Sight-fishing is an aspect of our sport that is exciting, rewarding, satisfying, and frustrating! For the longest time, anglers have waded the saltwater flats for Bonefish, they have stalked various Trout species from the banks of gin-clear creeks, they have fished spring Bass tournaments for bedding Largemouth—the list goes on with this unique eye-balling technique.
For this Fish’n Canada episode, Angelo and Pete took to the waters of the Ottawa River with the objective of one-hundred-percent sight-fishing.
Their quarry might surprise you: It was the prehistoric, armour-plated Longnose Gar.
The Longnose Gar is a unique creature. It’s a primitive ray-finned fish of the gar family. It is also known as the Needlenose Gar. Fossils of gar have been found in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America dating back 100 million years. Currently, Longnose Gar are found in Central America, Cuba, North America, and the Isles of Pines.
The most common prey of the Longnose Gar is small fish, and occasionally insects and small crustaceans. Larger gar have been known to feed on smaller gar. The gar is more of a sport fish, but their meat is apparently tasty.
Longnose Gar have an average lifespan of 15–20 years with a maximum reported age of 39. This long lifespan allows the female to sexually mature around six years old. Males mature sexually as early as two years of age. Longnose Gar are sexually dimorphic; the females are larger than the males in body length, weight, and fin length. They generally have a clutch size close to 30,000, depending on the weight-to-length ratio of the females; larger females bear larger clutch sizes.
They spawn in temperatures close to 20°C in late April and early July. Their eggs have a toxic, adhesive coating to help them stick to substrates, and are deposited onto stones in shallow water, rocky shelves, vegetation, or Smallmouth Bass nests. Their hatch time is seven to nine days; young gar stay in vegetation during the first summer of life. Longnose Gar reach an average length of 28-48 inches (0.71-1.2 m) with a maximum length of about six feet (1.8 m) and 55 lb (25 kg) in weight.
TRUE ESCAPE ARTISTS
The fishing grounds for this show was the section of the Ottawa River upstream of the City of Ottawa. Joining our team for this shoot was local fishing guide and friend of Fish’n Canada, Jamie Pistilli of Rising Sun Charters. Jamie has fished this part of Ontario for many years and, most importantly for Ang and Pete, he has specialized in Gar fishing for over a decade.
Jamie set the boys up with a run of back bays and shallow shorelines that he figured would pay off—and pay off they did!
“The beauty of sight-fishing Gar,” Jamie says, “is that the peak time is around ten a.m. to four p.m. You don’t have to get up in the dark and get home in the dark.”
Pete and Ang didn’t take long to find fish and engage them in battle. That said, it was a while before they were able to get one in the net.
“Keeping a Gar on the line until netted is next to impossible,” says Angelo. “They are true escape artists.”
What did it take to land a few of these slippery fish?
“We used weighted flies on spinning gear,” says Pete, “as well as slow sinking soft-plastic swimbaits. The key, however, was the addition of a stinger hook.”
Both the flies and the swimbaits had good sized Bass hooks, much too large to even fit in a Gars mouth. A stinger was a must! By tagging on a small treble stinger behind their baits, the boys upped their hook-up odds tremendously. Believe it or not, though, they still missed the majority of fish bites.
“The key to enticing these Gar to strike,” says Angelo, “was to essentially drop our baits right on the fish’s nose. These Gar seem almost blind and anything outside of a few feet of their peripheral vision is usually ignored.”
Riding the baits high and close to the surface was another key to the presentation.
“The only colours we used were white and black,” says Pete. “Two colours that are easy for the fish, as well as the anglers to see. And that’s a big key in this type of sight-fishing. You watch your bait and you watch the reaction of the fish towards your bait.”
In all, the guys landed about ten percent of the bites they incurred. Not a great rate, but much better than a big zero.
The biggest fish (and biggest disappointment) was a giant that Angelo brought to the side of the boat and as Pete attempted to scoop the fish into the net, the fish slashed its body, snapped Ang’s line and pulled a 360 right back into the Ottawa River. A real giant—the one that got away!
Angelo, Pete and the production crew were taken care of by the fantastic staff at the Brookstreet Hotel. They class this place as one of the best they have ever stayed at—not only in Ontario, but the entire country.
Brookstreet has a championship golf course, two restaurants, indoor and outdoor pools, a fully outfitted fitness center, spas, and so much more to offer travelers, outdoors people, or families just looking for a weekend away.
Jamie Pistilli of Rising Sun Charters is a multi-species fishing guide in the Ottawa area that has now teamed up with Brookstreet. This is a dynamic combination of fantastic on-the-water guiding abilities and first-class accommodations. Jamie has added Gar fishing to his ever-growing list of target species. We highly recommend a trip with Jamie for these incredible fighters.
OTHER THINGS TO DO AROUND OTTAWA
If you have extra time to indulge in some other activities while in Ottawa, you may want to check out the Lady Dive for an amphibious exploration of Ottawa and Gatineau.
If you are into a bit more of an action-packed adventure, then not too far upriver you can partake in a raft ride down the dynamic waters of the legendary Ottawa River whitewater.