Angling for Oddball Fish

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Published on: Jun. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 14, 2010

Record Bowfin

plastic beads above the sinker and top it off with an in-line spinner on a clevis. Two feet of 3/4-inch diameter rope will make about 10 lures. You may be thinking, “Where does the hook go?” Well, there is no hook. When a gar grabs the lure, the nylon filaments tangle in the teeth and around the jaws of the fish. Once this happens, they can’t let go of the lure.

Gar tend to congregate in large schools in reservoirs and in deep pools in rivers. From mid-summer through early fall, gar can be seen breaking the surface, or “porpoising,” indicating the presence of a school. To fish the rope lure, cast it out and retrieve with a pumping action 3 or 4 feet below the surface. If a gar surfaces within casting distance, putting the lure 8 to 10 feet in front of the fish will often yield results.

As a fighter, I’d put gar up against any game fish out there. They pull and dig for the bottom like a big catfish and can jump like a smallmouth bass. The sight of a 4-foot gar clearing the water next to the boat is a spectacular and somewhat intimidating sight.

An essential item to have along on a gar fishing trip is a pair of heavy gloves. In addition to their sharp teeth, their scales are razor sharp. A small sharp knife or pair of scissors is also necessary to cut the rope away from the jaws if you intend to release the fish. Why would you want to keep a gar anyway, they’re no good to eat … wrong!

Taste Test

Gar fillets are delicious fried and even better marinated in Italian dressing and grilled or smoked. As with the bowfin, it is best to keep the gar alive right up until the time you clean it. To clean a gar, cut off the head and remove the tail in front of the anal fin. Split the belly open using a pair of heavy shears (by heavy, I mean sheet metal shears). Have someone hold the belly open and separate the meat from the armor-like scales using a sharp fillet knife. Once the scales are off, remove the fillets from the backbone and ribs as you would any other fish. Don’t let the blue-gray color of the fillets turn you off. This is a thin layer of connective tissue that can be easily shaved off after soaking the fillets in salt water overnight in the fridge. The resulting fillets are white and firm.

The next time you’re out on the water and the “fishing magazine” species won’t cooperate, give these oddball species a try. You won’t be sorry.


Bowfin are similar in appearance to the notorious northern snakehead, which has been introduced into several states, including Arkansas. Snakeheads are a top predator in Asian waters where they are native. If introduced to Missouri waters, they could have negative impacts on native fish populations such as bass and crappie. A key difference between the snakehead and the bowfin is that the latter has a short anal fin while the anal fin of the snakehead is long and similar in size to its dorsal fin.

Snakeheads are a prohibited species. Neither live snakeheads nor their viable eggs may be imported, exported, transported, sold, purchased or possessed in Missouri.

If you find a snakehead, please contact Tim Banek, the Missouri Department of Conservation invasive species coordinator at (573) 522-4115, ext. 3371, or by e-mailing

Know the Code

Before you head out on your next fishing adventure, familiarize yourself with the regulations for the species and area you will be fishing. Gar and bowfin are classified as nongame fish, and those regulations are summarized on Page 10 of the 2009 Summary of Fishing Regulations. Pick up A Summary of Missouri Fishing Regulations at your local permit vendor or download a PDF from the link listed below.

Don’t Dump Bait

It’s illegal to dump bait in Missouri waters. Throw unused bait in the trash. Unwanted animals and plants can invade local water, damage habitat and ruin your fishing. To learn more about protecting Missouri’s streams, rivers and lakes from invasive species, visit the link listed below.

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