It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about 200-pound alligator gar in a Texas reservoir, a 3-foot longnose in a Minnesota river, or a 5-pound shortnose in an Arkansas slough-they’re all first-class sportfish. They’re all willing biters, too, often revealing their location during summer by rolling on the surface to gulp air. They’re also powerful fighters who will launch their muscular armor-plated body into the air when hooked. The problem with gar is their tooth-filled mouth and habit of running long distances with a bait before swallowing it. This makes them difficult to hook and land with traditional rigs. But a handful of modified rigs will catch any species of gar wherever they swim.
Gar lack any appreciable amount of flesh in their mouth, making hookups with large single hooks difficult. Small sharp treble hooks penetrate faster and the additional hook points increase your chance of a good set. Lip hook a baitfish with a #6 to #2 treble hook on a set or float rig. Gar often grab the bait sideways and slowly swim off. Wait until the fish stops and starts to swallow the bait. When he starts to run again, set the hook firmly. Quick-strike rigs and lures with multiple treble hooks increase your chance of a hookup without risking injury caused by swallowed hooks.
Wire snares like those used to catch rabbits may be the most effective gar rig of all. Make a snare by wrapping one end of a 2-foot piece of stainless steel wire around a heavy barrel swivel. Run the free end of the wire through the back of a lively baitfish, just below the dorsal fin. Swing the free end back toward the swivel and form a loose loop that slides easily on the leader. Tie your main line to the swivel and cast the rig onto a shallow flat. When a gar grabs the bait, a firm pull will tighten the snare around its beak.
Versatile lures and flies also can be fashioned from strands of frayed nylon rope. Cut a 3- to 6-inch piece of 3/8-inch nylon rope, and thread it onto the shank of a hook, jighead, or spinnerbait as you would a plastic worm. Use a flame to fuse the rope to the hook shank, then wrap over the melted rope with strong thread or braided line. Cover the thread wraps with a couple coats of epoxy to increase the lure’s durability. Unravel the nylon strands the the base of the head, and you’re ready to fish. When a gar strikes, the lure becomes tangled in its teeth and around its snout.
Jugs, or pop-ups as they’re called in the south, are similar to the juglines used by catfishermen. They consist of a 4-foot section of PVC pipe or a sturdy branch tied to 2-liter soda bottle. One end of a 2-foot wire leader is attached to the branch, the other to a large study hook baited with livebait or cutbait. Fleets of jugs are drifted across shallow flats at night. When a fish begins its second run, indicating it has swallowed the bait, the angler grabs the limb and attempts to haul the fish aboard.