How to catch longnose gar at the Tidal Basin

Kosar fishing gar 06-17-2018.jpg

A young longnose gar caught at the Tidal Basin on June 17, 2018. I lost two of them before I landed this one.

The longnose gar looks like a dinosaur. Or a gator crossed with a barracuda or somesuch lean, torpedo-shaped fish.

Fossils of gar-like fish date back 100 million years, and I cannot but help feel a bit of awe each time I see a gar cruising slowly a foot or two below the surface.

There are different types of gar in U.S. freshwaters, but here in DC it is the longnose gar that is most often found. This fish can grow to six feet in length, and their long mouths are filled with dozens of small teeth that remind me of carpet tacks.

Many folks catch gar on homemade lures made from nylon rope. I’ve not tried that technique, mostly because I am a little concerned about getting nylon fibers stuck in a gar’s mouth. But, if one is planning to take the gar home to cook, and they are apparently tasty, well, this is no matter. This approach also requires one to cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve, cast and retrieve….

And, to be entirely honest, I’ve learned another way that works and is easier.

My own approach I picked up from a couple of young guys I met at the Tidal Basin lasy year, which is next to the Jefferson Memorial and across from the Washington Monument. They fished next to the bridge on the side of the Basin near the U.S. Bureau of Engraving. Their method was big bobber+big hook+small live bluegill or sunfish. And they scored gar after gar.

So that is what I do. Specifically, I use 40-pound braided line, and a rig which features 30-pound, clear monofilament, a 7-inch weighted South Bend catfish float (the weight helps me heave it out there),  a 6/0 circle hook, and a live bluegill or sunfish. (Gar love small fish.) I set the bobber two to three feet above the hook.

I cast it way out, set my rod on a Rite Hite rod holder, and clip a small bell near the top of the pole (but not touching the line). Then I loosen the drag a lot—enough that the rod will wiggle and the bell will sound whenever the gar first pulls, but not more tight than that.

Loose line is important. When a gar chomps on a fish, it bites once then swims a bit before gulping the fish further back in its mouth and eventually down its throat. If your drag is too tight, or if you reel the line too soon—the bait will be pulled out of tip of the gar’s mouth. (Here is where advocates for the nylon rope approach will point out that their method does not require guessing when to reel and hook the fish. And they would be right.) I suggest letting the gar drag the bobber for a minute before tightening the drag and cranking the reel.

Gar are not wild fighters—until you get them close to the shore. Then they will thrash and roll, and their mouths present a real peril. Don’t fish for gar unless you have a large net or are able to lift the fish from the water without putting your hand near its mouth. (Experienced gar fisherman will use one hand to grab the gar’s closed snout and use their other hand to lift the fish by the belly—but it is not a move to be tried by the newbie.)

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