Longnose gar, kind of a strange-looking fish, have spawned in North Carolina lakes and rivers for as long as anyone has been alive. Gar have over 100 million years of history in the United States, and their long needle nose allows them to breathe in air and water. Because of this advantage, you can see gar thrive in the oxygen-depleted waters that other fish would turn belly up in. Many fishermen who see a longnose gar jump in surprise since you don’t commonly see this fish.
In the state of North Carolina, longnose gar are the only gar found in the state, so we will cover that particular gar in depth.
Understanding Longnose Gar Behavior
Unlike other fish, the longnose gar tends to stick to itself and doesn’t swim in schools like the other fish. They occasionally call the longnose gar the garpike since it reminds many of a pike. The females will often lay the eggs and leave the area, unlike other fish that protect their eggs.
This fish will primarily feed at the surface. While you can catch them day or night, they become more active at night. In many places like North Carolina, the longnose gar has become a popular bowfishing target, but they will occasionally target it for sport fishing as well.
Unfortunately, like the bowfin, the gar has a reputation as a trash fish. In other words, they see it as a fish that eats other gamefish eggs, but it provides little value. However, this fish deserves our respect since it prevents other species from overpopulating habitats.
What to Know About the Gar
Gar have intense teeth, and you want to be aware of that because they can give you intense lacerations if they attack. Still, there are no known attacks on humans, and the threat is mostly passive. Beware of when you haul them into your boat, however.
Another thing is that you want to watch out for the toxicity of its eggs. While the gar tastes great when cooked right, they have poisonous eggs that you shouldn’t eat. Their skin is made from thick armor, and many use a hatchet to clean them. If you go bowfishing for them, you need a gar point arrowhead to open them up since a regular bowfishing arrow won’t pierce this fish’s armor.
Where Can I Catch Gar in North Carolina?
You can find gar throughout the state’s 22 natural lakes and 17 rivers. The most abundant locations for the longnose gar in North Carolina include the coastal rivers and streams. You can find them everywhere, but this is where you will see them the most abundantly. This fish puts up one heck of a fight when you reel them in. Many times when they fight, they will leap through the water.
A lot of people talk about how they catch the longnose gar when they try for other fish, but when they try to fish for the gar, they can’t find them.
Let’s cover some of the popular places in North Carolina and where to fish for gar:
- Cape Fear
- Deep River
- Lake Tillery
- White Oak River
- Gar Creek
The longnose gar found in the Cape Fear River tend to weigh less than those found in freshwater, but they were longer. This river holds brackish water meaning a mixture of saltwater and freshwater.
To get a sense of fishing for gar on Cape Fear, check out the video below:
The Deep River serves as a tributary of the Cape Fear River, which explains why you can find longnose gar here as well. It’s located in Chatham County, NC. The river runs 125 miles, and you will find plenty of gar and carp in it. You will also see snapping and painted sliding turtles here, along with the occasional snake.
You can find the gar in the Neuse River basin especially. Check around the Milburnie Dam to see some decent-sized fish. Beware of how this river has some sharp bends, and you don’t want to speed here. The best time to go is right during their spawning season since you can’t keep them off your hook when they spawn. Gar will spawn in North Carolina from May to early June.
One female gar can deposit up to 77,000 gar eggs.
Lake Tillery has the gar in numbers, and this makes for the perfect place to go fishing for them. You can catch gar here that ranges from 10 to 20 pounds. This location has become a popular spot for those who seek the gar.
The Roanoke River is home to some monstrous gar. One angler from Henderson even broke the North Carolina state record in 2015 for gar on the Roanoke River. James Thomas Bryant, an angler from Henderson, caught a fish that weighed 19 pounds and was 51 ¾ inches long. You can check out a picture of it here. It broke the record by just 4 ounces.
If you’d like to see the giant gar that come out of the Roanoke River, check out the video below:
White Oak River
Running through Swansboro, NC, you won’t find much for carp on the White Oak River, but they do have gar here. You might especially try fishing from Haywood Landing. The gar in this area are abundant. You may want to check the upper part of the new river since you will find plenty here.
Believe it or not, the most popular fish species caught at Gar Creek isn’t gar. The most popular fish species include largemouth bass, spotted bass and channel catfish. You will find Gar Creek in Mecklenburg, NC.
Do They Have Alligator Gar in North Carolina?
Some fishermen have reported sightings of alligator gar in North Carolina, but there is nothing to confirm this. It’s like mountain lion sightings in Minnesota. Some have seen them, but nothing proves them definitely. Especially near Raleigh, NC, they have had sightings of them, but again, the only known type of gar in North Carolina is the longnose gar. Alligator gar have declined in their populations and historic habitat.
One of the places where the alligator gar was believed to inhabit was North Carolina, but we do not have any confirmation of them living here today.
How to Fish for Gar in North Carolina
A lot of people like to catch gar on rope lures. Many fishermen like the rope bait because it doesn’t damage the fish. When the gar bites the nylon rope, the strands fray and tangle in the fish’s teeth. Gar have hundreds of teeth.
Just beware of how if you plan to use this, you will need to take the rope out of the gar’s teeth, or it will be less humane than even a hook. The rope will tangle in their teeth and cause the gar to starve to death.
The summer season typically serves up the best season for gar fishing, and in good waters in North Carolina, you won’t struggle to find the fish. Dawn and dusk are a favorite for their activity. Check the shallow parts on lakes since gar like to hang out here.
If I had to recommend a bait to catch longnose gar, I would say to use one of the shallow running bass crankbaits. Choose a bright color to ensure that the gar sees it. This may depend on the day out in the water too since some colors do better than others depending on the day.
Noosing the Gar
One of the more interesting ways that people have caught gar is fishermen create a lasso and lure the fish in with a baitfish that they impaled on a 2-foot piece of thin wire. The concept behind catching them in this way is getting them to put their bill through the loop. Yank it fast, and you will snare the gar around the nose before the fun begins.
Are Longnose Gar Good to Eat?
Longnose gar, considered a trash fish, are delicious to eat, but you better expect some work involved with cleaning them. You have to exercise caution with the gar eggs on a female since they can poison humans. Don’t eat the meat near the eggs either.
Some fishermen will simply cook the gar over the fire and peel off the armored scales. That may prove the easiest method. Beware of how the gray meat closer to the loin has a strong flavor, and you may want to remove that part.
Gar flesh doesn’t have a fishy flavor, and it doesn’t flake like other fish either. The firm and white meat of the gar tastes milder than other fish. You might compare the meat to chicken in texture, but it tastes more like lobster, especially when buttered.
The thing that made longnose gar less popular to eat was the hard armor scales that make it hard to clean. Be careful as well because of how the scales can cut you. Many use a hatchet to clean this fish. One of the nice things about longnose gar is that it’s a boneless meat, so you won’t struggle with the bones from it.
You have tons of recipes and each one will make it taste differently, but gar tastes incredible, and I would recommend it. Many like it better than catfish because it doesn’t have the same oily texture as catfish. You can make steaks from this fish.
Check out this video on how to cook gar if you’d like a more visual demonstration:
In the state of North Carolina, the longnose gar is the only known species of gar here. I put together this guide so that you can find it here and fish for it. The fish has a reputation as being difficult to catch on a hook, and you usually catch it more when you don’t try to catch it over when you do want to catch it.
Instead of going after it with a hook and line, I would recommend targeting it with a bow and arrow from bowfishing since it’s easier to catch this way. You just have to find it and shoot the fish. Whether it wants to bite or not, you can still catch it and give the meat a try. It tastes pretty good and is well worth trying at least once or twice.