Relishing a Relic

A friend sent me this photo of a fossilized fish in a museum. Even if there were anglers around to cast for this beast, the wire leader had yet to be invented so I’m sure any battle would have been short-lived. Amazingly, there are several existing fish which are considered “living fossils.” The fish you catch look exactly like what can be found as a fossil, formed millions of years ago. One of these is the gar.

This underappreciated “rough” fish is impressively built. It is armored with hard sharp scales and a row of line-cutting teeth that doesn’t seem to quit. And although I have yet to taste gar, I have heard from several anglers that it is “good eatin.”

For heavy tackle anglers, there is an amazing catch and release fishery for alligator gar in the Trinity River in Texas. Mark Zona, host of Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show, fished for them using a fist-sized chunk of carp for bait. He caught several the size of a small kayak.

For lighter tackle anglers, look for longnose, shortnose, and spotted gar. Even fly-fishermen can get in on the action, sometimes using a lure that is little more than a frayed section of nylon rope. Apparently to gar, rope looks like large bait fish. There is no hook with this lure so you can’t hook your partner’s ear while casting. Their teeth just tangle in it, like when floss gets stuck between a couple of your molars.

Ashley Rae, angling blogger at and co-host of Fly Nation TV, became “addicted” to gar this year while fishing from a kayak in the Bay of Quinte in Ontario, Canada.

“We started off sight-fishing for them,” she wrote. Using a Rapala X Rap lure in very shallow water, she would cast from a distance to avoid spooking them. “We would cast behind or around them, bringing the lure up beside them, swimming the same direction they were, or right in front of their faces – and they would chase it down and strike aggressively.” Once hooked, the gar “jumped out of the water, thrashed like crazy and really put up a good battle!”

Rough fish? Yes, and tough. If you want a battle, try hooking a living fossil with teeth.

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Andy Whitcomb

Andy Whitcomb

Andy is an outdoor writer ( and stressed-out Dad has contributed over 380 blogs to since 2011. Born in Florida, but raised on banks of Oklahoma farm ponds, he now chases pike, smallmouth bass, and steelhead in Pennsylvania. After earning a B.S. in Zoology from OSU, he worked in fish hatcheries and as a fisheries research technician at OSU, Iowa State, and Michigan State.