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Published: Friday, 7/23/2004

Following the fish: Longnose gar are toothy summer angling targets

BY STEVE POLLICK
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

They look like skinny northern pike with a heck of a nose-job,

their elongated snouts full of needlelike teeth.

Or maybe a creature that is half alligator, half fish. Gar that is what they are.

They are one of Ohio s lesser known but more ancient, primitive fish, which trace their roots almost as far back as the sturgeon and bowfin.

If you are like Lee Klag, of Perrysburg, you may be lucky enough to catch one. He was fishing recently in the Maumee River at a friend s streamside cottage above Waterville when he landed a 36-inch, 4-1/2-pound longnose gar.

I ve been catching catfish and small sheepshead. We were cooking ribeye steaks and I wanted to fish. So the angler tied on a sinker and added hooks 6 and 24 inches above it. He baited his hooks with some gristle and trimmings.

I put the steak on there and just launched it out.

Almost immediately his rod bent and he did a doubletake at the odd-looking fish he saw. It was flipping in the air just like a smallmouth bass.

Longnose gar are rarely caught on hook and line because of their hard, bony jaws, says the Ohio Division of Wildlife in a life history

about the species. Small live minnows fished up to one foot

below a bobber can be productive; extremely sharp hooks are

a must.

Larry Goedde, fish management supervisor for Ohio Wildlife District 2, said that most gar are caught incidentally, like Klag s fish, beginning in spring and into summer.

Gar have been around for a long time. Three species are native to Ohio.

They include the longnose, which is most common along Lake Erie and tributaries and the Ohio River drainage; the spotted gar, which is limited to the Lake Erie drainage, and the shortnose gar, a denizen of

Ohio River environs.

A fourth species, the alligator gar, is a southern species. It can grow huge, to sturgeon size possibly to six feet or more and 250 pounds-plus.

Only the longnose is listed in official state fish records kept by the Outdoor Writers of Ohio. The hook-and-line fish was 49 inches and 25 pounds, taken in 1966 in the Ohio River.

Goedde noted, however, that that fish could have been an alligator gar because of its abnormally large size for a longnose, and because two records of alligator gar exist from the Ohio River.

The bowfishing record is 48 inches, 14.57 pounds, taken in 2001 from Brush Creek in Adams County. Normally, the adult longnose runs 24 to 40 inches and weigh one to seven pounds.

The biologist noted that gar are harmless, but they are predators and feed on minnows and other small fish.

They prefer to hang out around vegetation, like pike, and grab whatever swims by.

Goedde noted that they prefer river systems and backwater areas, and that the lower stretches of the Maumee and Sandusky rivers in northwest Ohio are prime gar waters.

Gar were more abundant historically, Goedde said, with their numbers likely in decline now because of increased turbidity

in rivers because of agricultural and urban runoff.

The long, cylindrical body of a gar is covered with hard, diamond-shaped, nonoverlapping scales. They are olive to brownish on the back with white bellies, though fish from very clear water often have dark spots as well.

The scales, Goedde noted, are super-hard, to the point where you can t cut them with a knife blade. Native Americans, he added, used scaled gar skins to fashion sturdy, hard-wearing knife sheaths.

The fish also have a fan club, the Gar Anglers Sporting Society, or GASS. It maintains a Web site, full of information on identifying and catching gar, at www.garfishing.com.

Western Lake Erie fishing: The best walleye action appears to be from West Sister Island to the Sputnik electronics buoy near the end of the Toledo Ship Channel and on to the Michigan line, and

north of West Sister toward Middle Sister Island.

The fishing, however, has not been consistent, said Rick Ferguson at Al Szuch Live Bait. Leon Szych, of Point Place, would agree. He went out Monday, north of West Sister, and the action totally sucked.

But Tuesday he went back out, this time taking Dennis Bryant,

of Zap Lures, to whom Szych recently sold his line of Parrish

weight-forward lures.

They motored out 12 or 13 miles to 32 feet of water north of the island.

I got a continuous mark of fish about a foot off the bottom. It was reminiscent of the old days.

They started casting 3/4-ounce Parrish Punkin Balls and hauled in fish after fish, keeping their 12 fish in just 90 minutes of actual fishing.

In another note, one of skipper John Welch s customers last Friday landed a 26-inch steelhead trout, fishing between the island and the

Ship Channel, using a Weapon with a No. 4 gold blade. Welch

said the big trout threatened to spool the reel, but it made a

wrong turn and ended up in the net.



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