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Written by Mike Thrussell
Garfish are one of the UK's most ignored species. Good numbers of gars are present right along the South and West coasts during the summer, and even greater numbers exist off the Southern Irish Coast. They are a tenacious fighter on matched tackle, eager to feed, and can be taken on varied techniques from both boat and shore. Yet, few anglers try for them.
They also prove the ideal short session fish being a relatively easy target for the holiday angler with limited time, and angling mad kids that need constant action.
WHERE TO FIND GARS
Breakwaters and man made tide obstructions are excellent gar hunting territory, too! Their favourite station here is in the tide currents that swirl past the ends of the breakwaters bringing food to the waiting fish. Also, occasionally in the quieter eddies and back waters along the breakwaters length where rocks push out into the tide and attract waterborne food items and small baitfish, for gars are extremely predatory and freely take live fish.
Few anglers realise that garfish are also catchable from the open shore line, including shallow surf beaches and rock ledges. Some garfish work amongst the mackerel shoals that move inshore in the evenings to pick off the baitfish shoals by herding them tight in to the shoreline. Spinning is the best method for these.
At the height of summer, if the season is a dry one, gars penetrate well up the estuaries on the flood tide, even making their way into some of the drainage channels that carve a way through the upper saltmarshes.
FLOAT FISHING TACKLE
Hooks need to be size 6 or 4, preferably a Mustad Carp pattern 34021, or Mustad's new Aberdeen hook the 3261 BLN.
Another essential item of gear is a large drop net for pier, jetty and breakwater work. This should ideally be already in place in the water just below the surface and secured by rope to a pier rail for instant use. If you try to lift hooked gars many will shake their heads in mid air and gone. Boney mouths do not give good hook holds.
Butchers meat also works well. Usually these are thin strips of raw steak, but chicken, bits of pork and bacon all get takes. Blood content in the meat makes it more attractive. Once this has washed out, usually within 5 minutes, change the bait.
FLOAT FISHING TECHNIQUE
Throw some loose feed into the general area you will fish, then set up your gear. Set the float setting to start at about 3ft and add to this in 6in increments if bites fail to materialize. Rarely will you need a bait more than 10ft down.
Shot the float so that no more than an inch of the tip is showing and go less than this if the surface water has a breeze across it. On calm, bright days keep any shot at least 18ins from the bait. Garfish prefer a bait that falls slowly in the water when conditions are clear. Placing the shot immediately underneath the float with the bait free to fall the full 3ft or more will often get the most takes.
In deeper water, place shot within a couple of feet of the bait and evenly towards the base of the float for a quick setting sequence. The less clarity the water has, the nearer the shot can be to the bait.
It pays to cast above the baited area and let natural current bring the bait into the killing zone. Occasionally let the float tighten to the line and hold it briefly to make the bait lift a little in the water. This added artificial movement can induce indifferent fish to bite.
Bites see the float occasionally quiver before disappearing, normally the float just instantly dives out of sight. A quick lift of the rod sets the hook into the gars boney jaw.
The fight is a series of leaps, head shakes and short searing runs that compare with mackerel. The gars slim, streamlined body gives them speed through the water which they use to get underneath the piers and obstructions, but the bulk of their resistance is at surface level.
Silver is undoubtedly the best colour, but red works too, if the colouring is broken up by silver or white.
Casting distance is not that important. Most fish will be within 25yds of the shore, often much less. A rod between 8-10ft ad balanced to cast 1oz, small well loaded fixed spool reel and just 3-4lb line is ample.
Fighting a good garfish Try a fastish retrieve across the surface with plenty of splashing to attract the gars. Done like this they often crash clear of the water as they intercept the lure.
When the fish are deeper adopt a more jig type retrieve with the lure first wound in, then allowed to briefly sink before being worked forwards once more. When fish are reluctant for reasons known only to them, deliberately start the lure deep, then use a fast retrieve right to surface level before allowing the spinner to sink deep again.
Because of the beak, gars can be felt to "tap" a lure a few times before actually pulling the rod over. They have difficulty getting the lure positioned right in the mouth and try to stun a moving bait by hitting it with the beak. Bear this in mind when you're missing fish on the spinner.
BRINGING GARFISH ON THE FEED
When you can't see gars on the surface you'll need the "Chervy" again. This needs to be hung at the back of the boat in onion sacks that just keep dipping their base in the water as the boat rolls. Once this has had time to work the bulk of the fish remain some yards behind the boat and out of sight deeper down. Use a deeply shotted float to get to them.
If they are picky and feed intermittently, try shaking the bags of chervy up to release a sudden explosion of broken up bits of bait into the water. This always livens up their interest and brings them back on the feed.
Shark anglers, using huge quantities of bran and mackerel rubby dubby, always see gars in the dubby slick, and catching a few gars does no harm to the sharking by adding movement and action to the sea around the boat.
Leaving chervy to stand a day does it no harm, but it does make you hold your breath when adding it to the swim.
Never try to mix meat and fish together. For some reason it seems to have a huge adverse affect on the numbers of fish attracted. If you're using fish based groundbait, use fish hook baits. Likewise, if the meat is the main groundbait ingredient stick with meat on the hook.
Their flesh is an excellent all round bait for ledgering and will take bass, gurnards, dabs, conger, dogfish, rays, huss and tope. Blue shark will take a whole gar body float fished, as will porbeagles.
There are actually two types of garfish in British waters, not just the one! Belone belone is our common pier, jetty variety also found offshore, but then, in 1982 off Courtmacsherry in Southern Ireland came news of a second garfish. Belone svetovidoi is more usually found around Spain and the Mediterranean, but in warm summers, maybe most summers, makes it way further north to us.
It seems likely that the less common type has been caught elsewhere throughout the southern Uk and mistaken for our common species. The svetovidoi has a shorter length beak than the our common belone and is generally smaller in the body. It also has a greater number of gill-rakers present and no vomerine teeth in the upper beak area which do occur in most adult belones.