To some the “gar hole” is an area void of game animals and worthless to the hunter. Not all gar holes are equal.
To the fishing archer, there is something peaceful about bowfishing for gar. This fish from the Pleistocene age can trace his existence back to a time when man was just beginning to make his appearance on the earth.
Today they are often in quiet backwaters with low oxygen levels. But, more and more are in tailwaters below dams. They are everywhere in our waters of the Mississippi river flowage.
Gars are physically distinguished with an elongated body, a greenish black upper body and a yellowish lower body. The overall shape is like a torpedo or submarine. Large dark spots on the snout and body in a lateral line form a kind of natural camouflage. The prolonged snout of the gar is full of teeth.
Not particular in what they eat, gar can and will devour anything alive or freshly killed that even remotely resembles food. Frogs, fish, small mammals, birds and even turtles are prey to the gar that is able to lunge at them and snatch them with a sideways jerk of the head. Gar cruise on or near the surface of water taking in air and feeding on small fish. They are usually a night feeder but will not pass up a meal at other times.
Covering the fish skin is an armor-like layer of scales that are large and heavy. It protects them from attack by other animals. More than one gar has escaped form hook and line anglers by rolling and cutting the line on either the sharp scales or the toothy mouth. The scales provide a formidable surface to penetrate with an arrow. Fishing archers need to use sharp arrow points.
Basic bowfishing gear alone works to take gar or one can combine it with rod and reel spooled with heavy line. In the latter instance, the line runs from the bowfishing set up to the rod and reel. When the quarry is shot, and swims off with the arrow, the archer puts down the bow and takes up the rod and reel, playing the fish as he would any rod and reel caught fish. This procedure is usually limited to shooting very large fish.
Purists fishing anglers use reels mounted to their bows either by tape to the back of the bow or by reels mounted on stabilizers. Once a fish is shot, retrieve it by reeling in the line in the case of the reel mounted on a stabilizer or by hand lining in the case of the reel taped to the back of the bow. For anyone interested in taking up this sport, you can purchase bowfishing kits that contain all the elements necessary to take fish with bow and arrow. They usually also contain instructions on mounting the equipment and how to use it. These kits are available from sporting goods stores ad by mail from such places as: GanderMountain, Bass Pro Shops and Cabelas.
Once struck by an arrow, a gar will make haste in getting away from the area. They twist and turn until they tangle themselves in the line. Exercise care as the armor-like scales can cut the line. Gently retrieving the line will increase chances that the archer will be successful in landing his trophy. Some archers actually use a heavy glove to protect hands from line cuts or from scales cutting fingers.
Once in the boat or on shore, a short length of pipe can quiet him with a single blow to the head. A fish thrashing around can cut legs.
Contrary to popular opinion, gar is edible. To preserve the catch for the table it is a good idea to keep them in a large plastic garbage tub with ice on the top. The ice will keep the fish fresh for a period until the fisherman can get them home. Live wells in most boat are too small to keep these fish for any length of time. A big gar mounts made by a taxidermist and make a startling addition to the trophy collection of an archer. The meat is edible but the eggs of a gar are not. In fact, the eggs are poisonous. Do not eat them or feed them to a pet. Marinate the meat in Orange Crush soda overnight, drain and deep fry.
It is best to immediately clean Gar taken for the table after catching. A hacksaw blade works well to get through the tough scales. A knife used to take out the meat as one would most any fish. The mean on either side of the backbone makes great gar steaks.
Gar holes to the fishing archer means a worthy opponent and an interesting study of a dinosaur age fish. Evenings on quiet water or wading below dams for the quarry to surface is fun. It is also good for the soul as well as a great summer time escape for bowhunters in search of another challenge. Action is sometimes slow in coming, but then when it does the action is great. Gar holes are great fun.