There’s a neat spot on the St Croix river that holds all sorts of fish. At any point in time, there are probably 8-12 Standard-Size species swimming around there. Unfortunately, everyone knows about this, and it is overfished and quite trashy. It is usually pretty cramped, but it’s too good to pass up, especially for Longnose Gar.
I’d been wanting a good Longnose Gar picture for a long time (my other one, as you can see in ‘An Exploration of Western Wisconsin’, is truly abysmal). I took it with a crappy flip-phone camera at 9:30 PM. It definitely doesn’t do the species justice, and it’s been bothering me since I took it. I set out for the Power Plant Discharge with this goal in mind.
When I got there, I noticed some new (to me) signage:
The first thing I noticed when I got past the sign was how terrible a job people had done at following every single one of these guidelines.
There were no less than 10 rotting Freshwater Drum carcasses lying around – most of them had maggots crawling around in them, and it smelled awful. Of course, everyone’s favorite fish to hate was not immune to the scourge of humanity:
(That used to be a Common Carp, but I understand if you can’t tell). I angrily posted on Facebook about this, and was concerned that the spot would actually be closed. The plant managers sure seemed serious. I was informed by several Roughfish people, however, that these signs have been up for years and nothing has happened. This alleviated some of my concern, but did nothing to halt the boiling in my blood.
What was I here to do, again? Oh, right. Fish.
I got rigged up with a live fathead minnow under a bobber, and got ready to set up my second rod. I looked up to make sure that the bobber was floating level, and realized that it had disappeared. Was it really going to be this easy to get my Gar?
Because gar have such bony snouts, you have to wait for the fish to work the bait down its beak and closer to the softer flesh near the base of the mouth. The tricky thing is that gar will let go of the bait at the slightest sign of resistance, so when one takes your bait, you have to flip your bail and begin feeding the fish the line that it wants. Eventually, the waiting becomes too much to bear, and you set the hook, only to find that the fish no longer has the bait or hook.
This first ‘run’ was no exception.
It’s possible that it wasn’t a gar – it could have been a White Bass (I was hoping to catch one as a bycatch), Freshwater Drum, Smallmouth Bass, or even Northern Pike. I’ll never know. Unfazed, I tossed back out and set up my bottom-rigged redworm.
It wasn’t long before my bottom rig had a hit, and I knew what it was as soon as I felt the familiar reluctant headshake on the end of my line.
Freshwater Drum (Species #8)
After I released the Drum, I noticed that my bobber was down again. After the customary agonizing waiting period, I set the hook, and immediately laughed. A tiny Smallmouth Bass had just launched itself out of the water about 40 feet down the bank – my fish.
Smallmouth Bass (Species #9)
After that, I caught two drum on my worm and one on my minnow rig, and decided to move further downstream of the Power Plant. Almost immediately, I got a run, and once again came up empty. Gar fishing is rewarding, but extremely frustrating at times. Tony tells me that a 10% hookup ratio is to be expected with Longnose Gar – I think I’d die of empty hope before I got that 1/10.
I cast where I had been before, and an hour passed before I got another run. This time, I set the hook and felt the fish. I was excited – the other ones hadn’t even been there when I set it! Unfortunately for me, a Hmong family was fishing 100 feet downstream, and the gar had run my freely-given line down toward them, and I got tangled up with one of their lines as I was bringing the fish in. By the time we got the lines untangled, the fish was gone.
It was about 8:30 by the time I got my next bite – perfect gar-fishing time. I had this one on for about 45 seconds and saw it jump twice before losing it and swearing a bit too loudly. I just wanted my darn gar!
I was getting frustrated enough that I recorded a video of my next run, commentating as the line furiously spun off of my reel. Maybe I’d be lucky this time and go home with my target species.
When I set the hook on this one, there was no escape for the fish. I brought it in quickly because of its small size, and snapped my picture using the self-timing option on my camera.
There really is nothing quite like holding a gar. They’re prehistoric – they’ve been around FAR longer than humans, and will undoubtedly continue far after we’re gone (unless, of course, we crash into the sun, in which case they might also die off). They lived through the cataclysm that killed off the dinosaurs. In other words, they’re badass living fossils.
Holding even a small one like this fills me with joy – they’re one long, thin, armored muscle. Unfortunately, this one was guthooked (swallowed the hook) because I’d let it eat for so long, so I had to cut the line and send it on its way with my best wishes.
Longnose Gar (Species #10)
I continued to fish with the bobber and minnow, hoping to catch a White Bass, and switched my bottom rig to a minnow as well – I’ve caught Walleye there. I got a Drum on my bottom rig which swallowed the hook, and I re-baited with surf ‘n turf (worm + minnow) and cast way out into the river – a long shot for the Lake Sturgeon that the river is known for. It was too late in the year for them, but I had nothing else I wanted to catch anyways. After another Drum broke off my book, I decided to call it a day.