s what I recommed:
If you're using bait, you'll want treble hooks that match the size of the gar you're targeting.
You'll also want some bobbers that are only slightly smaller than baseballs.
15-25 test line is also a requirement for even the smallest gar, and you'll want anything from 30-80 test line for the bigger variants. These aren't small fish. Even the little Florida gar can get bigger than a decent bass.
If you're using lures, I honestly suggest bringing a length of 3/8-inch nylon rope. You can make the best gar lure in the world dozens of times with a single rope, and you can do it within a few seconds.
Steel Leader Line
Regardless of your approach you'll want plenty of thick leaders that are made of steel wire. I recommend buying leaders that are at least 1-foot long. You want to keep the gar's teeth as far away from your line as possible.
The Best Gar Fishing Lure And How To Use It
This is what you'll need to make your lures. I have another article that talks about other lures, but these are the best lures for gar fishing, and you'll catch a lot more gar if you use these. You'll also save a few bucks because they're the cheapest lures I've ever used.
How To Make A Gar Fishing Rope Lure
1. Cut The Length Of Rope and Fray One End
To make these gar fishing lures, all you have to do is cut a chunk of nylon rope off of the rope I mentioned earlier, and fray it on one end. Gar will get their teeth caught in the nylon rope once they bite into it, and it'll keep you from worrying about having to set a hook or anything else. They seem to think these little ropes are bait fish.
2. Length Depends On Type Of Gar You’re Targeting
The length of your rope chunk should be determined by the type of gar you're targeting. Four inches is a good starting point, but I definitely suggest using a longer piece of rope for alligator gar.
3. Attach Rope Lure To Your Wire Leader
You want to keep one end held together. So, don't fray it all the way. You'll attach the lure by clipping it to your leader or tying it on, and you don't want to have it slip off the second a gar thrashes around.
How To Use a Gar Rope Lure
Cast Near A Gar
To use a gar lure, just cast it near a gar fish, start reeling, and pause if the gar isn't looking at it. Gar like to play with their food. They might not bite if you just pull your lure in.
Best Used In Clear Water For Sight Fishing
These are best used in clear water. You'll want to see the gar before you start casting, or you'll just end up dragging a piece of rope through the water. If you're trolling, these can be used in any type of water. You'll cover enough water that precision won't be as necessary.
How To Remove The Rope Lure
The hardest part about using these lures is removing the fish. The rope gets snagged in the gar's teeth, and it can be difficult to pull it out if you want to release the fish. If you're going to eat the gar, you can just bop it over the head before you start messing with it. I honestly recommend this method. Gar bites tend to hurt quite a bit.
Whatever you do, don't kill gar that you aren't willing to eat. It may be easier to remove the rope that way, but it's cruel to kill a fish and simply chuck it back in the water. Don't be that fisherman.
The Best Bait Rig For Gar
I prefer to use cut bait for gar. It's easier to manage, and it's more humane. You can use live bait, but cut bait will work just as well, and you won't have to worry about watching a bluegill swim around with hooks in its back. It's just not necessary to use live bait for gar.
You can use any bait fish that you like for this method. I personally prefer to use shiners or bluegill because of how easy it is to catch a lot of them, but the gar won't care very much. What gar care about the most is the way you present the bait to the fish.
How To Set Up A Bait Rig For Gar
To set this rig up, you just have to attach your bobber a few feet above your leader, clip on an appropriately sized treble hook, and shove a chunk of cut bait onto two of your hook's barbs. Leave one barb exposed to increase your chances of hooking the gar.
Try to use very fresh fish for this. If it's some junk from your freezer, it won't be as effective. I also suggest casting against the current. The current will slowly bring your bait back to you, and if a fish bites, it'll be closer to your boat. You won't have to fight very long, and that's the key to catching a lot of gar. If you fight them for extended periods of time, they'll rip right through your leader.
Other Gar Fishing Rigs
Nooses are also great for gar. I don't like them as much as rope lures because they're more complicated, but gar do have a hard time escaping them. A noose is a slipknot that dangles from your bait. If a gar bites the bait in the right way, the noose will tighten around its nose.
These are a lot easier and safer to remove from live gar than ropes or treble hooks, but there are a lot of variables that determine whether or not they're successful. I like to catch fish based on skill. Luck isn't something I want affecting my fishing experience.
Poppers and Jerkbaits
If you want to try your luck with lures, you can use poppers and jerkbaits. Go with models that are at least four inches in length for the smallest gar, and pick bigger ones as you decide to move up to bigger gar.
You'll need to yank your rod very hard to actually hook gar with these, though. It's not like hooking bass. Gar have very hard mouths. You should also expect pretty much all of your lures to end up getting destroyed, too.
How To Clean Gar
Use a Power Drill To Cut Into The Shell
Cleaning gar properly is a problem for a lot of people. First, their outer shells are ridiculously hard, and you'll need a drill to crack them open safely. Any power drill will work. Just drill holes along the spine from its head to its tail.
Note: It is always best to make sure the gar fish is dead before doing this. A solid couple of whacks over the head should do the trick.
Use Pliers To Peel Off The Hard Shell
After you get the holes drilled, you can use pliers to carefull rip off its shell. Although you're not out of the woods yet, though.
Some gar have poisonous eggs inside of them. Accidentally puncturing the eggs can make the meat inedible, and if consumed, you could end up getting very ill.
Avoid The Eggs And Carefully Remove The Meat
So, carefully remove the meat from the sides of the fish. Do not try to carefully dig out every scrap of meat. Eco-friendly fishermen like to utilize every scrap of meat, but you will most likely cut into something that can harm you if you go poking around too much. Your health is not worth a fraction of an ounce of gar meat.
Properly Dispose Of The Gar Carcass
After that, just dispose of the fish in a way that stray cats or your pets can't get to it. You don't want them eating a poisonous carcass, either.
It's not that difficult to clean a gar, but most people get scared off by the hard shells that all gar have, as you can't just run a fishing knife through them.
How To Eat Gar (Or, Can You Even Eat Gar?)
Absolutely! Gar meat is delicious! There are a few creative recipes out there, but gar balls are the best way to eat gar meat in my opinion. They're light, tasty, and deep-fried. Here's how to make them!
Fried Gar Meat Balls
To make them, you'll need:
- Gar meat
- Andy's Breading or your own cornmeal mixture
- Salt, pepper, and cayenne for seasoning
Simply chop up your gar meat into small pieces, mix it with your seasonings, roll it into balls, dredge it in your cracked eggs, roll it in your breading mixture, and throw the balls in a deep fryer with vegetable oil. There are several other complex recipes, but you can check out my other article to learn about those in-depth. This is a great starter recipe for eating gar meat.
Gar Fishing Tips
Gar fishing definitely isn’t the easiest kind of fishing you can do. You'll need to use every trick in your arsenal to consistently catch these prehistoric beasts.
To help you be more successful and catch more gar fish, I've included just about every tip I have in this section. These are the product of many years of gar fishing, and they’ll definitely help you out as you get started.
1. Spot Them First
Gar don't like to leave their immediate area to eat something fifty-feet away. If you want to entice them, you'll have to get your lure close to them, and sight fishing is going to be the key.
Luckily, gar are really easy to see. Alligator gar can sometimes reach lengths of seven-feet, and they look like giant snakes in the water. Even the smaller variants are easy to spot due to their extremely elongated bodies.
They also tend to hang out near the surface where they like to hunt, but we'll talk about that more later on.
2. Sharpen All Of Your Treble Hooks
If you're using a technique that requires a treble hook, you'll want to sharpen your hooks before you ever make your first cast. You'll also want to continuously sharpen them throughout the day. You will burn through hooks sharpening them that often, but you won't catch any gar if you don't.
You'll also notice that I have only talked about treble hooks. Don't bother with any other type of hook. A treble hook is hard enough to use on gar, and they give you three chances to snag a fish. Single-point hooks will not catch a lot of gar, and their shanks tend to be weaker. So, heavier gar might just bend them in half the second they're hooked.
3. Fish For Gar on The Surface
Most fishermen think they have to fish on the bottom of the lake to break records and catch big fish. Sometimes, that theory is warranted.
With gar, however, you won't catch anything on the bottom. They feed on the surface of the water. They can usually be spotted patiently waiting for food just a couple of feet away from the surface, and they swim up when they think they've found something worthwhile.
4. Think Bigger
You might expect to catch a two-foot long gar fish, but you should always keep in mind that is’s possible to also hook into a massive beast. Even if you do catch a smaller gar, it'll likely fight harder than most other fish you've ever caught.
You want to use fishing equipment that is stronger than what you'll think you'll need. Don't go crazy with it, though. If you're targeting Florida gar, you don't need to bring a super-heavy rod. You can get away with a medium or medium-heavy rod with those.
However, a lot of people see the smaller variants, and they think a medium-light rod will suffice. It will not suffice. It'll snap in half, and your entire trip will be ruined.
5. Be Patient
I'm sure you've felt what it's like to sit all day because the fish won't bite. Imagine sitting that long because a gar is just staring at your bait. Gar are patient fish. They will bite, and they will give you the fight of your life. However, they'll do it on their own terms. If you're not patient, you'll likely reel your lure in long before you ever get a gar to bite.
6. Use Protection
Gar have lots of very sharp teeth. You have very soft flesh. When a gar sinks its sharp teeth into your soft flesh, it hurts extremely bad, and can cause a lot of bleeding. Unless you smack every gar you catch over the head before you handle it, you need to wear gloves, and you need to use pliers to remove hooks or rope lures. Do not shove your hand in a gar's mouth.
Note: Please be respectful to gar. Just because you don't want to use protective gear. They may be vicious, but they are living creatures.
Gar aren't the useless trash fish that a lot of people consider them to be. Sure, they're annoying when they occasionally snap your line while you're targeting other fish, but they're also some of the hardest fighting fish in the United States, and they taste amazing when they're cooked properly.
If you're getting a bit tired of easy fights and having pristine equipment after a fishing trip, you should definitely try your luck with gar!