It is the time of year so eagerly awaited, the memory of which has sustained us through a long and cold winter, the time when the ice finally melts and winter relinquishes its icy grip on the world. Slowly, the water in the shallow bays warms and in a ritual as old as time, the river monsters slowly begin to invade the bays in search of bait and to spawn, and for a brief time the hunter becomes the hunted. At first, they are reluctant to feed for other urges preoccupy their immediate concerns. Their arrival follows a few days after the legions of carp show up by the thousands, wallowing in the shallow water, as they too are responding to a primordial urge that supercedes their hunger. Like ghosts, camouflaged by their spotted leopard markings, rendering them almost invisible at ones feet, they cruise in and out of my line of vision, swimming with a sense of purpose and urgency. This is the best time of the year to catch a giant longnose gar on the fly. The males are usually the first to arrive as they search for a suitable female. Once they find her, several prospective suitors will remain by her side until she is ready to drop her eggs. It is not uncommon to see a female spawn with several males at the same time, a dangerous orgy of teeth and scales as they roll over each other in barely a few inches of water until her eggs have been fertilized. During this time, for obvious reasons, as no creature on the planet interrupts a session of coitus to enjoy a meal, they will not hit a fly or any other bait. When this happens, most of my time is spent observing their behavior rather than actually fishing for them. I choose not to disturb them at this time, not even fishing for them, just watching like a curious voyeur, a fish pervert. They don’t seem to mind or fear me as they have evolved as creatures with no natural predators, except man. As I walk across the basin, stumbling over algae-covered rocks formed in the the basement of time, the ancient riverbed of the St-Lawrence now lies exposed in the low water conditions, my thoughts wander until I slip on a boulder that has suddenly shifted under my footstep. It is the slipperiest place on earth and each footstep is a metaphor for life as it must be planned well in advance. You need to keep your eyes on the ground and plan three steps ahead to keep out of trouble. Sometimes, the smaller boulders are more firmly grounded than the larger ones, some weighing up to a ton, that are precariously balanced and shift under the slightest disturbance. The riverbed is littered with stones that have split and shattered with the ice break of every new year, testimony to the unrelenting will of water in all its forms. My partner is wading further up the shoreline, his fly rod bent into an arc that telegraphs that he is into a good fish, another huge smallmouth bass. Before the day is over, he will have hooked over a hundred of these hard-fighting fish so eager to take his fly. But bass are not on the program today, at least not on my program. I am here exclusively for the gar. My eight weight, fully loaded with a gar fly tied to my tippet and anchored in the cork handle, waits patiently at my side, ready to perform at a seconds notice. There is no blind casting, only sight fishing to gar that swim by my post. The casts are usually hurried, short and crisp, a quick flick of the wrist and the fly is roll cast a few feet ahead of their path. Several of them swim right by me, some of them between my legs, but none seem interested in my fly. They are cruising beneath the surface and have no interest in feeding, most swimming away from the fly as if it was an irritant or social pariah best avoided at all costs. I roll cast to a few dozen fish without so much as a glance. Perhaps the water is still too cold. I hear a splash behind me and wheel around to see my friend who is once again locked into a monster bass. It does looks like fun and for a moment I consider putting on a leech fly and joining him, but remember my quest and decide against it. I am not here for bass. As all hope for a gar is abandoned, a group of three are spotted lying stationary in the water off the point, as if involved in serious discussion. These guys look like they will hit and on my first cast one of them slashes at the fly but misses and returns to the pack. The next cast falls in front of the group and the two smaller males, like gentlemen, defer to the appetite of the larger female and allow her to take the fly. Maybe they think this sacrifice will endear them to her, like taking a date out for dinner in the hope it leads to other things. For a second, as she tries to figure out what has just happened, she lays confused on the surface and shakes her head angrily before peeling off towards deeper water. The males follow her as if this is part of her ritual. Like most males in the animal kingdom, they have no idea what is going on. They only want to get laid. Meanwhile, the fish is is strong and tests my drag, jumping acrobatically and running until finally tiring and coming to rest at my feet. She is close to fifty inches, a third of which is a thin mandible lined with miniscule yet razor sharp teeth from which there is no escape. She is the last of the great dinosaurs that still roam the planet. A highly evolved creature, a hunter throughout the eons. For a brief moment, our eyes lock and we recognize ourselves in each other before parting company, both of us heading in separate directions.
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It was not only the hottest day of the summer but the highest on record in the last twenty years, the mercury at a blistering 108F with the humidex close to ninety percent and severe storm warnings in effect, further proof that global warming was a reality.The entire week Environment Canada issued warnings broadcast on the radio advising both the elderly and infirm as well as the very young to remain indoors and drink plenty of fluids during the heat wave. The heat was infernal and while most sane people sought to find some respite in their air-conditioned homes or swimming pools, we revelled in the torrid heat that was a harbinger for the massive numbers of gar that congregated during summer in the Bay of Quinte. This heat signalled the prime time for gar and we waited impatiently near the marina in downtown Belleville for my friend and guide extraordinaire Glen Hales to show up with his boat and take us out for a few days on the Bay of Quinte. The Gar Wars were about to begin and the force was with us. Read More