Alligator Gar have become one of my favorite types of fish to catch. As one of the most fascinating and elusive creatures in freshwater ecosystems, the alligator gar offers anglers an adrenaline-filled challenge like no other.
My family has recently moved to Florida and the lake we live on is full of various types of Gar. I have found that they are a large challenge to catch, but one that is full of thrills for my whole family. I caught my first one on accident and it took me a while to really dial in how to bring Gar in again and again.
I want to share with you the baits, setups, and methods we have used to get these prehistoric monsters on the line and into the net.
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Be Patient When Fishing for Gar
Gar are ambush predators. That means they sneak up slowly and cautiously on their prey. They aren’t aggressive like a large mouth bass where they will pursue a bait quickly. They lurk in the shadows or depths and lash out quickly.
Another cool thing I’ve learned is that unlike many other types of fish that I have caught, Gar don’t “eat” their prey immediately. When I get a Gar “take”, I can tell immediately. Most other species seem to hit and then immediately go to the bottom or swim quickly in a given direction. Gar will take a bait and just continue to casually cruise around.
As I’ve observed them closely off our dock, what I have seen them do is take the bait and just keep it in their snout (and teeth) for quite some time before they actually eat it. I have had instances where they took a live shinner on a bobber and swam around with it for many minutes. When I went to set the hook, I didn’t hook up with the Gar, but my shiner was still on the hook completely intact. Maybe a few small teeth marks in it, but still alive!
It’s crazy, but I have found that they tend to act more like large sharks when taking a bait. They just kind of chew on it for awhile and you have to be really patient.
Locate them By Site
One of the cool things about Gar is they are air breathers! Yep you heard that right. They breath air often especially when they are in lakes or ponds with low oxygen levels. What that means is they are pretty easy to spot.
For awhile I was unsure what I was seeing in our water. My friends that have lived on these lakes for many years said there were Gar in the lakes but they had never seen any. Once I knew what to look for, I realized there were Gar everywhere in our lakes.
What you will see is a top water disruption and if you are close enough, you can see their slender dark bodies roll right through the ripple.
When fishing for them on a calm day, I usually just wait until I see one surface and then throw my bait straight at them. It’s a bit more challenging on windy days, but when the water is calm, it is really easy to site-fish Gar
Alligator Gar Fishing Rigs
Gar are strong, so they require a strong rig, similar to what you would use with inshore fishing. Alligator gar, in particular, can grow over 6 ft and weigh 100 lbs. It’s best to have a tackle that’s capable of handling a minimum weight of 30 lbs.
Here are a few things we are using that have given us good success.
The fishing line for catching alligator gar has to be somewhere in the range of 20 to 50 lb. I prefer to run a braided line followed by a fluorocarbon leader. I connect the two using barrel swivel so I can ensure I have a really strong connection.
These giants have a crazy amount of really sharp teeth so use gear that is heavy and capable of withstanding a toothy beast.
Here’s one thing I didn’t know before I started catching Gar. They are nasty! They seem to emit a really muddy slime when you handle them. After grabbing my first one and then not being able to get the smell off for many hours, I realized I wanted to handle them with gloves going forward.
Types of Baits to Use
Gar tend to take different baits at different times of the year and during different water conditions. Some times they prefer a live bait on top and other times they are more interested in cut bait on the bottom. During times of high activity like spring months during a spawn, it’s best to use a bait that moves.
Here are a few types of baits that have worked best for me.
- Live Bait: I primarily use shiners, but have also caught one on a worm. A live shiner in slightly windy weather gives a lot of animation to the bait and seems to be my best attractant. I usually put the live bait on a bobber, but have also had some success with it on a slip weight on the bottom. Generally though, live shiner on the bobber is my go-to.
- Cut bait: As the summer months approach, it seems like the Gar prefer chunks of bait settled on the bottom. I have used rotten chicken or fish chunks with some reasonable success. This method can be a little challenging because cat fish seem to be more prevalent and will eat the same things on the bottom. So, I tend to catch nice fish using cut bait, but sometimes it’s not the Gar I was looking for.
- Crankbaits or swimbaits: The Gar is an ambush predator, so most of the time, it won’t actively pursue a fast moving bait. However, I have caught a few on slow moving Rapalas. I have also caught quite a few on top water soft frogs. Just retrieve them really slowly and bounce them on occasion.
- Frayed nylon rope: This is maybe one of the more fun methods. No hooks required. Just take a nylon rope and unravel / fray it. Burn a knot in one end to create a connection point with your line, then tie your leader to it. From there, throw it out and retrieve it really slowly, twitching it every so often. The Gar will hit it and immediately tangle it’s teeth in the line. It’s really fun to catch them like this….until you have to try to get that rope out of their mouth. Good luck!
They are strong and put up a really great fight. Make sure you have tackle that can handle their size and power.
A fishing rod for gar will have to be one that has a backbone in handling strong runs. An excellent starting point would be a 7 ft. rod that has a weight rating of 10 to 20 lbs. on it.
Other Tactics for Catching Alligator Gar
Some of the tactics can also be downright absurd. However, you need to keep an open mind as they are very effective. Try them out for yourself as they can be enjoyable.
Lasso for Alligator Gar
Fishing for alligator gar will require some creativity and this next approach is a testament to that.
Using a lasso can sound like you’re after a horse in Texas, but it actually works. It involves snaring alligator gar using thin wire, a noose, and a baitfish.
The bait will be impaled on your wire’s end and the noose will be fashioned around it. As gar takes your bait, your wire noose will close on the bill of the gar, then off it goes.
Because they are air breathers, Gar tend to swim around the surface of the water. You can literally site fish them. Trying to Lasso them can make for hours of entertainment. Give it a shot at night with a spot light!
A popular method for catching Gar is to bow fish for them.
Of course, you’ll need your archery skills with you and a lot of practice on bow fishing. It’s fun and a different way of getting some experience alligator gar fishing.
Always check your lake, local, and state regulations as there are many places where bow fishing is illegal. When you find the right place though, go at night with a large spotlight and have a great time.
Mastering alligator gar fishing requires a blend of knowledge, skill, and a deep appreciation for these remarkable creatures. By understanding their behavior, habitat, and employing the right rigs and techniques, anglers can embark on a thrilling adventure and increase their chances of success.
However, it is essential to remember the importance of responsible angling practices, including catch-and-release and sustainable fishing methods, to ensure the conservation of this species for future generations. As you venture out onto the water, armed with the insights and strategies shared in this article, may you embrace the excitement and wonder of alligator gar fishing while fostering a deep respect for these ancient predators and the ecosystems they inhabit.