Due to its large size and sharp teeth, hooking and landing a gar isn’t a walk in the park. Although generally sluggish and docile, it won’t hesitate to pull, bite, and struggle when caught. Plus, it jumps like a tail-hooked tarpon!
Gars are undoubtedly among the toughest fish to catch, but, although challenging, landing a gar certainly isn’t impossible. With the right equipment, technique, and procedure, you’ll be able to safely land a gar, no matter how big, without destroying your net, tackle, or other fishing gear.
Here’s how to land a gar in six easy-to-follow steps.
How to Land a Gar: A Step-by-Step Guide
For all you aspiring gar anglers out there, follow these steps to catch and land a gar:
Step 1: Identify the Species You Want to Catch
Currently, there are seven living species of gar in the United States. Although they’re all noteworthy opponents, some require different experience and preparation to be caught.
The alligator gar is the most difficult to land as far as physical demand is concerned. It can grow up to eight feet long and weigh up to 300 pounds.
The longnose gar, although slender and much more docile, is the most challenging to catch as its snout is difficult—almost impossible, really—to hook. It can grow up to six feet tall and weigh up to 35 pounds.
Florida, shortnose, and spotted gars are fairly easy to catch and land. Their broad noses take a hook easily. They grow up to two feet long and weigh anywhere between two to seven pounds.
Although less difficult than alligator and longnose gars, don’t be fooled; they can still put up a good fight!
Step 2: Make Sure You Have the Appropriate Equipment
Once you’ve identified the gar species you want to catch, make sure you’re using the appropriate equipment. No matter the species, gars are powerful fish, so you should always use high-quality equipment when trying to catch them.
Author Note: Unless you’re catching longnose or alligator gars, your tackle must handle at least 30 pounds. Your fishing rods need to handle strong runs and have some backbone to them, so it’s best to use at least a seven-foot rod with a 10 to 20-pound weight rating.
Likewise, your reel must have excellent drag or you’ll risk snapping the line.
As for the fishing line itself, it should carry around 10 to 20 pounds of weight and be made with fluorocarbon or braid. Wire leaders are good investments, too, as they prevent the gar from biting through your line with their razor-sharp teeth (and boy are they sharp!).
Step 3: Prepare the Bait and Lure
Even if you have top-tier equipment, gars won’t bite without the proper bait and/or lure! Unlike run-of-the-mill fish, gars are all about slowly sneaking up to their prey and tearing them into shreds with their sharp bone-like teeth. For this reason, regular ol’ bait just won’t do.
Instead, consider the following:
- Frayed nylon rope
- Live bait (shiners, perch, sunfish, shad)
- Cut bait (fish chunks or chicken, wrapped with nylon rope)
- Topwater plugs
Step 4: Catch the Gar
Preparation is only half the battle; the real challenge starts when catching the gar.
As you might expect, gar fishing is way more complicated than lake water or saltwater fishing. Some say that the techniques used for gar fishing are downright absurd, bordering on the ridiculous. But, hey, they get the job done, and that’s really all that matters!
Needless to say, you can’t land a gar if you don’t catch a gar. Here are some tried-and-true techniques to catch gar:
Topwater Plug or Crack
If you want to catch gars, you need to depend on your sight. Since they’re quite big, you’ll notice them swimming right above the surface near a school of fish. Once you’ve located them, cast a lure equipped with a topwater plug or crank in front of the fish.
Now, here’s the challenging part: patience.
Unlike most fish, where they’d actively strike upon noticing prey, gars move slowly towards the lure, as if sneaking up to them. Let the gar do its thing.
Author Note: Don’t move your lure; keep your hands steady and let it sit in the water. Then, once you’re sure the gar is watching your lure, give it the smallest twitch, then again, until—and boom!
The gar will violently snap its sharp teeth with a sideways slash and try to take the lure off your line. But don’t reel the fish just yet. Hold on and let it exhaust itself before landing it on your boat.
The nylon rope trick has been used to catch gar for decades. It’s arguably the most popular technique to catch longnose gar, as nylon rope is hard to pull or rip apart even with the longnose’s sharp teeth.
Unravel five to six inches of soft braided nylon rope. Then, melt one end using a lighter and unravel the main braids on the other. Using the unraveled strands, tie off the head. Your goal here is to form a bucktail style lure with a poofy end.
Tie the nylon lure onto your primary line. Follow the same technique above and wait until the gar bites onto your nylon lure. That’s it, no hooks are required.
If you want to experience the authentic freshwater fishing experience, catch a gar with the fly-fishing technique.
In this method, your “hook” is a combination of thread, beads, feathers, wire, yarn, and hair to replicate bait of various stages. Gars can’t resist it.
Again, this technique utilizes sight fishing. Once you’ve spotted the fish, cast a lightweight fly close to the gar and wait for it to bite.
As soon as the line pulls, give the gar a few seconds to chew on the bait so it gets all caught up in its teeth. Then, gently start to apply pressure. Hold on tight. The gar, upon realizing its predicament, will struggle and fight. You’ve caught the gar—now it’s time to reel it in.
Lasso fishing was popularized in Texas. As the name suggests, it involves bringing a lasso around a fish. When fired, the band—a thin wire with a baitfish—closes into a noose and wraps itself around the gar’s bill once it latches on to the bait.
Step 5: Reel It In
Once you’ve caught the gar, the fight is on. Let the gar tire itself for a few minutes, but don’t wait too long; you don’t want it to escape, after all.
Every gar fights differently. Some give up fairly quickly, others will struggle even after you’ve landed them on your boat. Regardless of the species, prepare yourself for a lot of splashing, jumping, and snapping. Don’t worry, though, you won’t have to fight for long. Gars easily tire out.
Step 6: Land the Fish
The hard part is over; you’ve caught the gar and reeled it in. You’re almost at the finish line. All you’ll have to do is land the fish into your boat.
Here’s the thing; landing a gar comes with its own set of challenges. Gars are mean fish; they won’t go down without a fight. So, don’t be too discouraged if the gar either escapes or doesn’t land in your boat. It happens!
Now, before you land a gar, make sure you’re wearing a pair of gloves. Gars are equipped with super sharp teeth and rock-hard scales, both of which can seriously harm you if you aren’t careful, so it’s always better safe than sorry.
Top Tip: You don’t have to buy those expensive $50 gloves; an inexpensive pair made with rubber or silicon-covered cotton will do. You can also use an old pair of worn leather gloves.
Apart from the gloves, you’ll need a two-inch diameter dowel to hold the gar’s mouth open and untangle the fly. You might also need a net and a mechanical fish-gripping device to help you lift the gar from the water and onto your boat.
Once you’ve reeled the gar close to your boat, prepare for a fight. Gars thrash around, they bite, and they’re generally difficult to control. The best way to land a gar is to tie a noose around the gar’s nose, as demonstrated by Flathead Catfish Hunters.
Where’s the best place to catch gar?
Gars often reside in backwater creeks, lake edges, dams, backwater pools, and slow-moving streams. If you’re planning to catch gar, best do it during hot summer months at dawn and dusk.
Can you eat gar?
Gars are trophy fish: most fishermen catch them to either display them on their mantle or simply for the experience. With that said, gars are entirely edible. However, it does take a considerable lot of work to prepare. Plus, their eggs are poisonous.
In terms of taste, gars are average at best. They’re not flaky like most fish, nor do they taste fishy. They share the same texture as chicken, but they don’t taste like chicken—they taste like alligators. Not offensive, but certainly not up there in terms of taste.
Catching and landing a gar is as challenging as it is exhilarating. While it might take a few attempts to successfully catch and land a gar, the payoff is absolutely worth the effort.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab your gear and catch yourself some gar.