Species #135 — Florida Gar

If I could one family of fish we don’t have in Oregon to bring to Oregon, it would be gar. Then again, a single Florida Gar like the one pictured was found in an Oregon river in 1999, so you never know…

Species: Florida Gar (Lepisosteus platyrhincus)
Location: Lake Fran Urban Wetlands, Orlando, FL
Date: July 7, 2018

Gar are so cool, man.

These fish can gulp air, will take most lures as well as bait, flies, and topwaters. I once had a four-foot Longnose Gar hit a Whopper Plopper three times during the retrieve.

Not to mention, gar are more durable than trout, less pressured than bass, and have giant teeth. What’s not to love?

***

My first night in Florida, I tried for Bowfin and Florida Gar in vain. I spotted a few in the flooded grass as I walked with my headlamp cutting away the darkness, but they were skittish.

I returned the next day with Florida Gar atop my very long target list.

***

Since Florida, like most states other than Oregon, allows the use of live bait, I figured I’d try throwing on a small, live sunfish in hopes of enticing a massive Florida Bass. I’d already caught some small ones, but this was Florida. I needed a monster, and I hadn’t seen a single gar in daylight.

I tried sight-fishing my live Bluegill up against the bank to a nearby bass, opening the spool to let it run for what I thought was an inevitable take. I was standing a good 20 feet above the water, on a high bank that lined a canal connecting two sections of the flooded wetlands-turned-lake.

On my very first cast, I could feel my bait getting violated by a much larger fish, so I let it sit for just a moment, but not long enough to allow the fish to swallow — I didn’t want a gut-hooked fish, after all.

I closed the bail, tightened my line, and set the hook hard. Too hard, really.

I was using my the heaviest spinning rod I’d brought to Florida, a G. Loomis GL2 Salmon/Steelhead rod, and as I yanked on the link, a fish that was very much not a bass came flying out of the water, in a direct trajectory for my face, at easily 20 or 30 miles per hour.

I ducked under the toothy missile, just saving my beautiful face from becoming all garred up. Sorry, scarred up.

As the line reached full extension on the grassy bank behind me, the hook popped free and boomeranged the gar back at my ankles.

It landed inches away, sitting surprisingly calmly in the grass still soaked from the previous night’s rain.

All of this elapsed in about five seconds, and I was panting and shaking with fear as much as excitement from landing my first Florida Gar — unconventional though it was.

I grabbed a quick picture and let it go.

When handling these toothy beasts, you have to exercise caution. Safety is not gar-anteed.

I swear the armor-plated fish gave me the ole side eye, as if to say “Are you sure you’re a real fisherman?” as it swam away.

Hooking into several more of them over the next few days using cutbait, Rapalas, and even a worm would prove to that high-flying gar that I did know what I was doing.

That is, as long as we don’t tell it that the final gar stole a worm intended for a Brown Hoplo and sliced my finger open when I tried to unhook it barehanded without the help of pliers.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #136 — Dollar Sunfish.

Species #90 — Shortnose Gar

Shortnose Gar and Spotted Gar have an overlapping range and are capable of hybridizing. It was dark, and I don’t have good photos, so mine was likely a hybrid. Photo courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife.

Species: Shortnose Gar (Lepisosteus platostomus)
Location: Alligator Preserve Pond, Madison, Alabama
Date: July 30, 2017

I’ve caught more than 200 species at the time of writing. Of those, the only one I’ve counted without 100% certainty of identification was the Shortnose Gar. I fully expect to catch another, but since I counted it as Species #90 and caught more than 100 species since, I’m counting it with an asterisk.

The one I caught was likely a hybrid Spotted x Shortnose Gar, and I don’t have good photos because it was caught at night. So here we have a pitiful story, an excuse, and no pictures. Excellent.

Sadly, I know way too many anglers who feed us this line on the regular. I promise it’s a one-off for me, though, and I have it on the shortlist, so I’ll get one “for real” very soon.

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #91 — Creek Chub.

Species #89 — Spotted Gar

Gar are awesome, but Spotted Gar have a special place in my heart because they’re so uniquely beautiful. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia.

Species: Spotted Gar (Lepisosteus oculatus)
Location: Indian Creek, Madison, Alabama
Date: July 30, 2017

So I’ve now written for the Herald and News for five years. At the time of writing, I’ve now written two pieces for Game and Fish Magazine, too, and I plan to continue that.

As I write more and more, there becomes an increased likelihood that an occasional blog post will merely be a link to a story I’ve already written as opposed to entirely new content.

My first Spotted Gar was a story originally written for the Herald and News, and it is one of my all-time fives, so I’m not gonna mess with it.

You can read it by clicking this link.

Tight lines!

#SpeciesQuest // #CaughtOvgard

Read the next entry in #SpeciesQuest here: Species #90 — Shortnose Gar.