The title of this post could conjure up various mental images. Tarpon, sharks, rays, sawfish (which are actually rays) and sturgeon could all fit the bill. However, I am talking about what I feel is a great Florida gamefish and a living fossil; gar. They are literal dinosaurs, gar have been around for thousands of years and once you handle one you can begin to understand why.
While primarily a freshwater species, gar are also often found in saltwater environments alongside snook, tarpon and redfish. They possess the same ability as tarpon to gulp air allowing them to live in extremely oxygen deficient waters where many other species simply cannot survive. They also have very hard, thick scales that almost resemble a suit of armor, couple this with their needle like teeth and you have one tough customer!
Exercise caution when handling these toothy customers
Photo taken by Nathan Hitt
Most gar are relatively small, a fish over two feet is considered large, but the alligator gar which can be found in Florida’s Panhandle region and can reach up to nine feet. Despite their array of teeth gar are not considered dangerous to humans and have never been implicated in attacks on humans. In fact I have found them to be as spooky as tilapia.
This guy was kind enough to stick around for a few casts.
Photo by Nathan Hitt
Something that I find very appealing about gar is that they respond well to a variety of tactics. Gar can be caught on fly, baitcasting or spinning tackle. They will take everything from topwater plugs and flies to shiners and even cut chicken! However, like most fishing, sometimes it just comes down to luck if the fish will bite. I have seen these fish literally fight over my topwater plug and in the same spot the next day want absolutely nothing to do with anything that I throw at them.
This one fell for a topwater fly
Believe it or not, these fish are more than temperamental eaters, they are a challenging gamefish. Gar fight hard for their size but their anatomy adds another dimension to the equation. Note that their long mouths are not only small but very bony and so hooks often have trouble penetrating. I have found that the longer a fight with one of these guys drags, on the less your chances of landing it (or maybe that’s just my own bad luck) as a hook that isn’t very secure will pull out eventually.
A nice Suwannee River gar
Photo credit to Nick Fisch and the University of Florida
In my opinion gar are a great game fish and deserve our attention and appreciation as anglers. I say tryout this prehistoric beast; they will test you!
Until next time, Tight Lines.