"The Godawful Garish Gar Grabber"
Text and Photo by L.J. DeCuir

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The Godawful Garish Gar Grabber

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 process.

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.

Materials List:

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 length hook

Thread:  Yellow.

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.

Tying Instructions:

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, packed tightly.

10.  Spin purple deer hair over the final 1/3 of the hook shank towards the eye of the hook, packed tightly.

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 with glue.

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 fish.

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.

Alligator Gar

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.

Cooking Garfish:

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.

Garfish Courtbouillion

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 regularly.

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.

Bon Appetit ~ L.J. DeCuir

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