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In The Shadow Of Giants

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

By David Graham 3.3.2023


While the mighty alligator gar has become something of a Cinderella story in recent times... the monstrous shadow of this formidable freshwater titan has largely concealed the presence of its smaller, albeit respectably sized cousin - the longnose gar.

giant longnose gar
my biggest longnose gar to date, an emormous 61 inch fish

It is easy to stand in awe of a fish that grows in excess of 8 feet and north of 300 pounds... but to be categorized in the same species may mean struggling to get any of the same shine. Longnose gar are only a mere fraction of the size of their larger cousin - but they still come in at a respectable size by any freshwater measure... eclipsing 5 feet in length and excess of 40-50 pounds on the top end.


While stories of 'the big one' echo loudest around the tackle shop... brawn isn't everything and one could argue that the longnose gar may be the savvier - more sporty option over the alligator gar!


 

Range

The longnose gar presents a more accessible/attainable alternative to alligator gar. The most abundant of all the gar species (longnose, shortnose, spotted, florida, alligator, cuban, and tropical), longnose gar can be found throughout the Southeastern United States - from South Texas and up to Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec Canada.

longnose gar range map
range map courtesy of roughfish.com


 

Habitat

Longnose gar seem to do best in or around larger river systems. Their streamlined bodies are ideal for life in moving water where they prefer to to lay at or near the surface of sluggish and slow moving rivers and streams. Nevertheless, a longnose gar is just as happy in quiet backwaters and lakes. Longnose gar use their long bill as an instrument for ambush style feeding. They will want access to grass margins or other cover where they can lazily sneak up on small forage fish... using their bill as a 'long range' weapon of sorts... striking out with blinding speed to swipe unsuspecting prey.

longnose gar florida
A nice longnose gar from a Hillsborough River creek junction in Florida

In Rivers - Look for longnose gar to be sitting just outside of current breaks and eddys... they will occupy their time in broken current lines where they will patiently wait on moving water to bring opportunistic meals their way. Focus on deeper eddy pools where water circulates or sits still. Longnose gar will congregate in these areas of a river.

Dams and spillways are hotspots for longnose gar... in the Summer, the cooler water and flow they provide attract the forage items and ideal hunting grounds they prefer. Find pockets of deeper, calm waters, immediately below or in close proximity to larger dams and scan the surface of the water for rolling gar.


In general, current breaks on the back side of a log jam, a junction, or deep pockets along the edges of the river will all be great places to find big longnose gar rolling.

longnose gar fishing
dam tailwaters are always my go to starting point when looking for longnose gar

longnose gar habitat
Specifically look for deep eddy pools outside of the main current line. Longnose gar will congregate here

In Lakes - Longnose gar are happy to cruise the grassy flats of large lakes, but look for them to be in and around submerged channels/creek beds etc. From early spring-summer longnose gar may be moving to spawn. During this season, one large female may be accompanied by groups of males where they will hang out in shallow grassy areas to deposit their spawn and keep moving. When longnose gar are most actively engaged in spawning, they can be very difficult to coax into a bite. They simply won't care about baits or lures during the peak of the spawn.

longnose gar habitat
these shallow grass beds adjacent to deep channels are excellent spawn grounds/hunting grounds for longnose gar

 

Diet

While longnose gar can weigh as much as 40 pounds, and grow in excess of 5 feet in length... but they do so largely by eating small prey. One look at the narrow bill and small esophagus and one will see the longnose gar is ill equipped to eat excessively large prey items. Still, they will certainly attempt to do so if the meal comes easily. In most cases, longnose gar will be feeding on small species of fish like menhaden, juvenile sunfish species, perch, insects, and crustaceans. While longnose gar seem to spend the greater majority of their time higher in the water column, they will take baits directly off of the bottom.

giant longnose gar
One of my biggest longnose gar ever, a massive 61 inch fish

Bait

The longnose gar is an opportunistic predator that will happily take live, dead, or cut baits presented in front of them. I have found longnose gar to be more keen on a live bait though. A lively shiner, or other small baitfish that is moving and active will generate a much more animated response from a hungry longnose gar.

longnose gar teeth
the business end of a big longnose gar

The standard, go-to rigging method for longnose gar can be as simple as placing a live shiner, small sunfish, perch, or other small fish species a couple feet under a cigar float. This is a species that will generally be at or near the top of the water column, suspended baits will be the best option. While especially large longnose gar over 50 inches are very powerful fish, try to keep your hook size small. A size 1/0 baitholder hook is as big as you'd ever need even for the largest specimens.


While gar do have sharp teeth, gill covers, and scales... I have never found a steel leader to be necessary. A short leader of 40lb flouro... or even a leader of heavier braid is a great option. A braided leader of 80 or so pounds will provide enough abrasion resistance while also being soft and pliable... and less likely to be dropped.

longnose gar fishing
Josh Dolin with a boat load of longnose gar

Lures

While live baits are especially effective for targeting big longnose gar - they will happily swipe at most small 3-4 inch artificial lures. Your typical 3-4 inch shallow running crankbaits or lipped hardplastics that work upper few feet of the water column are great lures for longnose gar. Inline spinner baits are also a great option for longnose gar.

Longnose gar will generally not bolt after a lure that is far away from them. Presentation is often best when sight casted to particular fish... try to bring lures across the front half of the bill of gar moving perpendicular (from left to right or vise versa) to your casting position. Generally, lures crossing over the snout of a gar perpendicularly will trigger a fast reaction bite. Wary or cautious gar may hesitate to strike, and curiously follow a lure closely behind all the way back to you. In this case, having a lure that can be paused - and moves from left to right better into their field of vision may trigger a bite better than a steadily retrieved lure that they can hardly see straight in front of their bill.



nylon lures - almost exclusively designed for the longnose gar is the very interesting option of using a hookless nylon lure or fly.


Using roughly 4 inch sections of nylon rope - brush out and straighten the strands like barbydoll hair. Fix the 'rope' to a swivel. Nylon rope lures/flies are surprisingly fluid and lifelike in the water and can be twitched and swam like a small baitfish. When longnose gar snap onto the strands of nylon, their teeth become hopelessly entangled in the nylon strands. As bizarre as this may sounds, it is extremely effective!

longnose gar fishing
A nice longnose gar I caught in Oklahoma on a rope lure

Unlike a hooked lure or fly, the angler must resist the urge to 'set the hook' - rather, slight pressure can be applied. Generally the gar will attempt to shake the rope lure with a series of head shakes and jerks... only causing them to become more entangled in the fibers of the nylon.

nylon lure for gar
A longnose gar I caught years ago using a rope lure

With this method - it is critical to have strong line or leaders. In the event of a broken line, a gar with an entangled snout is destined to have a long death by starvation. One CANNOT afford to break off a gar while using rope lures or flies!

rope lure for gar
a longnose gar I on one of my own home made rope lures

In some cases - nylon flies or lures can be rigged with or affixed to a hook. This can provide backup and increased odds in securing the fish - and affords opportunity to actually hook incidental bycatch (if thats what you want!)

rope lure for gar
photo by Ellis Wynn of Halfmoon Fly Fishing

fly fishing for longnose gar
photo by Ellis Wynn of Halfmoon Fly Fishing

With the growing popularity of the mighty alligator gar, we should not be so quick to gloss over the tremendous sporting characteristics and opportunities that the longnose gar offers. Great size, strength, and acrobatics in the fight - longnose gar are perhaps one of the most difficult fish to successfully hook and land given the structure of its impressive jaws and its tenacity when hooked. A dynamic target that will take live, dead, and cut natural baits on bottom - at the surface - or suspended... and will eagerly pursue and consume artificial flies and lures, the longnose gar provides challenge to anglers of all skill levels and pursuits.




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