Longnose Gar fish identification, its habitats, characteristics, fishing methods.
Gar are ancient fish, little changed since the days of the dinosaur. The longnose gar's needle-like nose, suit-of-armor scales, and long body make it look like no other fish you might see in Minnesota. An inhabitant of warm, quiet waters, the gar is known for its sharp teeth and aggressive nature. The longnose gar has a thin, long body covered with hard diamond-shaped scales. Its pointy mouth is filled with teeth. In addition to breathing through gills, gar can also take in oxygen by swimming to the surface and gulping air into their swim bladders. This ability to "breathe" means they can survive in water that has almost no oxygen. They can even live out of water for many hours, as long as their bodies stay moist.
A combination of understanding the fish and the techniques used to catch them will help you to hook more fish to the end of your line. Better knowing and understanding of the fish that you are trying to catch will make you a more successful angler, whether you are fishing for trout on a river or surfing on the beach or trolling on the open water.
The longnose gar, Lepisosteus osseus, also known as Needlenose Gar, Billfish, Billy Gar, is a primitive ray-finned fish of the gar family. The longnose gar is found in rivers and lakes widely throughout the eastern half of the US, as far north as southern Quebec and extreme southern Ontario in the Great Lakes and as far south as northern Mexico. The most concentrated numbers of longnose gars are found throughout the American Deep South, Rio Grande drainages of Texas and Mexico, and anywhere along the Mississippi River basin, Delaware River, New Jersey.
The longnose gar ranges in length from 24–40 in (60–100 cm) and weighs up to 60 lbs (3.5 kg); Average life is 17- 20 years. The gar has a long and cylindrical body, and is covered with diamond-shape hard non-overlapping scales. Longnose gars have long, narrow snouts more than twice as long as the rest of the head and they have abundant, sharp, needle like teeth.
The longnose gar is olive brown in color on their back with a white belly. Dark spots can be found on the median fins and, in individuals from clear water, on the body. Young The species have a narrow brown stripe along their back and a broad dark brown strip along their sides. The dorsal and anal fins of the longnose gar are located far back on the body, which is encased in a heavy armor of interlocking, rhomboid, ganoid scales.
Longnose gar can be aged by annular marks on their branchiostegal rays. Female usually grow more quickly and live longer than males. Male normally live 17 years up to 22 years in the wild while female live up to 30 years. Male longnose gar typically does not live longer than 11 years in the wild.
A unique behavior of the longnose gar is its ability to survive in low-oxygen waters. Longnose gar has a highly vascularized swimbladder, which connects to the pharynx by a pneumatic duct, to breath air. Under normal oxygen levels, both aquatic and aerial respiration occurs. However, as oxygen becomes limited, Longnose gar will close its gill covers and can survive indefinitely on aerial respiration alone.
Longnose Gar are found in warm, shallow water with abundant vegetation. They are typically associated with backwaters, low inflow pools and moderately clear streams. They prefer lowland habitats, sluggish areas of larger rivers, lakes, reservoirs and estuaries. Longnose can tolerate high water temperatures and can often be found near the water surface on warm days or nights.
Gars are active night feeders and much of the feeding is surface-oriented. They catch their prey sideways in their well-toothed jaws by lying motionless or slowly stalking prey until the smaller fish are within reach. They slash its beak from side to side, impaling the prey on its teeth. The prey is then maneuvered into position to be swallowed headfirst.
In some lakes, adult longnose gar may consume large numbers of sunfishes. Menhaden are a major food source along coasts where Longnose move towards the mouth of bayous into higher salinity waters in the afternoon and evening to find this more prevalent prey. Longnose gar will then move back up the bayous, into the lower salinity waters in the morning.
Spawning occurs in the spring and summer as early as April up to early June. In rivers, longnose gar make upstream spawning runs during the spring period of high water then move downstream into larger pools. They also could be spawning in open, wind-exposed areas over rocks as well as gravelly, weedy sites. Spawning takes place in shallow water, riffle areas, resulting in the backs of the fish sometimes being exposed. Male longnose gar will typically mature at three to four years of age while females do not mature until six years. Females, typically the larger sex, may be accompanied by one or as many as 15 males. Nests are not prepared, gravel is swept somewhat by the spawning action itself.
Each female may deposit a portion of her eggs at several different locations. She will not release all of her eggs at the same time. Once shed, the eggs become very sticky and adhere to solid objects on the substrate. Females produce about 30,000 big, bright green eggs (which are poisonous when eaten by humans). The adhesive eggs are mixed in the gravel, hatching in 3-9 days after they have been laid and the larvae are approximately 8-10 mm long at hatching. Yolk-sac fry have an adhesive disc on their snouts by which they attach themselves to submerged objects until the yolk sac is absorbed. Fry feed primarily on insect larvae and small crustaceans such as water fleas. Fish appear in the diet very early.
By 10 to 11 days after hatching, young gar are 18-20 mm long and begin feeding on small crustaceans, such as cladocerans and copepods, and insects, including various dipterans. Young longnose gar grows rapidly and studies have shown that they can gain 3.2 mm and 1.8 grams per day, when maintained in aquaria with an unlimited food supply.
If she is ready, she will lead them in an elliptical pattern for up to 15 minutes prior to spawning. Once over the spawning bed, the males will nudge the female with the ends of their snouts in the pectoral, lateral, and ventro-lateral areas. The fish swim wildly around each other as they release eggs and milt. During this phase, frequent surfacing and gulping take place. Ultimately, the spawning group will position itself at one place with heads down and snouts very close to the bottom. Rapid and violent quivering follows as the sperm and eggs are released.
Angling for longnose gars is not the dominant method of capturing them due to their tough, bony mouth, they will take live baits. They are more often captured by specialized methods that entangle the teeth in nylon threads, by bowfishing, or by spear fishing.
If angling for gar, a small circle-style hook should be used, allowing the gar several minutes with it. The circle hook will prevent any serious injury to the gar, as it is designed to catch only in the corner of the mouth. The fish are known as nocturnal feeders in some waters, so anglers should be prepared to angle for them in the twilight.
Because of their unique, slender snout, longnose are pound-for-pound the most difficult gar to hook. It was these gar that spurred early anglers to develop bizarre methods to catch them. The most common methods are the nylon rope lure and live baiting.
For live baiting longnose, try to use 6” shiner minnow, rig it through the lips or eyes on a very sharp #4 hook. Attach a #4 treble stinger back towards the tail. Cast and gently stop-and-go retrieve this bait with your rod tip held high. When a gar takes, drop your rod tip to give slack then open the bail to let the gar run. Allow the longnose to run for at least a minute. Often they will run, then short stop to swallow the bait, and then run again. On this second run, close your bail, reel in the slack line then slam those hooks in a fish mouth.