Updated: May 23
By David Graham: 5/22/2023
I recall first hearing of the pursuit of longnose gar without hooks over 20 years ago. My fascination with gar was integral to the earliest development of my interest in fishing. For me, the gar was always there... always an interest. As a young teen I found myself on the forums of the Gar Anglers Sporting Society (G.A.S.S.) and before long I was reading about using nylon rope lures for gar.
It isn't a 'new' thing to those in the 'know', but its a bizarre concept to tangle with a fish in the literal sense... and it is unique almost exclusively to longnose gar. As hard as it can be to successfully drive a hook through the bony beak of a gar... creativity spawned a unique way to chase the fish with an artificial 'lure' made of strands of nylon rope, and absolutely zero hooks.
Enter longtime gar angler and friend - Donnie Hinkle.
Donnie is a guy I have seen and talked with the in the 'gar community' for over two decades... and one of the few guys I have seen who has consistently pursued and specialized in chasing monster longnose gar with rope lures. I would call him an expert on the matter, a badge I feel he has earned. It was an encounter with a school of monster longnose gar over twenty years ago that set Hinkle on a course of pursuit that has lasted ever since.
"Suddenly I found myself in a large School of Longnose Gar! Big ones!!! They were piled in there like wood! My heart started beating like I was in a tree stand and a big ole buck had walked out on me!... - Donnie Hinkle
I went into the tackle box and pulled out the lure with the most hooks! It was a Bang O Lure, top water stick lure. Three sets of trebles, that ought to snag one! I tied it on with 12 lb mono line and tossed it out in front of one of the bigger ones and that gar ate it right off the top of the water, then took off like a rocket! I was getting ready to hold on tight, but my rod barely started bending before those teeth cut the line. Less than a minute later, I saw my Bang O Lure come floating to the top. That was pretty much it for me and I knew I would figure out how to catch them over the winter, so I researched." - Donnie Hinkle
The Advantages of Rope Lures
After that encounter, Donnie spent the winter researching how to pursue, and safely handle a longnose gar.
"My studies lead me to 2 characters that stood out from the rest of the gar fishermen online and they were both using nylon rope to make lures. The names are Terry Smith, Coosa River Guide, and the late Jack Barnett, who goes by GarManJack of Lake Lanier. Both of them made and sold gar fishing lures to local tackle shops and online." - Donnie Hinkle
Rope lures provide a number of advantages over traditional lures with hooks. Because they do not have hooks, the rope lure essentially causes zero damage to the fish. Strands of nylon are also extremely effective in 'hookup' ratio. Maybe even to a fault. A properly tangled gar can be difficult to free from nylon lures. It is critical that strong knots and line are used when fishing with nylon lures, as a broken line could mean certain death for a longnose gar escaping with a snout tangled and bound together.
Another advantage of these lures is they are easy to make! Typical components can be purchased at your local hardware store.
"all you need is about 6 main strands from 3/8 inch twisted rope. Good quality nylon rope (Not braided and not poly) rope. Cut lengths about 16-18 inches long. At the middle of the length, attach a split rig with a zip tie. Cut the excess zip tie. Unfray it, then brush it out with a hair brush like your mom used with fine bristles. Slide a 3/8 ounce bullet sinker on your line and tie onto the split ring. That's it!" - Donnie Hinkle
Essentially, you would cut one or two strands of three-strand twisted rope roughly 16 inches in length. Attach a ziptie and split ring to the center of that so that there are two 8 inch strands hanging below. Thoroughly untwist and brush out those strands to look similar to Barbie doll hair. This is just one example of a very basic method of tying the lure!
How To Use Rope Lures
While blind casting in the path of rolling fish can be a productive means of drawing a bite - site casting is probably the most efficient way to work a rope lure. The active pursuit of site casting to longnose gar is more like hunting than fishing... browsing productive areas where gar can be visibly seen affords the opportunity to be selective.
"The advantage of trolling around productive areas is selection. I get to hunt the big Gars and then time my cast to make my retrieve track across the big Gars path, the twitch a little to create flash and a reaction strike". - Donnie Hinkle
The best reaction strikes come when the lure is brought perpendicular, across the snout of a fish... not right at them, not from over the shoulder. Literally T-boning a cruising fish - as the lure twitches and swims directly across the snout of the fish, it often triggers a deadly fast reactionary strike... characteristic feeding of this efficient opportunistic predator.
When a gar bites the rope lure - one must resist the instinct to 'set the hook' as done with a traditional lure. Apply light pressure to the fish enough to where it will begin to turn and pull back. Generally, once the gar realizes it does not want the rope, it will attempt to free the strands from its teeth with a series of headshakes... only hopelessly becoming more entangled.
While rope lures may look unusual or even silly out of the water - the free flowing strands of nylon move with fluidity and natural swimming motion when twitched through the water. Rigged weightless, the weight of the waterlogged nylon its-self is slow sinking, and remains high in the water column in suspension and in movement - right in that sweet spot where gar are typically cruising near the surface during hot summer days.
The rope lures are efficient... VERY efficient, almost too efficient. When a gar really gets in deep on a nylon rope lure it can become absolutely matted and downright stuck! This presents a few challenges anglers need to be aware of.
Firstly... longnose gar are destined to die if knots are poorly tied, the lead line is weak, or any events may arise resulting in a broken line. A gar left with nylon entangled teeth will not survive. It is critical to use tough line and good knots. Donnie suggests the use of 50lb braided line with optional leader. Sharp teeth and ganoid scales can fray and cut lines - examine the line after each catch for damage!
Consider using a sturdy glove to handle the fish for the same reasons... a jaw spreading device, or something as simple as a piece of PVC pipe can be used to keep the toothy jaws of a gar open while strands of nylon are meticulously removed with a set of pliers. Gar can stay out of the water for prolonged periods of time so long as they are kept moist. Ensure ALL strands are removed from the teeth prior to release!
Ever since I met Donnie Hinkle he has fished and fine tuned his pursuits for gar primarily on West Point Lake, and the Chattahoochee river system local to Franklin Georgia. One gander at the fish he pulls, and you understand why he has never had to stray away from that area... it produces monsters. In his local waters, Donnie keys in on a few key elements.
"Most of the gar I catch are on shallow flats near deep water but out of normal boat traffic lanes. You would think they would be in the most secluded areas of the lake but the biggest gar I ever caught was almost within view of the most popular marina we have, right in the river's mouth but the shoal markers keep boaters from flying through that flat so they accumulate there each year" - Donnie Hinkle
It's an observation consistent with my own findings with the species from South Carolina, to Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Virginia, and Florida... shallow flats near main channels or otherwise deep-water adjacent sections of weedy flats. These will be ideal elements to search when hunting for gar with rope lures.
In the spirit of entertaining new ventures in fishing - consider trying your hand at hookless lures for gar! It offers an experience that is stylistically unique to a very underappreciated sporty species of fish. Nylon rope lures can be applied to baitcasting, spinning, and fly fishing gear and gives better odds and 'hooking' and successfully landing these prehistoric monster fish with no harm done!
Special thanks to some experienced input from OG gar angler, Donnie Hinkle!
Hinkle runs some guided trips for longnose gar each year on West Point Lake in Georgia where he can take up to 3 to 4 anglers at a time.
See more at http://westpointlakegargrabbers.blogspot.com/