Gar Fishing in Sarasota
In this article, I will cover gar fishing in Sarasota. There are many popular game fish both in fresh and saltwater that anglers visiting Florida can target. Rarely are gar on the top of that list. However, they grow quite large and put up an excellent fight. There have been river snook fishing charters where snook and bass would not bite and gar saved the day!
Gar are a freshwater species, but can’t tolerate some brackish water as well. The two rivers near Sarasota that have a good gar population are the Manatee River and the Myakka River. The Myakka River in particular holds a good population of gar. These fish also inhabit lakes and ponds, though I don’t fish them that often.
The species of gar that are caught in Sarasota are Florida gar. There are other species as well, but these are the most prevalent. The long nose gar is also fairly plentiful. For the most part, these fish average 3 feet long to 5 feet long and weigh around 10 to 20 pounds. They put up an excellent fight in most cases, usually leaping high up out of the water several times!
Gar fishing in Sarasota
I use the same tackle when chasing gar is I do snook and other species. A 7 foot medium action rod paired with a 2500 series reel and spooled up with 20 pound braided line is a good all-around combination. This is light enough to cast lures all day long without getting tired, yet stout enough to handle a decent fish. A 24 inch to 30 inch fluorocarbon leader testing 30 pounds finishes off the rig.
Read my article about the best rod and reel for inshore saltwater fishing
I use lures on my Sarasota River fishing charters. My two favorite lures are the # 10 Rapala X-Rap and the 5” Gulp Jerk Shad. I rig the Jerk Shad on a swim bait hook or a jig head and white is my favorite color. For the Rapala I prefer gold and fire tiger, which can also be very productive when trolling as well.
The primary technique I use is to drift with the current and cast these lures towards shoreline cover. Drifting with the current is important as it results in a more natural presentation. When using the trolling motor against the tide, a belly instantly occurs in the line which changes the feel and presentation of the lure.
The Rapala is cast out and then retrieved back in using a series of hard jerks with a pause in between. This is how this family of lures earned its name “jerk bait”. The pause is very important as this is often when the fish will strike. The consensus is that the bait looks helpless and is easy prey, which triggers the strike. I also replace the treble hooks specially designed single hooks, especially when fishing for gar.
Gar fishing techniques
While plugs catch plenty of gar, if I was specifically targeting them I would use a soft plastic bait. The slower more undulating presentation just seems to be more effective for gar. The soft plastic bait that I use most as mentioned above is the Gulp Jerk Shad in white. I use a jig head in open water and a swim bait hook rigged weedless when snags are more plentiful.
Anglers can certainly catch gar when fly fishing as well. Gar exhibit an interesting behavior; they often roll right on the surface. I am not sure why they do this, but they do, giving away their location. Patient fly anglers will stand on the bow at the ready and as soon as a gar shows itself deliver the fly in front of it. Just about any bait fish pattern will be fine. An 8 wt outfit with an intermediate sink tip line works well for gar and other species.
The best spots for gar by far are areas in the river where the current flows down. For the most part, this means deep holes, especially on outside bends in the river. If I am purposely trying to hook a gar, this is definitely where I’ll fish. Blind casting to shoreline cover will produce, as will drifting through the hole and vertically bouncing a jig off the bottom. Anglers can cite cast to gar with lures the same way they can with a fly.
The only real downside to fishing for gar in Sarasota is actually landing and handling the fish. They have a mouthful of very sharp teeth and a tough hide. Gar are difficult to handle, often thrashing around violently. This is especially true with a plug in its mouth. I use a release tool in a very careful when lifting the fish out of the water for a quick photograph. I am not sure if anyone eats gar, but all of them are released on my charters.
Cut bait produces gar
Anglers purposely pursuing gar and not interested in other species can catch all they want using fresh cut bait. This is not a type of fishing that I really enjoy doing, but it is certainly effective on gar. The same spinning outfit can be used just a few basic changes in terminal tackle.
The best bait would be a fresh chunk of cut bait, any species will do as long as it is legal to use. Mullet are tough to beat with shad running a close second. Both are oily and will attract gar in short order if they are around. I would use a short piece of wire leader around 12 inches long and a # 3/0 to 5/0 circle hook. The bait is then finished 3 feet to 5 feet under a float. When the flow goes under, the angler simply comes tight and its fish on!
In conclusion, this article on gar fishing in Sarasota will help anglers catch more of these underrated and underappreciated fish!