A Wilson Times Co. publication · Serving Southern Nash County Since 1947

Battling the gar

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Bill Howard holds a longnose gar.
Bill Howard holds a longnose gar.
Contributed photo

I came home from a trip to Des Moines, Iowa to find my oldest son shredding nylon rope. Using a pick, he would insert it between the threads and comb out the fine fibers, making what looked like the hair of a troll doll.

Naturally, I asked, “what in the heck have you got going on here?”

He then offered a perfect explanation.

Down at the river, there is something happening right now. What amounts to a prehistoric creature, some as long as four to five feet in length, are swimming as far upstream as they can. During this same time, there are dead and floating shad in some places, as the water levels were a tad low and the oxygen levels even lower in the stagnant, hot water.

But that prehistoric creature, well, it thrives in it. The longnose gar is looks like a cross between a crocodile, or maybe a caiman with a slightly pointier snout, and…nothing actually. It is just a long, narrow heavily armored fish with teeth for days. 

It also can stick that long mouth with alligator teeth out of the water’s surface to get a breath of oxygen when the water doesn’t supply enough.

As far as the armor, the scales are thick and stiff and seemingly as strong as an armadillo’s protective layers. They look nasty, and fight nastier. A gar is everything you would think a prehistoric creature would be, and a little more. And it is, which is why the creature that is estimated to be from the late Jurassic to early Cretaceous periods survived and other creatures did not.

Their eggs are highly toxic, allowing the gar to flourish without predation. In fact, the only things that eat gar are other gar. They generally can live as long as 15 to 20 years, with the oldest gar reaching 39 years of age.

Considered mostly as a trash fish, few regulations are imposed on the underwater beast. There is a small amount of sport fishing for gar, and they are a favorite for bowfishing, as they are plentiful, come near the surface, and create a challenging target and monstrous fight.

Remarkably though, they do have a mild but favorable taste. The texture is similar to chicken and tastes similar to alligator. Just like alligator, which has a long lifespan, gar can carry a high mercury content, which means eating in moderation is recommended. Older gar, because of the mercury content, can have a stronger flavor that can be reduced by soaking in a saltwater solution overnight.

And that brings me back to my son and the frayed nylon rope. That mouth full of teeth is solid, and hooks do very little in grabbing hold. Even if you do hook one, the teeth can slice the strongest of lines (I’ve even had one go through a small steel leader).

The nylon rope acts in a different way. The teeth get all tangled in the nylon rope and the more the fish fights to get out of it, the more the fish gets tangled. Think about the last time you walked into a spiderweb at night, flailing about only getting more and more of the web on you.

And if you are not bowfishing, this is the preferred method of having one of the great freshwater fights on a rod and reel. 

Bill Howard is an avid bowhunter and outdoorsman. He teaches hunter education (IHEA) and bowhunter education (IBEP) in North Carolina. He is a member of North Carolina Bowhunters Association and Pope & Young, and is an official measurer for both.