Picture this if you can. Two young men, at home from college for summer break, treking out on their own to learn more about a new found sport: fishing. The two men have spent a year, maybe two, working to perfect their craft. On this particular day they're hitting a little known strip pit in Lacon, IL where they have had good luck in the past. It's a lake with light pressure, contains a wide variety of species because it's connected to the Illinois River and most importantly, its gravel banks make shore fishing a snap. Well you guessed it, one of these young men was me. The other was my high school buddy Scott who has since married, moved away, is now expecting a baby and has left me and fishing to his personal history book (yes that jab was to get you out fishing more, resistance is futile).
The year was 2003 and one sunny June morning we didn't know it but we were about to embark on the most exciting period of fishing I have ever experienced. We stopped at the local Casey's and bought some beer. After digging a hole in the gravel to hold the beer on ice, we started hurling crank baits into the deep lake. We had discovered a successful pattern for finding sauger, and that was the plan this day. I hit first and almost immediately, reeling in a 36" monster. It was no sauger and I say monster not only because of it's size, but it was also unlike any fish we'd seen before.
We later identified the specimen as a long nose gar and in this first encounter we learned a valuable lesson; wear gloves while handling gar. A gar has a terrifying mouth full of teeth, but the teeth are easy enough to avoid. It is the razor sharp scales that pose the real problem. While holding a gar it will flop - guaranteed. They are so stinking strong you can't stop them and when you try, you get torn up. We ultimately resorted to putting a shoe on the fish and yanking the lure from it's mouth using pliers; the mouth is so bony the lure wasn't normally hooked well. From that first fish I got a scar that festered for two years. After two years I decided to perform some exploratory surgery on the scar, I dug a scale out of my left hand using fingernail clippers. What followed the surgery was a quick recovery and I now have only this tale to share my story.
What also followed that first fish was hour after hour of pure unadulterated glee. We caught so many gar it was unbelievable. We had fished this particular body of water for a year or two and never seen a gar. Yet on this day we couldn't help catch anything but. If we cast more than four times without reeling one in, we were thinking about a new lure or a new spot. Ultimately I discovered a Tigerfire pattern on 4-5" narrow bodied crankbaits seemed to work best. We fished all day and caught lots of fish, finally calling it quits as the sun went down.
The next day we came back camera in hand, and our friend Kerr in tow. The second day produced just as many fish and just as much fun. Gar after gar after gar. I've heard stories of fishing like this, but if it wasn't for my experience I wouldn't believe it. Here are some pictures from day two, we didn't get a picture of all of them but this gives you an idea.
Back when I still pulled the "hold the fish closer to the camera" trick.
Note the gloves...we were smart by this point.
Look how hard Scott is trying to hold this fish. They're strong.
And here you'll find Kerr demonstrating his best gar containment technique.
I'm no G, I wore my hat sideways to keep the setting sun out of my eyes.
See how sunny it was?
Sometime before the sun rose on the third day, the sun set on gar fishing. The third outing proved worthless. We didn't catch a single gar (though the sauger were still around) and sadly we admitted to ourselves it was over. Spawning season was through and our fun had swum out into the channel to fatten up for next year. We left totally bummed, but we had together experienced the best fishing of our lives. All while catching what many consider to be a junk fish. These fish weren't junk to us and even though I have a few years more experience under my belt, I'd love to be back there catching the hell out of those gar. I'd take an hour like that over any day catching bass.
Sadly (this gets quite sad now) we returned the next year (we kept a mental note of the day and made a pact to return) to find our fishing hole ruined. The lake was owned by Archer Daniels Midland and during the off season they had posted "no fishing" signs in front of a landscape that broke our hearts. They had torn down all the trees leaving a lake surrounded by dirt piles. The lake was full of barges and we drove on by in silence. I've never been back to see what it looks like now. Now that six years have passed, I'm curious....
Scott or Kerr, do you have any other pictures from this era? These are all I can find. I think I remember a CD containing them but can't find it; see if you can and let me know.