Tuesday, May 14, 2013

River Monsters- Part 2- Gar

Pleased with the catch!
One of the other species that the River Monsters crew wanted to get into while in Vermont was the longnose gar- another of my specialties. It was May and that can be a mixed blessing when it comes to gar. They are definitely around and can be found in large concentrations when they are spawning. However, they are not always the easiest to get to take when they are in that spawn mode. 

One of the things that is hard to understand when watching the show is just how much background work everyone does. Jeremy has a lot of pressure on him to produce fish and everyone else has their jobs too. The director, Dominic Weston in this case, has to do all the background homework on the fishes that they are targeting in order to bring the most dramatic story to the television audience. The same applies to the guides that take them out. There is a lot of work that goes into locating the fish as well as the knowledge it takes to catch them. 

"On set"
I had been on the lookout for gar. In 2011 the gar were found in good numbers up in smaller tributaries because of the record high levels in Lake Champlain. There were fish all over the place and some really large fish too. I had my current personal best from that year- a 49” female that weighed about 12 pounds. An excellent fish and one that I wanted to repeat but unfortunately 2012 was a dramatically different year. The water levels in the lake in May were about 5 feet shallower than the year before. It was a mostly dry spring and I was not finding the fish where I had before. 

Inspecting gar eggs
I started looking all over the place. I was doing long solo paddles in my canoe looking for fish. Several days I paddled over 10 miles looking for fish. One of those days was into a 15 mph head wind- yes, I love weather forecasters (they said it was supposed to be a 6mph breeze from the west- not the 15 mph from the north!). I was checking all of my usual spots and I was making phone calls galore to anyone and everyone that I knew who was out fishing or had knowledge. 

I started to find them. They were in the small creeks, but not in good numbers. I also found a spot on the lake where they were in good numbers and willing to take the fly. I finally had a game plan for when  I was to meet up with them again. Marty and Tim had the camera boats ready too. 

I met the River Monsters crew and headed south to meet Marty and Tim. They were at a spot where the carp were congregating. Dominic and Jeremy were interested in checking that place out to. Hey, big congregations of fish in shallow water? Good filming opportunities even if it wasn’t what they were after. 
Marty with the first fish of the day

As we got there I saw Marty and Tim on the water. Marty had a fish on and they had no net. I ran back to the truck to grab one. Nice carp on the fly and the whole crew was watching and talking. A good start to the day. We got some pics for Marty and as I walked back across the dam I noticed something. Something splashing in the water downstream… I shouted out an expletive and ran at top speed to check it out with Jeremy and Dominic in tow. I was hoping against hope that what I was seeing was really what I was seeing.

Indeed it was! Dozens of them… including all the others porpoising around, maybe as many as one hundred. It was a great congregation! The fish were everywhere. Most of them were well over 36” and there were some serious bruisers in there. Definitely some contenders for the state record were sitting in front of us. It was a dream come true! Everyone was pretty psyched. 

James filming Jeremy
We got everything set up. Jeremy had the Helios 9wt that I rigged up with a gar fly. He was casting pretty well. The time that he had just spent in Nicaragua chasing tarpon with a 12 weight out of a float tube had definitely made a difference. He was definitely vastly improved from his time chasing taimen- an episode that many fly rodders had panned because of his casting. Jeremy is a quick study and I gave him some pointers with casting. That definitely helped out as well. His double haul was great. 

Unfortunately the gar weren’t being as cooperative as we would have liked. The rope fly was in the right spot. He was working it the way it needed to be worked. He was putting it right in the middle of the spawning congregation. We tried different colors. We worked all sorts of different angles to get those fish on the typical gar fly. No dice. 

We took a lunch break. I asked if it was alright to give it a try myself. I have had good luck with smaller flies put right in their face. They seem to get a bit upset about something in their personal space like that and swat at them. That is how I have done so well in the spring time with gar. 

My gar- and my personal best!
I put on a small fly that was bright and in your face. I started working it close to some of the bigger girls near the bank. The snapping started. They don’t like it when things are in their face. The big trick is to get a decent hook set. That isn’t always the easy part. The gar’s mouth is all bone. It takes a very sharp hook to stick in there combined with a constantly tight line to keep them on and a good measure of luck thrown in ta boot. Even having done this many years myself I would say that my hook-up to land ratio with this kind of gar fishing is about 30%... not great. 

I got one on. It was a nice fish. A beast actually. Everyone was watching and once it cooled down enough Jeremy helped me to land it. I broke my personal best. It was 51”. We didn’t weigh it but I am sure it would have been close or beaten the current state record. There was no way I was going to keep that fish to get that now though. I had a job to do…
Jeremy's first gar

Marty took a turn on the cork. He hooked a fish just like I had but it took off and broke off the bright fly that I had. I had other similar flies (they were my bowfin specials) but none as bright as that. I was sure we could get into some fish. 

Jeremy is the consummate angler. He learns by example extremely quickly. He got the gist of what I was doing and soon was into fish. He got a decent male fish to start things off. It wasn’t huge by any means, but it was in the low 40 inch range. It was decidedly male and extremely excited. I noticed all the milt that was now covering Jeremy’s legs. The off color comment that the cameraman James made had everyone holding their sides. 
Heavy bodied gar

The rest of the afternoon was pretty much a touch and go situation… Jeremy would have a fish on (collective, silent roar of excitement) only to lose it shortly thereafter (collective let down). Repeat. I gave him some tips- especially noting that it was critical to keep a very tight line on them and to keep the rod up. Fight them with the rod in the air not off to the side. That is what has worked for me best. Keep the fight as short as possible. We had pretty strong tippet on (16 pound Orvis AR) that could handle any of these fish. 

We were at it hours. He got into a few smaller fish but the bigger ones had been eluding him. There were several that were just beasts; 5or 6 inches across the back. They were there. You could practically touch them. James was getting awesome footage underwater of them and you can definitely see that really well in the show. It is so cool to see that many big fish spawning in one place. The rocks were covered in gar eggs. I told them about how they are poisonous to eat for mammals. It was cool to see that fact make it into the show as one of the bumpers between commercials. I smiled a knowing smile when I saw that.
Jeremy with the gar from behind the camera

Jeremy had a good fish on. It was hooked in the fleshy part of the jaw too! We all had our collective fingers crossed. He played the fish very well and had on my Buff work gloves to help him land the fish. He got it in the shallows and landed it. AWESOME! He had a nice big female gar. He got the footage of the fish that they needed and we all took some pictures of him with it. One of the great things about gar is that they can breathe air. Keeping them moist helps to keep them safe (which we did) but it allows a lot more safe handling time than many other fish. Darn handy for a fishing show!

Nice fish Jeremy!
We were all smiles after that. I was asked to help out as a camera boat to get some footage of Jeremy walking along the bank. I went and grabbed the canoe to get the shots. It is pretty interesting how much they shoot and how they want the boat placed. I think we spent 45 minutes or more filming the walking scene from all sorts of different angles. 

We were all pretty tired after that all concluded but Marty had invited all of us over to his house for dinner later that evening. More on that later…
This speaks for itself

I have to admit a guilty bit of the day though... Jeremy's gar was 49"... mine was 51". It still puts a grin on my face to think that I outfished Jeremy Wade one day... His collective experience far outweighs mine, but for that one day I got the bigger gar!


  1. Awesome gar, this is a fish we love to hit in the spring on the Mississippi. They can go well in to the 20 pounds. They don't get much respect but are a fantastic fly rod species.