Post date: Friday, March 2, 2012 - 18:30
Updated date: 3/16/17
Fishing for big garfish - Longnose Gar - Lepisosteus osseus


The longnose gar is a fierce, ancient predator that lurks in southern waters. An air-breather, it can often be seen laying around near the surface and rolling to take a gulp of air. One of America's premiere fighting fish, the longnose gar is legendary for its toughness, fighting spirit, and savage predatory nature.


Other namesThe longnose gar is also known as Billy Gar, Garpike, Common Garpike, Billfish, Scissorbill, Pin-nose Gar, Bonypike, and Needlenose Gar.





The longnose gar is unmistakable as a species. It's long snout, heavy armor plating, and cylindrical body make it hard to mistake this fish for anything else. Their bony snouts are crammed full of sharp teeth, and their rear fins and tail are bunched together at the back to provide quick acceleration for ambushing prey. Adult longnose are usually grayish or brownish, rarely spotted, and black or albino color phases exist. Rear fins may be red or gray.



Longnose gar can be tough to handle. Gloves really help! Their teeth can cut you even when their mouth is closed.




Longnose gars can live almost anywhere. In our area, they are mainly found in large river systems and the attached backwaters. However, they may also be found in certain lakes. Gars like still or slow-moving water, with an abundance of aquatic vegetation, although I've seen them caught from sandy flats as well. Gars are quite rare in the north, so you'll have to ask around and do some research just to find them. Once you do, get ready for an expedition! Longnose gars like slow-moving, weedy water with an abundance of prey. Find the prey, and you'll find the gar. Swamps, marshes, backwaters, sloughs, oxbows, and impoundments are all good places to look for them.




Gar fishing is a thrilling sport. In the areas I fish, longnose gar are caught mostly at night, on shiners, sucker minnows, or fatheads. For night fishing for gar, I use a lighted float, with the hook set to twice the depth of the water. A single large split shot two feet from the hook keeps the rig from drifting in the wind. Very sharp hooks are required to penetrate the bony skull of the gar. Once a gar takes a baitfish, it needs to arrange it headfirst in it's mouth to swallow it, so it's best to let a gar run with the bait before striking. Gar often lurk in extremely shallow water at night, so be careful not to spook them as you walk along the shore. Gar are perfectly comfortable in three inches of water at night.


Small longnose gar are almost impossible to hook, since their mouths are so narrow and bony that your chances of a solid hookup are almost nil. Gar may be fished on the bottom, freelined, or with floats - which is probably the best method. Gar may also be taken on artificials, including flies. Flies for gar should incorporate some frayed rope into the design, since the gar will seldom hook itself on the strike. It will, however, get the frayed rope tangled up in its impressive array of teeth, allowing it to be landed. Hooks on rope flies are optional. Mepps spinners and rapalas are spinning lures that may take gar, but such lures won't last long after the gar have been biting them, and reliably hooking gar on such lures may be problematic.



... we got some minnows and anchored where the big gar roll. With just a hook, we tossed our baits to gar we could see and left the bail of the reel open when they took the bait and began to run. We smoked back then, and the rule of thumb was used - had to let the gar run for at least as long as it took to smoke a cigarette. Then you’d set the hook and maybe he’d have the bait swallowed. You couldn’t set a hook in his bony mouth. Big gar put up a very good fight, leaping and running. They’re good practice for handling other big fish. And a lot of fun.

-Bob Todd, River Hills Traveller 2004





Range Map

Photo Credits:

Matt, AzJames

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