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.
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.