Once a pariah, gar fish are actually quite palatable
In our society, there is a strong belief that most pretty things are good, and vice-versa. That’s portrayed in the movies, on television, and also on the fishing scene. There are exceptions, however, and one of them is the toothy gar. There are several different species of gar and all of them have survived prehistoric times. According to some of the more learned folks they have changed little from those times until now. What has changed is many people’s attitude toward their place within at least some of the fishing community. The fact is that Texas has now placed a one-fish limit on alligator gar. These are the ones that can grow to sizes in the 200-pound-plus range. The only problem is that it takes some experience identifying the various gar to distinguish one species from the other. Except for the size of a mature fish they all have long mouths that are full of teeth. Some are spotted and some are solid colored, and all of them are covered with armor placed scales. The question has always been is that are these toothy and armor covered fish suitable for the table? Also, how do you catch them?
The gar tend to feed upon practically any and all species of available fish as well as birds, turtles, snakes, and frogs. Whether their prey is dead or alive at the time doesn’t seem to matter.
The big gar will also grab certain lures that are created just for them, the lure being a simple piece of nylon rope that is grayed from the end up to a foot or so. When it is cast into a gar rich area, the gar will bite it. Whenever it’s teeth are closed on the nylon they become entangled. The more it struggles, the more it becomes entangled.
Certainly the use of a good sharp hook attached to a strong steel leader and with a float a couple feet above it is effective, too. The use of this simple rig requires nerves of steel. The gar will take the bait and swim off with it, sometimes for quite a distance. The trick is knowing when to set the hook and when to let it keep going a little further. Knowing when it’s time to set the hook and hold on is simply a game of chance. Should you miss getting the gar hooked, just rebait and try again. There will be no doubt when the fish is hooked that it will immediately do battle. Should it be one over 20 pounds, the fight could be really intense.
I’ll say here that gar filets are one of my favorites for the table. It is extremely mild in flavor and it may be prepared in many different ways. The fish that weigh in from 10 to perhaps 50 pounds are the more desirable as food fish. The smaller ones don’t offer much meat and the larger ones tend to become too course.
Once the gar has been subdued, its armor plated shell must be penetrated. A knife is not the better tool for this. A good cleaver or hatchet will do a much better job. Simply put the gar’s mouth against a solid structure. Then take hold of the dorsal fin near the tail with some pliers. Use the cleaver or hatchet to chop beneath the fin. Do this the full length of the gar’s top. Then take a sharp knife and peal the shell away from the entire back strap or filet. There will be a filet on both sides and the flesh will be white. Any red meat should be removed. Then the filets can be cut across in frying or boiling sizes or for gar patties, court bullion, sauce piquant, or gilled gar if this be your choice of dishes. You should not judge the gar’s table worthiness by its outward appearance. The flesh is second to none.
Knowing where to locate these prehistoric fish is not difficult. Practically all of our lakes, bayous, and even saltwater tributaries will host the gar. I’ve even seen some really super size alligator gar at the Sabine Jetty. Places such as the lower end of Taylor’s Bayou, Ten Mile Bayou, Big Hill Bayou, any tributaries of the Neches and Sabine rivers, as well as the rivers themselves, are great places to go after eatable gar.
Keep in mind that in trying to escape, the toothy fish can do some painful damage to anything that it connects with. These fish do a really great battle and they are just as catchable from the bank as they are from a boat. They offer some readily available big-fish action for youngsters who have not been exposed to such fish. Don’t become agitated if an eatable gar takes you bait.
Take it home and enjoy the almost secret delicacy from the water.
Tune in to KSET 1300 at 6 p.m. on Thursdays for Billy Halfin Outdoors and listen to the updates daily at 7:25 a.m., 12:25 p.m. and 6:25 p.m.