The Godawful Garish Gar Grabber
"The Godawful Garish Gar Grabber"
Text and Photo by L.J. DeCuir
We thank the
Virtual Fly Box
and L.J. DeCuir for use permission!
One of the greatest underdeveloped gamefisheries of
the Southeast is that of the Garfish. There are at least
five different species of garfish found in the Southeast
ranging from the Alligator Gar that can top 100 lbs in size
to the more widely distributed Longnose and Shortnose
Gars that are found throughout almost all of the area.
The Garfish is a predator that attacks viciously and is
a strong fighter - all of the things that we are often looking
for in a gamefish. It compares in many ways to the
Pike and Muskie which have been recognized as gamefish
for years by fly fishermen.
So why has the Garfish been so neglected as a gamefish?
There are a number of different reasons for this, not
the least of which is that throughout the Southeast the
garfish is not highly prized as a food fish. Garfish are
certainly edible, but are not universally recognized as
being so because of their somewhat strong flavor. The
Cajuns of Southern Louisiana prefer to treat them as a
fish to be used in Courtbouillion or fish soup. They have
a firm flesh that stands up well in cooking and this manner
of preparation also mitigates the strong flavor. In
most other parts of the Southeast though they are viewed
as a trash fish and even a nuisance.
Garfish can also be extremely difficult to handle once
they have been caught. A long mouth filled with needle
sharp teeth can be intimidating to say the least and their
habits of surface feeding lead them to strike out at any
attempt at handling when near the surface. One bite by
a Garfish is often enough to make any fisherman immediately
refuse to deal with them again - even if any digits are not lost in the
For those who have pursued Gar as a gamefish
a further complication has been consistent hookups.
The Gar has a very tough mouth that makes hook
penetration difficult. Garfishing tactics that have been
developed have not been well publicized and most
fishermen view them as difficult to catch. There are a
number of tactics though that have been pursued by fly
fishermen successfully in taking Gar.
This fly seeks to combine the different methods of taking
Gar all in one fly. The Dahlberg Diver is a fly that is
highly successful in getting Gar to hit, but does not
provide consistent hookups. This fly is basically an
adaptation of the Dahlberg with the inclusion of chemically
sharpened hooks to get better penetration in the
tough mouth, the addition of a trailer hook to overcome
the problem of the fish hitting just the tail of the fly, and
the construction of a tail out of pantyhose to give a good
grip on the teeth of the fish when neither hook has
struck home. The colors chosen are especially effective
in the early morning and late afternoon when Garfish
are at their most active.
Hooks: One Tiemco 8089NP #2-10 or other
chemically sharpened bass bug hook, One Tiemco 811S
#2-8 or other chemically sharpened straight eye standard
Weed Guard & Trailer: Stiff heavy monofilament
- 20 lb. test or heavier.
Tail: Strips of white nylon pantyhose dyed
yellow tied in w/some krystal flash for highlights.
Body/Head: Yellow, green & purple spun deer
hair trimmed to a Dahlberg Diver style body/head (flat on the
bottom, bullet shaped head tapering back to a flaring collar).
The back of the body is spun first from yellow hair.
This will form the flaring collar and a few strands will be
left tapering back over the tail. The middle part of the
head is spun from green deer hair and then the front part
of the head is spun from purple deer hair.
1. The first step for tying this fly is actually
to dye some white pantyhose. Go to the store and get
the cheapest white pantyhose in the largest size you can
find. While you're there pick up some yellow Rit or Tintex dye.
You want to get white pantyhose because they will take the
dye better than the skin colored ones. Next you'll need a
bucket, crock or pot that you are never going to use for
anything else to do the actual dying in. The dye will pretty
much ruin whatever you put it in so don't use anything good.
It is also not recommended to try cooking in a pot or other
device that you have dyed in. Bring about a gallon of water
to a rolling boil on the stove and pour it into the dying pot.
Drop in two teaspoons of dye and stir it around with some
implement that you also don't mind losing to any other purpose
- an old stick works just fine. Drop in the pantyhose and stir
them around for a while as well. In the meantime also have
a bucket or pot of cold water ready. Check the pantyhose
regularly until they have turned just slightly darker than the
shade that you want. Pull them out of the dye, let the
excess dye drain back into the dye pot, and then plunge
them immediately into the cold water and stir them around.
The cold water sets the dye so that it won't fade. Hang up
the pantyhose to dry and then cut into thin strips about 1/4"
to 3/8" wide and about 3" to 5" long depending upon the
hook size with which you are working. Grab each strip of
pantyhose by one end and using your other hand slide it
along the strip while stretching the strip. This will cause the
strip to form into a small tube longitudinally.
2. Prepare the trailer hook and weed guard:
Take one of the 811S hooks and tie about a 8" piece of
20 lb. mono onto the eye of the hook. Use a little epoxy
or other glue to secure the knot.
3. Take both hooks and crimp down the barb.
When it comes time to get one of these hooks out of
the mouth of the Gar you will be happy that you did.
4. Secure the bass bug hook in the vise.
5. Start the thread at the bend of the hook and
wrap forward about 1/4". Position the mono with the
trailer hook so that the eye of the trailer hook is about
1 1/4" to 1 3/4" behind the bend of the bass bug hook
depending upon the size hooks used. Lash the mono
holding the trailer hook in place on top of the bass bug
hook by wrapping thread back to the bend and then
forward to where you had begun wrapping the thread.
Use tight wraps of thread closely spaced. Grasp the butt
of the mono (which now should be sticking forward towards
the eye of the hook) and bend it back 180 degrees. Lash it
in place with the thread wrapping tightly back to the bend of
the hook and then forward again. You should now have the
trailer hook in place and a long butt of monofilament sticking
out the back of the hook for later use as a weed guard. Use
epoxy or other glue to further secure the thread wraps and
monofilament to the hook.
6. Take 4-5 pieces of the dyed pantyhose that
has previously been cut into strips and secure it in place
as a tail. This should be tyed in over the top of the thread
and epoxy that is securing the monofilament into place. After
the pieces are secure in place trim them to 1/2" longer than
the trailer hook.
7. Secure several pieces of yellow, green, and/or
purple krystal flash over the top of and to the sides of the
pantyhose strips as highlights. Cut to slightly shorter than
the tail. Return the thread to just in front of the tail.
8. Spin yellow deer hair over about 1/3 of the
remainder of the hook shank towards the eye of the hook.
Pack the hair tightly as you spin it into place.
9. Spin green deer hair over about another
1/3 of the hook shank towards the eye of the hook,
10. Spin purple deer hair over the final
1/3 of the hook shank towards the eye of the hook,
11. Do a whip finish just behind the eye
of the hook using only a couple of turns, just to keep
the thread from unraveling and cut the thread.
12. Trim the deer hair flat on the underside
of the hook. Trim the purple and green deer hair to form
a tapered bullet shaped head. Trim the yellow deer hair
to form a flaring collar. Leave a few strands of the yellow
deer hair that flare towards the back of the hook untrimmed.
This forms the classic Dahlberg Diver shaped head.
13. Restart the thread just behind the eye
of the hook.
14. Bend the monofilament used to form
the weed guard forward underneath the hook following
the shape of the hook, but slightly below the point.
Secure the monofilament in place just behind the eye
of the hook and trim off the excess.
15. Whip finish and secure in place
Fishing the Fly:
This fly is usually most effectively fished in a very
slow constant retrieve. Keep it moving, but keep it moving
very slowly. At the first hint of a tug on the fly move the
tip of the rod up or to the side fast and hard. In playing
the Gar it is important to keep a constant pressure on the
The Gar may have been hooked, or it may only be held
on by its teeth being tangled in the pantyhose tail. This fly was
specifically designed to improve your chances of a hookup
on the Gar - a very difficult fish to get hooked. The Gar often
will attack only the tail of the fly. The trailer hook and the use
of a pantyhose tail will greatly increase your chances of actually
getting the fish on the end of the line. The chemically sharpened
hooks will also help your chances of the hook penetrating the
tough mouth of the fish.
The tippet used to attach the fly to the leader should
also be the same kind of hard heavy monofilament used in
the construction of the trailer hook and the weed guard.
Garfish are not leader shy and their sharp teeth can
easily break light tippets. In the case of the large Alligator
Gar it may even be necessary to employ a steel core
tippet. Long leaders are also not necessary when fishing
for Gar. Unless you are going for one of the big guys a
typical Garfish rig would consist of a floating line, a straight
piece of 10-12 lb. test mono about 6' long for the
leader with a 2'-3' tippet of 20 lb. hard mono.
When you finally do land a Garfish it is then that the
most difficult part of the process of catching the fish begins -
releasing the fish. Do not let your hand get close to the mouth
of the fish. These fish will lash out viciously with their many
needle sharp teeth. Do not attempt to remove the fly while the
fish is still in the water. Garfish typically feed at or near the
surface of the water and have all the advantages when their
body is still in water. Get it completely out of the water and
after you have a firm grip on the body right behind the head
then use a long set of hemostats to remove the fly. Here is
where you will appreciate having crimped down the barbs of
the hook, or having used a barbless hook.
Another method of releasing the fish is to use a large
net. The net can immobilize the fish and help in the fly removal
process. For very large Alligator Gars I would personally
recommend just cutting the tippet a couple of feet in front
of the fly and letting the fish swim off with the fly still in its
mouth. If the fish has been held on the line by the pantyhose
then this will release when there is no longer pressure on the fly
from the line. Using barbless hooks will let the fly come easily
out of the Gar's mouth if you cut the tippet.
This is not a fish that you should try fishing
for from a float tube.
Outside of Southern Louisiana there aren't too many
people who prize Garfish as food. While the flavor is
certainly not as delicate as Perch or Brim it is no stronger
than many other fish that are readily consumed
throughout the country. The Cajuns of Southern Louisiana
usually prefer to prepare it in a "Courtbouillion" - the
Southern Louisiana equivalent of Bouillabaisse. This method
of preparation demands a firm fleshed fish such
as the Gar and helps to mellow out the flavor.
Ingredients: (To serve 4-6)
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
4-5 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup of chopped onions
1 Tbs. of chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbs. of chopped fresh celery or (preferred) fresh celery leaves
1 Tbs. of chopped fresh bell pepper
2 lbs. Garfish, cut first into steaks and then
into about 1" to 1 1/2" cubes
2 cups of fish stock or bottled clam juice
about 1 lb. of Roma or other cooking
tomatoes coarsly chopped or a 1 lb. can of tomatoes,
drained and coarsly chopped
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 whole bay leaves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. crumbled dried saffron threads
or 1/4 tsp. ground saffron
1/2 tsp. Tabasco or 1/4 tsp. ground
cayenne pepper or to taste
1 tsp. salt or to taste
4-6 cups cooked white rice
Place about 2 Tbs. of oil in a large iron skillet. Start
the fire under the skillet and then add the garlic, onions,
parsley, celery and bell pepper. Stir the "mirepoix"
(vegetable medley) over medium heat until the onions are
translucent, but not browned.
Add the Garfish cubes to the skillet, cover and cook
over low heat for about 5 min. (Note: If you are not using
an iron skillet that retains heat well then this should be
over medium heat.)
Add the fish stock, tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, allspice,
saffron and Tabasco or cayenne pepper. If you prefer a
milder Courtbouillion you might want to omit the Tabasco
at this point and add it to taste later along with the salt. Bring
all these ingredients to a simmer and cook slowly stirring
Reduce the liquid to about 2 cups or until it
will lightly coat a spoon. Check for taste and add more
Tabasco and the salt if desired. Remove the bay leaves
and serve in individual bowls over rice.
~ L.J. DeCuir
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