When you hang a six-foot gar in a puddle like that your first impulse is to get the hell away before he comes ashore and saws off a leg. I've seen big ones actually charge up onto the bank. That one boiled and popped and threshed—and then suddenly shot off down the little ditch. I raced after him and in a few seconds it was the gar's turn to hang me up—on a fence. Joe crawled through and took my rig to continue the chase. By the time I caught up with him the gar had fastened the lure on some reeds and jerked free.
We went back to the mudhole, and later in the day visited two others. In all we raised about 50 gars, hung 15 of them, and landed five, ranging from four to five feet, nine inches.
Mudholes aside, the best waters for hanging big gars on lures are those rivers in which there are tarpon, provided you can find some murky water. Almost invariably you find the two ranging together in rivers of the Gulf Coast, and at times the gars practically take over, particularly on the Rio Grande.
Most U.S. fishermen have never tasted gar, but Mexican anglers hack the fish open with an ax, dig out the meat, most of which is toward the tail, and cook it up into something they call catan. It looks like a cross between a French-fried potato and a chitlin, smells awful but tastes all right. The French in Louisiana put together a dish made of gar meat balls and an assortment of sauces that is really a production.
The catan fishermen around the Rio Grande uses miniature rafts and sails in spotting their gar bait. When trolling for tarpon, you must constantly go around the rafts, and bad feeling develops at times. Still the relationship is usually congenial, as it was on the day Townsend Miller, a man who has almost dedicated his life to gar fishing and gar study, was with me on a tarpon trip.
We trolled near some of the catan fishermen and they wanted to see our baits. When we showed them the plugs they said we could never catch gars on them.
"Let's go show them," I said, and we set out for a gar hangout along a submerged sand bar where the water was a bit murky and we could see gars splashing about. Within two minutes Townsend had a big one on. He beat it down with his tarpon rig and we gently led it to the catan fishermen.
They were excited and grateful, having had poor luck with their bait-trailing rafts. So, since no tarpon were moving, we went back and hauled another gar to them, then another. We caught five, not a one under five feet long.
The next day we found the Mexican shoreline lined with catan fishermen hoping we'd catch some gars for them. I was almost sorry that the tarpon were striking. To me gars are ugly and worthless, and one of them fixed my finger so it may never be right, but they are my secret substitute for tarpon.