It turned out to be the perfect day for gar on the flats. The sun was shining brightly, the shallow waters had finally begun to warm and the gar, mostly congregated on the flats to both feed and spawn, were finally becoming active. The first fish to show up a week earlier were unwilling to hit our flies, still disoriented by the cold water. They were now bunching up in the warm shallows, in some instances water no deeper than a few inches, sunning themselves, the males eagerly searching for a large female to pair up with and spawn. Often, the female was courted by several smaller gar, three or four males, all eagerly lining up to find favor and succeed in spawning with the queen. They will follow her every movement, submissively trailing a few inches behind or underneath, often rubbing their scaly bodies together in a strange mating ritual that predates man. This was always a good sign as the competitive instinct of the gar fully kicks in when several of them are present in a group. Casting to a single cruising gar does not always guarantee a strike while casting to a pod of them almost certainly does. For some reason, it always seems that during this time the males display interesting feeding behavior patterns, very gentlemanly as they always seem to allow the female to feed first, which is usually why you catch the biggest fish in the pod immediately.
What I truly enjoy about this type of fishing is that it has elements of hunting, of stalking your prey, sight-fishing for the veritable leopard of the flats. When fishing for gar I generally don’t like wasting my time casting to what can’t be seen. Experience has taught me that the best approach is to find an area with cruisers and park yourself in stealth mode, keep your eyes peeled on the water, with twenty feet of line curled at your feet at the ready for a quick cast. Some of my biggest fish have been caught literally at my feet, with only a few feet of line out. A quick roll cast or dapple, as we are fond of calling it, and the dirty deed is done. The flies used for gar are basic streamer patterns with one slight modification, an additional stinger hook attached with surflon or spectra. Single hooks rarely penetrate the hard, toothy, and narrow mandible of the gar. A small treble usually works quite effectively and the landing ratio with this fly stands around fifty percent – quite respectable given the nature of the beast.
As I approached the water there were three dark forms lying up against a rock in two inches of water. My first cast fell a few feet short and on the retrieve the fly was hammered by a smallmouth bass that created such a commotion in the skinny water that the gar were spooked and shot like arrows from the back of the bay as I watched helplessly while dealing with the intransigent bass. This was not how it was intended to go down. A few small gar were milling around the bay but not the singular fish desired, the object of our quest, the big female we saw last year that broke off my fly, a fish well in excess of fifty inches. A log with teeth over one-third of its body length. A modern-day dinosaur. Wading in a foot of water a stealthy approach is paramount. Keep it simple and slow, move two steps forward, stop, and scan the water around you. Look for shadows in the clear water , or listen for a sign of them gulping air, or keep an eye out for fish crashing minnows on the surface. Wait a minute or so and then move on until a fish is spotted. By mid-morning I had disappointingly spotted only six gar, managed to cast to three of them, and landed two. But as the water warmed more fish entered the system and began to congregate in small packs. For the longest while I remained as motionless as a stone statue in twelve inches of water, both focused on the task at hand yet daydreaming at the same time, and waited for the gar to cruise by. Every minute or so one would travel within casting range, the fly sent sailing in a direction intended to intersect its course, and a fish was on. It was really that easy. In the hours that followed we both hooked over twenty gar, a few bass, and a giant carp that was tail-hooked and almost ran out all my backing as it headed back towards the lake. While most people consider carp to be a trash fish, their reputation is undeserved for their qualities as a sport fish cannot be denied.
On the other side of the dam there were even more fish milling about in the shallows. The first fish, spotted lying just a few inches from the shoreline, was a nice female that somersaulted twice from the water and took a few short yet blistering runs before being led onto the rocks. The colours were incredible, green and golden scales as tough as iron, with beautiful black markings. No matter what type of response the aesthetics of a gar elicits from most people, nobody can deny that it is not a beautiful fish despite its fearsome appearance. The rest of the afternoon was a blur of activity, casting and landing fish every few minutes, changing flies, re-tying knots and leaders, pulling flies from our shirts, and taking photos. As the day neared its end, having caught and landed several more gar, although not the object of our desire, we walked through the park towards the car fully satisfied with our results. It was our best day to date for gar on the rocks.