Grip and Grin: Trashy Trophy | Kayak Angler Magazine | Rapid Media
Book your trip with Baer Kayak Fishing now to start catching Great Lake trophies of your own. Book your trip with Baer Kayak Fishing now to start catching Great Lake trophies of your own. Photo: Barna Robinson

There is no trash fish, just under-appreciated beauties.

The Inner Bay of Long Point can play host to a world-class fishery 365 days of the year. No matter what fresh-water species you’re itching to catch, you can almost guarantee you’ll find it in or around the bay. Whether it is jumbo perch through the ice or both trophy largemouth and smallmouth in the summer/fall, there’s always something biting if you know where to look.

When it comes to fishing just after the ice and in anticipation for the upcoming bass season in late June, many anglers primarily seek out two species: yellow perch and northern pike. Both species are abundant in numbers and can produce trophy-sized fish any angler would be proud of. The pike, more specifically, move right into the shallows during the spawn making them popular targets for both shore and boat anglers alike. Though right along side these toothy giants is a species that is quite often overlooked that share almost identical spawning grounds. A fish so odd looking and straight out of the Stone Age, I am talking about the gar pike.

As an angler, I have been fishing the bay as long I can remember and like most people I targeted pike, perch and bass without giving gar the time of day. This past spring, I was given the opportunity to fish alongside both boss and friend Barna Robinson, owner of Baer Kayak Fishing, in hopes to figure out how to consistently land these toothy critters as their long, boney snouts made it very difficult. In doing so, we could provide a unique experience to anglers seeking something different from catching traditional sport fish.

As we set out in our Kayaks along the shallow, weedy marsh of the inner bay shorelines, I was astonished by just how many gar were there when you really looked for them.  Though seeing them and catching them proved to be two completely different things. Once spotted, these fish spooked very easily so it became a game of “see them before they see you”. Making long casts ahead of where we were going to proved to work quite well.

When not spooked, we found these fish to be very aggressive and struck multiple times at our baits over the course of a single cast. Though the major issue at hand was getting the fish to stay on the end of the line.  For the life of me, I was unable to land one of these fish, which began to bother me. Being naturally competitive, I was not about to lose to a fish and was determined to figure out how to land these guys. This was where the real work began.

At first, we tried using floating pencil baits with treble hooks in the hopes that when they struck, that at least one of the hooks would stick. We also contemplated ways to rig live bait and even began to put material, such as yarn, on our existing lures hoping that something would get stuck in their mouths. This all proved unsuccessful, as we had only landed one gar in 4 trips. By this time, frustration was setting in and I turned to the Internet for answers.

It was there that I watched a video of a guy from the southern United States catching gar one after another on nothing other than a shoelace tied onto the end of his line. I chuckled and couldn’t believe that something so simple was the answer to the problem bothering me the last couple of weeks. From there I watched a few more videos using this unorthodox method before stumbling upon someone using twisted nylon rope for their lures.

The individual had completely unraveled the rope until each individual strand was separated. The idea was for the fish to bite down on the rope and to have the floss-like fibers on each individual strand get stuck in their teeth. To me, unraveled rope looked very similar to the skirt of a spinner bait or a marabou jig, so this method struck me as the best course of action. I marched down to the local Canadian Tire and bought 4 feet of twisted nylon rope, a couple packages of hooks and got to work. 

Baer Kayak Fishing Guide Robert Maerz shows off his favorite trophy.

During my evenings and days off, I spent a lot of time with my dad working of developing our own prototype nylon rope lures and let me tell you, they looked ugly. Unraveled nylon rope tied off at the end with a hook stuck into it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing lure to look at, but the gar pike didn’t seem to mind. The following day I set out again with my boss to test out these lures and the gar loved them, but I was still unable to get them in the kayak. During the fight, the fish were still coming off the line, as the nylon rope would slide through their teeth just like floss.

At this point, I knew I was really onto something and marched right back into that Canadian and bought a couple packs of leaders and treble hooks. Again, with the help of my dad, we began to modify our existing baits placing leaders up through the nylon skirts and attached a treble hook the end as a stinger hook similar to what you see in a large buck tail lure, trout bead rigs and hair rigs for carp.

The very next day, with the spawn season winding down, we set out in the hopes that finally we would be able to land these gar. About 15 minutes into this trip, I spotted a group of 3 gar swimming alongside me which I managed to creep up on. Baitcaster in hand with the newly modified lure attached, I made a subtle cast to the left and a little behind the group.

As my lure hit the water the closest gar almost instinctively did a complete 180-degree a smacked my lure, the fight was on. The entre time I was praying that it stayed on the end of my line.  After about 10 seconds, the fight was over and a gar was finally in my net. To say I was excited was an understatement. After I calmed myself down, I was curious to see how the fish stayed on and saw that the stinger hook was caught in the corner of its mouth, doing exactly what it was supposed to do.

If it were not for the modification, the fish would have again gotten away causing me more grief. When I finally got to hold it, I was surprised how coarse the fish was, as its scales resembled a plate of armor. I remember thinking these fish were modern day dinosaurs and true prehistoric predators. I then got a quick picture and got it back in the water as soon as possible. It didn’t stop there as I was able to net 3 more the same night and 2 more on a following trip before the spawn had ended, moving the fish moved out of the shallows.

We had finally unlocked the code to catching these tricky fish. Never have I had to work so hard to catch something, but in doing so I have nothing but respect for them. I can’t wait for spring 2016 where you can bet I’ll be out there fishing for them in hopes of providing a unique experience for our angling clients. Because like every other sport fish out in the bay, gar pike deserve to be shown some love too.

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