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
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”
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.
Schmeltz, Bloomingdale, IN, shows off his 12-pound longnose gar, a state
record in 2003.