How to catch longnose gar at the Tidal Basin

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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.

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Shad fishing: Size matters

Kosar shad spoonsMidway through this season I took a tip from two old pro’s and switched my preferred shad rig to a shad spoon with a little split-shot a couple feet above it. Wow, whereas my darts got a little attention, the crazy fluttering spoon was hammered relentlessly. Both gold and nickel ones got equal love from the lust-crazed shad.

The first spoon I used was a Nungesser 20 (the one at the bottom of the photo above. The 20G-1 is gold and the 20N-1 is nickel. Click the links to buy them.) It worked great for a couple of weeks. Then it didn’t. I was baffled—donde est shad?

Frustrated, I swapped to a wee little spoon. (The one at the top of the photo.) WHAM! Suddenly the fish were hitting again. And these shad were much smaller than the hogs that had been hitting previously. So I learned something—the size of shad running can change, and one needs to adjust hook size accordingly. I also was delighted to find blueback herring hopping on these trim little shad spoons.

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It is May 2, 2018, and the Shad Run is on!

The frequently rainy spring bedeviled shad fishermen. Heavy rains fall, then the shad are un-catchable for four or five days.

My previous trips inevitably brought shad, but it was hit or miss. This morn began the same way: three shad in the first 10 casts (7:45am) followed by 30 minutes of futility, one shad, then 20 minutes of futility. Come 10am, I had all of 10 shad in 2+ hours.

Then the tide really started to flow out, and the run was on. I bagged 40 or so fish in the next two hours, most of which were caught on the simplest rig: a silver or brass spoon at the end and a couple of big splitshot sinkers a couple feet up the line. Cast long, count to two as it falls, and reel back and medium speed. Neither the color nor the size of the spoon made a difference—the shad pounced. My rod hand actually got a blister from the friction as I hauled out one fighting shad after another. And my left hand is all scraped up from grabbing shad so that I could remove the hook. Beat-up paws and sore forearm muscles—these are signs of a very good day of shad fishing!

Hickory shad: Win some lose some

Spring has come, and the shad are running up the rivers and waterways of the east coast. Here in Washington, DC, shad come in from the ocean, through the Chesapeake Bay, and up the Potomac River. (Map here.) They make the journey from salty to fresh water to spawn.

Conveniently, the Potomac narrows in northwest DC, and angler flock to Fletcher’s Cove in mid-March and April to catch some of the bazillions of shad that stack up.

This spring has been rainy, which swells the river and makes it cloudy. It is tough to catch shad when they cannot see the darts and spoons, and a swollen river is a dangerous river. (See the rig below.)

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Fish history: The federal government used to farm fish near the Washington Monument

Fish Washington Monument

Who knew?!

“Starting around 1879, such species as carp, bass and shad were bred by the U.S. Fish Commission in large ponds just west of the Washington Monument….”

“In the summer of 1879, ponds started to be carved out in the area then known as the Potomac Flats. The ponds were the idea of Spencer F. Baird, a former Smithsonian curator — and future Smithsonian secretary — who had been tapped by President Ulysses S. Grant to head the U.S. Fisheries Commission. Baird noted the decrease in fish harvests across the country — due, he believed, to overfishing — and thought a breeding program could help replenish stocks. Such wild species as shad, bass and crappie would eventually be raised in the Washington Monument ponds, but the early attention was focused on a foreign fish: the carp.”

“Floods swamped the ponds in June 1889, sweeping no fewer than 4,000,000 baby fish into the raging waters of the Potomac….”

Read more at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-world-according-to-carp-answer-man-visits-the-fish-ponds-on-the-mall/2017/11/18/93965c98-caf0-11e7-aa96-54417592cf72_story.html?utm_term=.dcff9ce11f2e

Yes, big catfish come out in autumn in Washington, DC. I think.

IMG_20171104_081514539On October 1, I wondered aloud on this blog if big catfish come out in cool weather. Last year, I had my personal best on a sunny October day: a 37-pound catfish.

The answer is “yes,” although it is complicated by an additional variable. In the past 6 weeks, I have caught catfish weighing 40 pounds, 21 pounds, and I don’t know how many in the 10- to 15-pound range.

Case proven, right? Well, yes, but I also switched from fishing in the morning to fishing in the evening, usually between 8pm and 11am, although I did stay out until 1am one night. Catfish feed at all times of the day, but especially at night. And, it might also be the case that large catfish feed nocturnally more often. Regardless, for sure autumn is not a time to put away your catfishing rods.

All these big beasts were blue catfish, not channels, and they hit on both my stink chicken bait and on cuts of blue catfish meat.

Thanksgiving is this Thursday. Perhaps the weather will permit me to slip out in the morning and head to the river to chase a side dish!

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Does October Bring Big Catfish?


In late August and early September, I caught mostly smaller catfish. My hypothesis was that the fish of breeding age had gone off food to focus on baby-making, leaving the pipsqueaks to hit my baits. I’d put four or five rods out, get hits every 10 minutes, and bag a dozen fish in two or three hours. But only one or two of the catfish would be more than 20 inches or more than 1.5 pounds.

Come late September, the hits were less frequent, and when they came they were big, slow rod benders, bearing 3- to 5-pound fish. And on the first day of October, well, I hauled up a 21-pounder that was 38 inches long. The other five catfish featured a couple of two-pounders, a two three-pounders, and a pipsqueak that jumped on the corn bait I put out for  carp. (I did land a small carp in the shallows between the dock and the shore.)

Last October, I set my personal best at Fletcher Cove—a 37-pound blue catfish. I hauled him in maybe 20 minutes after I brought up a similarly sized beast that snapped my rig at the edge of the boat (ARG!) when I stupidly failed to deploy a net.

So, maybe after a few weeks of sweet loving and little eating, the big catfish emerge from their lairs hungry?

Thirty days remain in October, so we shall see if the days bring more big fish.

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