Longnose Gar caught on a white and yellow streamer
Fly fishing for longnose gar is not only a unique way to catch a unique species, but it’s also a lot of fun! Most fly presentations are readily accepted by these prehistoric species, who also put up a terrific fight. I’m shocked it isn’t more well-known.
The majority of gar fly fishing is done with the naked eye. You’ll be sight fishing a lot. Casting and collecting streamers past the sun-baked nose of a gar. If you’re lucky, the gar will take its time getting into position before striking at your fly. If you successfully hook up, you will be treated to an exciting fight.
These fish are far more powerful and lively than they appear. The acrobatic abilities of longnose gar are outstanding. When you hook into one of these fish, you should expect spectacular jumps and head thrashing. Overall, gar is a fun sport fishery that is underappreciated.
The following tips and experiences are specific to catching longnose gar on the fly. Fly fishing for spotted gar, Florida gar, and shortnose gar can also be done with this advise.
The alligator gar is the largest gar species. Much of the information stated below can also be applied to these monsters… However, you’ll need to measure everything (fly rod, fly line, flies, etc).
When and Where Should You Go Garfishing?
Gar fishing is greatest during the long, hot summer days, when many other fish species become sedentary.
Gar prefer slow-moving water, even if it is stagnant. They have vascularized swimbladders that operate as “primitive lungs.” They may take advantage of habitats with oxygen-depleted water thanks to these “lungs.” Many fish species would perish in oxygen-depleted water, but gar can take a breath of air rather than relying only on their gills.
This is one of the easiest ways to locate gar. Take some time to inspect the water surface when you arrive at a new fishing area before you begin fishing. Gar frequently raise their snout out of the water while they take a breath.
They can often be found sunning themselves in back bays, on the island’s downstream side, or on wide-open flats. Basically, somewhere where there is little to no current and some prey species. Minnows are their preferred prey, but they may also eat frogs in a stagnant back bay.
You might think that lakes and ponds are perfect gar habitats, but I’ve had more luck finding them on larger rivers with plenty of calm sections.
If there is a lot of boat traffic, try to find a more quiet location. Gar are frequently driven from the surface (making them difficult to target) or from the region completely by heavy boat activity.
Garfishing with a fly rod
Gar are not as spooky as trout or carp, but they can still be frightened. When approaching the fish, try not to cast shadows on them or make too much noise.
Cast a streamer into the gar’s nose, preferably perpendicular to the fish. The streamer should be retrieved a few inches in front of the animal’s snout. As the fly passes in front of the fish, the gar should snap at it. The gar may also follow the fly for a short time before attacking.
In general, a slow retrieve works best. But, like with any fly fishing, if it doesn’t work the first time, try a different retrieve.
Because of the bony mouths of these fish, achieving a solid hookset is crucial. To really push the hook point into the boney lips of these fish, you’ll need a strong solid hookset. Wait a few seconds when you notice the gar has the fly in its mouth. Allow the gar to chew on it for a while. Then secure the fly with a single solid stripset (no troutsets here!). After the first hard strip set, a second firm strip set isn’t a bad idea to double-check the hook point.
A short comparison between strip and trout settings. To set the hook, you must point the rod directly at the fish while stripping the fly line back. The rod is not raised and bent until after the hook has been set. In contrast, with a trout set, you yank the entire rod back, and some of the hookset strength is lost in the bend of the rod.
Hopefully, the gar caught the fly in such a way that it is perpendicular to the snout in its jaws. The concept is that you pull the fly out of the fish’s mouth while simultaneously piercing the fish’s mouth with the trailer hook. If the fly isn’t perpendicular to the gar’s mouth, you’re far less likely to get a good hook hookset, but a strike is a strike, and you have to try!
Garfield’s Best Flies
For gar fishing, a basic bucktail pattern with a treble trailer has been added.
Because longnose gars are piscivorous (eat fish), you’ll be targeting them with streamer flies. These fish aren’t fussy eaters, and will snap at any prey item of proper size that comes within striking distance. The majority of basic streamer patterns perform nicely, and I normally use a bucktail streamer (such as the one pictured above). Because you’ll be fishing these flies close beneath the surface, using a streamer that’s practically neutrally buoyant will help.
When opposed to other flies, the key difference is that gar flies require a trailer hook to effectively hook up. Gar have bony, thin jaws that they utilise to catch small fish. A single hook on a common fly isn’t likely to have a high connection rate. There are two options for getting around this. Use a rope fly or a small-sized trailer treble (recommended) (not preferred, will cover why below).
The large snout of a gar is ideally adapted to snapping up smaller baitfish. You might imagine that these fish require enormous streamers like pike or musky, but that isn’t the case. The majority of the gar I’ve caught have been on 3′′ to 5′′ smallmouth bass sized flies. These may appear enormous to typical trout fly fisherman, but they’re actually relatively modest when compared to flies used for pike and musky of comparable size.
Longnose Gar do not catch prey by swallowing it whole, as trout and bass do. Instead, they snag the fish with their extended snouts, which are lined with needle-like teeth. The gar then drags the victim back to their mouth’s back.
To properly handle a gars snout and feeding habit, we need to tweak our fly. You’ll pull the hook straight out of the gar’s mouth if you only have a single front hook. To offset this, I prefer to use a small barbless trailer treble hook when tying gar flies. When the gar has a grip of the fly, you strip set. The fly is pulled from the gar’s mouth, but the trailer hook should hook up in the process.
Selection of hooks
Before tying the main fly pattern, a skeleton of a gar fly is created.
In a gar fly, there are two main hooks. The front hook, which will be used to tie on the pattern, and the stinger hook, which will be used for the majority of your hookups.
Only with gar flies do I use a treble hook in fly fishing. Even with well-designed flies, hook-up rates are around 1/5. A treble hook increases the likelihood of a hook tip penetrating the minimal amount of flesh on a gar’s snout.
For two reasons, the treble hook should be barbless (or have extremely little barbs). To begin with, a barb provides additional resistance while placing the hook. The hook should be able to glide into the snout with minimal resistance. Second, gar are not the simplest fish to unhook, and utilising barbless hooks makes it much easier to unhook any fish.
The front hook’s main consideration is that it has enough room to properly connect your trailer wire to it as well as enough room to knot the actual fly pattern. For the front, you don’t even need to use a hook. Instead, you might use basic metal wire shanks.
Unfortunately, there are few options for making the fly weedless. Any weeds you come over will most likely be picked up by the trailer hook. When throwing gar flies near foliage, be cautious.
Wire selection and tie in
For the trailer hooks on my fly, I use Beadalon 0.018-Inch (Amazon Link). I might use Berkely’s 7 strand uncoated wire (27lb) instead if I’m creating a very lengthy trailer hook because it’s a little stiffer. You want a wire that flexes a little but is firm enough to keep the treble straight from the back of the fly.
When it comes to tying the wire to the hook, I definitely go a little overboard. A photo of how I tie my wire in on gar flies may be found below (not for all flies, note on orientation further down). Place the wire on top of the hook eye and lash it down. Then fold both ends of the wire below the hook after pushing them through the eye of the hook. After that, fasten the bottom wire parts as well. Finally, I use strong thread wraps to cover the entire wire from the hook eye to the hook ben. Before tying the actual fly, I finish with a couple half hitches or perhaps a whip finish.
If you’re using uncoated wire, don’t press it into the eye of the hook. Uncoated wire is coarse and might cut your fishing line if it is attached to the fly.
When performing thread wraps over the cut wire, be careful. It has the ability to simply cut your thread. Wrapping slower, more intentional thread around the end of the wire, as well as using thicker thread, helps to prevent this.
This isn’t going to budge, and that wire isn’t going to come loose. Apply some superglue to the wire and thread wraps before finishing your final run of thread wraps if you need more assurance.
After situating the wire, hook it. Will completely encase wire in tight thread wraps to keep it in place.
A word about wire orientation. The orientation of the hook is less important with a treble hook. As you can see, I simply tie to the top and bottom of the front hook, as seen above. When tying articulated patterns or putting a single hook on the trailer, wire positioning must be more deliberate. The wires must be tied to either side of the front hook in order for the back end to be properly positioned. For gar flies with treble trailer hooks, this isn’t a factor to consider, but it’s something to bear in mind for other patterns.
Gar aren’t always topwater fish; it’s just simpler to sight fish for them near the surface. A sink tip link will work if you want to attempt targeting them in deeper water. I propose a slow sink link if you’re going to use a sinking line. The baitfish should be able to hover in the water column. Because you won’t be fishing in current, you won’t need a quick sinking line.
Gar can be caught using a medium-action fly rod. You desire:
- More precise than a fly rod with a rapid action.
- More distance than a fly rod with a slow motion.
- Because you’ll be sight fishing, some level of accuracy is preferable over a rapid action rod in presentations.
- If you’re covering water rather than sight fishing, you’ll need the ability to cast a long distance.
- Gar fishing is best done on calm days with low wind, so a quick action fly rod isn’t required.
You don’t need a wire leader like you do with pike and musky, despite the fangs. Because gar teeth are meant for grasping rather than slicing, they have a harder time cutting through fishing line. When fly fishing for gar, leaders made of abrasion-resistant Flourocarbon or strong mono are sufficient.
For trying to land a fish, a net isn’t always necessary, although I do recommend it when gar fishing. For a fish that spends so much of its time in the sun, they’re remarkably fiesty. Keep an eye out for the fish’s toothy snout. Trying to land a thrashing fish with all those teeth by hand is a recipe for getting cut up.
You don’t have to worry about delving too deep in their mouth full of bone prehistoric teeth because the hook is usually very accessible. A pair of pliers is required because the hook could be dug deep into the gar’s bony mouth. To remove the hook in this scenario, you may require some torque.
Jaw spreaders are also a good idea.
Gar fishing is a lot of fun and a great way to target a fish that isn’t widely available. Consider targeting additional species that are rarely sought (at least on a fly) such as walleye or mooneye if you want to broaden your fly fishing horizons.