"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Rough Fishing--Gar
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

Yes, it is exciting to hold a fishing rod when a husky largemouth bass has smashed an artificial lure, and the same can be said about hooking any of our other so-called game fish.  But I can remember fishing adventures for rough fish that were just as exciting. 

Take, for example, the garfish. Bill James, chief of the Division of Fish and Wildlife’s Fisheries Section for well over 30 years, tells me Hoosier waters host three species of gars. 

They are longnose (Lepisosteus osseus), shortnose (Lepisosteus  platostomus), and spotted (Lepisosteus oculatus). 

James also says that while Hoosier waters host all of the three species, the longnose gar is more widely distributed, and consequently is taken by anglers more often. 

Still, for every gar taken on conventional fishing tackle, there are many others that took a bait (natural or artificial) and were not hooked because their bill-like mouths are bony. 

Separating the longnose gar from its fellow critters is fairly simple by observing the bills of the three. As the name suggests, the longnose species has a long, thin nose, which tends to suggest the term,  “needle-nose.” In addition to a shorter, stouter “bill,” the spotted gar also shows dark spots on an otherwise olive drab, greenish body. 

James says the spotted gar is most at home in Indiana’s northeastern lakes, but the three species could be found in any Hoosier waters. 

The longnose gar’s ability to take and artificial lure or natural bait without getting hooked, and its propensity for stacking up like cordwood in deep holes of rivers in the dog days of summer, brought about many exciting encounters with the species when I was a kid on the Muscatatuck River. 

My dad had started me bass fishing with a five-foot solid steel rod and a South Bend No. 450 bait-casting reel loaded with 15-pound-test braided line. That I would observe gars stacked up in deep holes was inevitable, and it was just as certain that I would try to catch them. 

Thus, when I found them floating motionless a few inches below the surface of the water, I would cast artificial lures a foot or so in front of them. 

Most of the time they would ignore my lures, but eventually I would learn that they liked light-colored lures, especially the long, white pork rind that I often used with the Johnson Silver Minnow, a spoon like lure that wobbled as it was retrieved. 

The fish would dart out and grab the pork strip, but could not be hooked. 

Before many such encounters, boyish intuition prompted me to fashion lassos of light copper wire that could be attached to the hook of the spoon and allowed to trail with the pork strip. 

When a gar grasped the pork strip, occasionally it also would be snared by the copper wire loops and I would be “hooked up” with something that resembled a fast freight train. 

Although gars are seldom hooked when they take a minnow--they tend to release the bait before it is swallowed--I once watched as a fishing friend hooked and landed a  gar that probably weight eight or ten pounds. 

My friend had one of the old level-wind Bakelight reels loaded with 50-pound-test line. He was fishing a four-inch live minnow for bass, and assumed a bass had taken his bit when the bobber sank. 

In true bass-fishing procedure, he paid out line to give the bass plenty of time to swallow the bait. When he finally set the hook, the pool of water exploded. 

The fish was fairly close when my friend set the hook, and, as the fish took line, the reel screamed and its “nuts and bolts” flew in all directions. Eventually the reel spool seized and my friend landed the fish in a “hand-over-hand” battle. 

Although gars are not considered edible, we took this fish home and my friend’s mother fried some of the white meat. I did not find it particularly tasty, but I can see how it would be better than being hungry. Eggs of gars are said to be toxic. 

The state record for longnose gar is 18.42 pounds. Vernon Young Jr., Petersburg, took this 53-inch fish from the west fork of White River in 2004.  The previous record for the species was a 12-pound, 46-incher taken by Jeff Schmeltz, Bloomingdale, IN, from Sugar Creek in Parke County. 

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

12pounder.jpg (63973 bytes)
Jeff Schmeltz, Bloomingdale, IN, shows off his 12-pound longnose gar, a state record in 2003. 


All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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