Noah and I left on Saturday morning and were at the South Bay boat launch before noon. South bay would provide us with our best opportunity to target longnose gar, a species I am particularly partial to gar because of their prehistoric nature and gorgeous coloration. They are a much maligned fish. There were times when there were moves to eliminate them completely from ecosystems. Even today people treat gar poorly. I have heard stories from Champlain of bass fisherman breaking their jaws off and releasing them alive. The mere thought makes me sick to my stomach.
We were presented pretty immediately with a problem: The lack of sun. With the sun out gar tend to lay up at the surface where they can be sight fished. Clouds makes this less likely, and even if they do lay up top they are harder to see. I started out fishing a gar fly anyway, though I didn't see any around. A fly for longnose gar typically incorporates some kind of long synthetic fibers. Gar have extremely bony mouthes, longnose gar even more so than the other species. It can be extremely difficult to hook them. But getting fibers tangled in their teeth increases the odds of bringing one to hand. The first taker on my "rope fly" was a largemouth bass, unsurprisingly pale in the chalky water.
Sliding into a cut in the water chestnut mats looking to see what there was, I saw the big head and elongate, undulating dorsal of a bowfin. Then another a bit further in. Without hesitation, I changed to a streamer I tied specifically for bowfin. Slow sinking, muted colors, with a very heavy very sharp hook: a tool of bowfin deception. Bowfin are an aggressive fish, but very often they appear not to want to move more than a couple inches for a fly. I got a bunch of shots at bowfin in that cut, many of them actually spooked, probably six of them took the fly. Hooking bowfin is basically a game of luck. You put the iron to them and hope the hook finds meat, not cartilage. After having two come off almost immediately, both big, I dropped my fly on one's nose, twitched it a little, and set hard when it ate. I've been using my ten weight a lot lately for warmwater fish, and I was very thankful for it on this trip. These bowfin fight hard and they were in very snaggy, weedy areas. I had to fight them hard, close, and fast and the ten was up to the task. I didn't loose one bowfin to the weeds.
I got two beauties before we gave that cut a rest. The first large and pale, the second smaller and colorful. I don't think I've caught a bowfin yet that wasn't a downright violent fighter. These suckers act a lot more angry when hooked than bass or pickerel. Since I almost always am in their eye-line when I get them to take, and I know they see me, I think they realize they shouldn't have eaten that enticing looking fly and it pisses them right off.
After a little while it was clear that despite there still being tons of bowfin there, they had grown weary, so we gave them a rest and headed over to a bridge where we had seen someone catch a sizable crappie. Both of us had kind of forgotten that this part of the lake was a hot spot for white crappie, a species we both needed. It really didn't take long for Noah to catch a couple trophy sized fish.
A little while later I caught a smaller one, finally adding Pomoxis annularis to my life list. It was not very big, but it was a white crappie.
To sweeten things just a little bit more, a few drops later I came up with a small drum. Aplodinotus grunniens, freshwater drum. Life list #82.
While we were under the bridge the sun came out for a bit and the wind died. And, like magic, the gar came out. Tons of them. Big gar, small gar, rolling gar, slapping gar, laid up gar... we drifted a deep flat with gar visible playing all over it. It took me a bit to find ones that I could effectively sight cast to (the gulpers went down too quick), but when I found a laid up of cruising fish, without fail it ate the fly. The rope flies worked. An SF blend bunker worked. I would have liked to have caught a few more of the takers I had, and I'm going to be experimenting with more materials for gar flies in the future. But my first three beautiful longnose gar made the afternoon one I won't soon forget.
Unfortunately, though Noah was actually getting more takes than me he couldn't catch one. While he kept at it I sneaked off to check on the bowfin again. I was quickly rewarded when I spotted a very large one. I dropped my fly in front of it. That fish took some effort. It was not sure it should eat. But I am very convincing, and I ended up bent double on my biggest bowfin after a solid minute of teasing it. I landed it, but I'm not sure who beat up who. I felt like I got my ass kicked even after I let that fish gently swim off.
So, I ended day one with my biggest bowfin. What a brute to end an awesome day. Three bowfin, three gar, a couple bass, a white crappie, a freshwater drum.
The next day was going to be a little bit different, but no less productive. So stay tuned.