Catching a gar is one of freshwater fishing's most exciting challenges

Jennifer Stultz
Pratt Tribune
These gar can be found in many Kansas bodies of water: (from left) shortnose gar, spotted gar, longnose gar.

Did you know Kansas is home to three species of gar?

Gar are powerful fish and jump like tail-hooked tarpon when hooked. Landing a true heavyweight is one of freshwater fishing’s most exciting challenges, according to outdoorsman Keith 'Catfish' Sutton.

Besides the monstrous alligator gar and little Florida gar, which are restricted to a few small areas of the country, anglers can pursue longnose, shortnose and spotted gar, which are widespread and abundant in waters from Canada to Mexico.

Hot summer months prove to be conducive to gar fishing at its finest. They’re usually the fish one sees rolling noisily near the surface, especially near dawn and dusk and at night. A lung-like air bladder allows them to gulp air to aid the gills in breathing.

Gar inhabit all types of waters from small creeks to giant impoundments, but some of the best fishing is in oxbow lakes, bayous and sluggish delta rivers. Flowing water hotspots include lock and dam tailwaters, outside stream bends, sandbar/river channel abuttals, quiet backwater pools and the mouths of in-flowing tributaries. On lakes, fish in shallow reaches near the edges of woody and weedy cover.

To subdue a big gar, 20 pounds or more, it’s imperative to use heavy tackle: 30- to 80-pound-test line, a stout rod and a sturdy reel with an excellent drag. For smaller, more common gars, a durable rod and reel with 15- to 25-pound-test line may be adequate. Most serious gar anglers also use several feet of steel leader as insurance against the gar’s sharp teeth and violent thrashing.

Another successful gar-fishing tactic employs a 4- to 6-inch length of 3/8-inch nylon rope attached to a wire leader. The fibers on the loose end of the rope are unraveled for several inches, bucktail style. This “lure” is then cast and retrieved near surfacing gars, which seem to find it irresistible. When one strikes, the nylon threads tangle in its teeth, holding it securely while the angler plays it in – if he’s lucky. No hooks are required, and it really works.

Another clever technique uses a lasso of sorts. A baitfish is impaled with a 2-foot piece of thin, strong wire, then the wire is fashioned into a noose that will close when the main line is pulled. The idea is to get the gar to thrust its bill through the loop or to seize the wire while trying to get the fish. A quick yank then snares it by the bill and the excitement begins.

Gars are known to breathe air when needed (vascularized gas bladder allows them to do this), can live up to 22 years, and their eggs are poisonous to humans if eaten.

* Freelance writer Keith 'Catfish' Sutton provided information for this article.