Are you looking for a different fishing challenge? I recommend longnose gar. I believe they’re one of the ugliest and toughest of all freshwater fish.
The name actually comes from the long and narrow snout, filled with needle-like teeth. Their body is long and cylindrical and covered with diamond-shaped, hard, overlapping scales. Their attitude when on the end of a rod will challenge an angler’s tackle and his/her abilities. Right now, just an hour’s drive from Saratoga Springs, they’re spawning.
I was introduced to gar pike more than 40 years ago when a friend took me to Lake Champlain, still one of the major bodies of water in which they’re found. When we got there, he handed me a longbow and a heavy fiberglass arrow and taped on spool of 90-pound-test line.
My first question was, “What are we fishing for that requires 90-pound-test line?” This was the start of what turned out to be an annual spring “hunt.” That first trip, we rented a large wooden row boat in Dresden and started to hunt right there.
You can’t look for gar, shoot and row at the same time, so we brought along two young ladies, one for each oar. Ironically, it wasn’t long after that I married one of those rowers.
Since that time, the state has changed the regulations and does not allow bowfishing for gar. There’s a spearing season on the New York side of Lake Champlain from March 20 to Sept. 30. I don’t know why we can’t do both. Each year, I try to bowfish gar on the Vermont side.
Let’s look at chasing gar around with a fishing rod and reel, which can be done in New York and Vermont. Right now, they can be found cruising in bays. Because it’s their spawning time, all you need to see them is a good pair of Polaroid sunglasses.
I suggest using the South Bay state launch site, about 21⁄2 miles north of Whitehall. Start looking right around the launch and fish out under the railroad bridge to the main body of the lake, looking in every bay on both sides. Don’t fish blindly. Wait until one is seen, then move into casting range.
Longnose gar fishing is NOT an ultra-light sport. They’re truly one of the most exciting fish you can have on a line. When hooked, they’ll blow out of the water like a smallmouth, then dive and go deep. My recommendation is a heavy seven- or 71⁄2-foot action spinning rod and fast-retrieve large spinning reel spooled with at least 30-pound-test line.
Here’s the difference between this and regular fishing — no hook. There’s a lure I’m sure will be questioned, just like I did, until I tried it. You’re going to use a lure you make just for longnose gar.
I’m not sure where or when this lure was created, but I believe it was first used somewhere in the south. Cut at least a dozen six- to eight-inch pieces of Ace one-quarter- or three-eighths-inch soft braided nylon rope. Use a lighter to melt one end of each of the pieces, Then unravel and brush the braids in the rope so they are puffy. These pulsating strands look really good underwater.
That’s your longnose gar lure. All you have to do is tie it on your fishing line using a half-hitch or slip knot. I know what you’re thinking, because I had my doubts until I found out for myself that it works.
If you Google “fishing longnose gar with rope,” you’ll find a number of YouTube videos of how to make this hook-less lure and see how it works on the fish.
There’s one other trick that I know works, especially in muddy water like that found in Lake Champlain. Take a three-eighths-ounce, big flashy spinner bait and remove the skirt. Then hook the end of the rope lure. I also like to attach a clip-on rattle for added attraction. So now you have the option of fishing this like a top-water lure or on the spinner bait, which would be a constant retrieve.
To be a successful gar angler fishing with a rod and reel, forget about looking for structure, just look for the cruising fish. This requires stealth moving your boat and staying within sight of the gar, but don’t try to get too close.
Make your casts beyond the fish. Let the lure hit the water and sink six inches or so below the surface. Then start a slow jerk retrieve. I give it three or four twitches, let it sit for a second and repeat this all the way back to the boat. Using the spinner bait with the rope lure, you can let it sink the six inches and use a slow retrieve.
Hook setting using either of these lures requires a lot of patience. Because you’ll be fishing shallow, you’ll probably see the bite.
DO NOT SET THE HOOK!
Remember, you don’t have one. Open the bale and feed line. Then, periodically stop the line for a second, which will help that snout full of teeth get a little more tangled. After doing this two or three times, the fish should be hooked, but don’t rush. Work it back to the boat slowly. Landing the fish with a net is the safest way to get it aboard. I’ve also put on a heavy work glove and grabbed its mouth firmly. Do not do this with bare hands!
The state record longnose gar taken by rod and reel is 13 pounds, three ounces, taken on July 25, 1999, by Ken Casssant in Lake Champlain. I’ve seen plenty of gar out in those coves in Lake Champlain that will easily break that record.
Why not take a day and try and “ROPE” one?