SECTION C | THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2013
Hit or miss for area teal hunters With about a week in the season left to go, Missouri hunters are finding a mixed bag of hunting opportunities for bluewing and green-wing teal. Flooding from torrential downpours early in August is partly to blame, according to hunting/ fishing columnist Ken White. Page 2C
GALLERIES: Find lots of reader and staff photos VIDEOS: Learn more with a selection of video reports RESOURCES: What to do, where to go in the Ozarks
On his last cast of the day, fly fisherman Jim Stouffer pulled this 51-inch gar from the James River after the powerful fish pulled him and his canoe 40 yards upstream against the current. He released the fish unharmed. WES JOHNSON/NEWS-LEADER
‘This is a big fish!’ Expert fly fisherman targets feisty gar on the James River
This is not your typhe big gar ical day of fly fishing on launched an Ozarks stream. its attack We’re not flipping from dainty flies into gentle beneath riffles. We’re whipping Jim Stouffer’s canoe, palm-sized lures into a and in seconds deep pool about a half Stouffer’s 10-foot fly mile north of Shelvin rod was bent in a Wes Access on the tortured arc. JOHNSON Rock James River, trying to “I was stripping catch a prehistoric fish the fly back and got it within 15 feet, twitching it like that has changed very little in an injured bait fish,” Stouffer 100 million years. I’d heard about Stouffer’s said. “The gar came straight skill with a fly rod and folout from under the boat and just inhaled it. I knew it was a lowed him and fellow angler Kyle Kosovich up the James big one. It turned and spun the boat around and pulled me 40 yards upstream.” See GAR, Page 4C
WATCH Scan this QR code to see a video of fly fishing for gar at news-leader.com INSIDE Gar have an important role in rivers, lakes. 4C
A 10-foot carbon-fiber fly rod, a reel filled with sinking 7-weight line and a homemade hookless fly, made from a short length of clothesline rope, proved just the ticket to catch gar on the James River. WES JOHNSON/NEWS-LEADER
[ I LOVE ]
Twists and turns of an Ozarks stream yield bounty of trout (Editor’s note: This is the last excerpt from Willoughby Johnson’s e-book “Crosscut Creek: A Year of Fly Fishing on an Ozark Stream.” Crosscut Creek is a Willoughby pseudfor a JOHNSON onym real trout stream in southwest Missouri. The creek’s name in the book has been changed to protect it from overfishing.)
that converge here. That’s not to say I shouldn’t be able to do what I want on my land, or prevent others from doing what I don’t want. It’s just to say that achieving either of those things is far more complicated — with myriad, unforeseen pitfalls — than I ever could have imagined. After Robert and I part ways I go back down to the creek and pick my A McCloud rainbow in full breeding colors. way across the shallows KEITH OXBY above the deadfall to the far side. Up here is the buy a keep and castle. This is not the first Long Hole. This will be Instead I bought a junior time that I’ve had to face membership in a vast web the first time I’ve ever the simple fact that in looked into it from this of human relationships buying this farm I didn’t
side: in the summer it’s so overgrown with brambles there’s no way to get to this bank without a chainsaw or a brush hog. Even now, briars bloody the tops of my hands as I crawl to the edge of the high bank. Several large trout (and a couple of very big ones) cruise the depths, one of them wearing scarlet breeding colors. I gaze down at them for a few more minutes and then back carefully out of the brambles and make my way on upstream. See JOHNSON, Page 5C
ABOUT THE BOOK “Crosscut Creek: A Year of Fly Fishing on an Ozark Stream” is available as an e-book at Amazon.com.
SHARE YOUR ENTHUSIASM Love the Ozarks outdoors? Submit a letter about your favorite experience or place to Wes Johnson, wjohnson @News-Leader.com. Photos are encouraged. Selections will appear in print on Thursdays.
4C Thursday, September 12, 2013
NEWS-LEADER § News-Leader.com
Gar/Daily limit is 50 — if you’re able to capture the large, sharp-toothed fish Continued from Page 1C
ABOUT PLATEAU FLY SHOP
River to try my hand at catching gar with homemade flies. Stouffer, one of three partners in Plateau Fly Shop in Springfield, makes his own gar flies from frayed clothesline rope — yes, you heard that right — and he has figured out how to cast and retrieve them in a way that triggers a gar to strike. There are no hooks in these lures: A gar’s mouth is so bony and tough that most hooks fail to set. Stouffer’s gar flies work by tangling up in the fish’s needle-like teeth, and once entangled the fight is on.
Jim Stouffer and partners Mike Manzardo and Ashley Grove opened Plateau Fly Shop, at 2863 S. Campbell Ave., last November and it’s been the fulfillment of a dream for Stouffer. Formerly a real estate appraiser, Stouffer said he still remembers the first fish he ever caught that got him hooked on angling for life. “I was 7 years old and it was a bluegill in Iowa out of Clearwater Lake,” he recalls. “I remember there was metal rebar sticking up in the water and you could see the fish. I threw my worm out there, but it wouldn’t go near it. My Mom said to stay with it, and he finally ate it. It was a pretty big bluegill.” An avid trout and bass fisherman, Stouffer said his shop caters to all kinds of fly rod anglers. “We have the knowledge and equipment to catch fish no matter what species you’re chasing,” he said. “I’m there to try to help people catch fish.” You can reach Stouffer at 417-889-6458, or at the store’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PlateauFlyShop. Although he doesn’t offer guide services for catching gar, his friend and fishing partner Kyle Kosovich does. Kosovich brought his flat-bottomed wooden longboat for the start of our gar expedition on the James River and deftly maneuvered the craft in the current, allowing Stouffer and me to sling gar flies into the deep. If you’re interested in giving gar fishing a try, contact Kosovich at Longboat Outfitters, www.longboatoutfitters.com, or 417-2933860.
A 51-incher With the big fish pulling hard Stouffer balances carefully in his 16-foot Buffalo canoe, but he’s gripping the 10-foot carbon-fiber rod with both hands to keep the gar from running under the boat, and possibly causing a capsize. I’m following and photographing the battle from my kayak, and am forced to paddle upstream against the current to keep up with Stouffer’s canoe. It’s a Nantucket sleigh ride — Ozarks style — taking place before my eyes. “This is a big fish,” Stouffer keeps repeating, as it pulls him and the canoe through the water. Five minutes into the fight, the gar rolls to the surface and makes another powerful run, line zinging from the reel. I can’t believe the gar is staying on the line, held only by the polypropylene fibers tangled in its teeth. Stouffer grabs a paddle and slowly maneuvers his canoe into reeds growing along the river’s edge. There’s no way for him to bring a fish this big into a canoe. He steps out of the boat into calf-deep water and slowly works the gar closer. Normally he’d have on his tooth-proof protective gloves to untangle a fly from a gar’s mouth. But he’s got his hands full with a fish that’s easily four feet long and still full of fight. As he works to tire the fish, he recalls landing one a year ago that painfully raked his forearm with its teeth. Nearly 10 minutes into the fight, the fish finally settles down and Stouffer carefully works his hands around its long beak, untangling the lure, which at this point is ripped to shreds. The fish is a longnose gar, aptly named for its nearly foot-long slender jaws. Stouffer pulls out a tape measure and we stretch it the length of the fish’s body — 51 inches, with a weight Stouffer estimates at 12 to 15 pounds. “That’s bigger than the 4-footer I caught last year,” he says. “This is a big fish!”
Longnose gar have rows of needle-sharp teeth they use to grab fish. Gizzard shad are their primary food source, though they’ll eat just about anything they can catch. A prehistoric fish, they have changed little in more than 100 million years. WES JOHNSON/NEWS-LEADER
Jim Stouffer makes these hookless gar flies from a short length of polypropylene clothesline rope. WES JOHNSON/NEWS-LEADER
After switching from longboat to his canoe, Jim Stouffer tangles with a big gar on the James River. WES JOHNSON/NEWS-LEADER
Jim Stouffer gently releases the largest gar he has ever caught on a fly rod — a 51-incher — during a trip on the James River. WES JOHNSON/NEWS-LEADER
RECORD LONGNOSE GAR
Jim Stouffer, left, of Plateau Fly Shop in Springfield, and Kyle Kosovich, of Longboat Outfitters in Springfield, walk Kyle’s longboat up a shallow section of the James River. WES JOHNSON/NEWS-LEADER
Don’t eat gar eggs Though considered a trash fish by many anglers, the longnose gar is a powerful fighter and a beautiful fish, its olivegreen back shading into silvery-white sides, with black spots running the length of its spear-like body and tail. Its hide is armor-plated with heavy scales so strong that Native Americans sometimes fashioned them into arrow points. Missouri conservation officials consider gar a nongame fish, with a maximum daily limit of 50 if
PHOTO GALLERY For more photos about fly fishing for gar, go to news-leader.com.
taken by pole, trotline or spear gun. However, gar are wily critters and you’ll be lucky to catch 50 in a day. During our trip on the James, Stouffer caught and released only two longnose gar. I had one strike but my fish didn’t tangle up in the lure. The fish is edible, too, and Stouffer has plans to someday clean one — met-
al tin snips will be needed to cut through the scales — and grill the long strips of meat along the back. A quick Internet search about gar reveals Native Americans did, indeed, eat gar, though the fish’s eggs are covered with a sticky substance that lets them adhere to rocks underwater and are toxic to humans. Repeat: Don’t eat gar eggs or you’ll regret it.
in the water, head pointing into the flow. It quickly revives and swims, undulating snake-like, back to deep water. Ironically, the biggest gar he’s ever caught — this one — was pulled up from the depths on his last cast of the day. “We like to fish for gar in the dog days of summer,” Stouffer says. “They seem to be more active the warmer the water gets, and you can sight-fish them in the shallower “A hoot to catch!” pools, but the big holes After a few moments hold bigger fish. “They’re a hoot to admiring his catch, Stouffer gently lays the fish back catch!”
» The world record longnose gar was caught in the Trinity River in Texas in 1954 and weighed exactly 50 pounds, according to the International Game Fish Association. » In Missouri, the record longnose gar caught by fishing pole weighed 27 pounds and was caught in 1999 at Bull Shoals Lake by Dale Davis of Kirbyville. » In April, Oklahoma bowfisherman Chris Kimble shot a record Missouri longnose at Bull Shoals Lake. It weighed 34 pounds, 7 ounces, and was 65 1⁄2 inches long.
Gars play important role in Missouri rivers, lakes By Francis Skalicky
“It (the gar) is a wholly worthless and destructive nuisance in relation to mankind.”
Missouri Department of Conservation
Down through the years, gars have received little love from fishing enthusiasts in particular and humans in general. Consider this description of the fish: “It (the gar) is a wholly worthless and destructive nuisance in relation to mankind. It has, in fact, all the vices and none of the virtues of a predaceous fish.” These words were written by Stephen Alfred Forbes and Robert Earl Richardson, two prominent ichthyologists of the early 1900s. Let me repeat that: They were ichthyologists —people who are interested in fish. A fish has pretty much reached the bottom of the appreciation scale when even ichthyologists have no kind words for it. For generations, people can considered these longnosed, toothy fish to be little more than “trash fish” that prey on desirable sportfish species. Studies have shown this negative reputation is a bit unde-
STEPHEN ALFRED FORBES AND ROBERT EARL RICHARDSON Ichthyologists
A 4-foot-3-inch longnose gar fights to escape the hookless lure cast by fly fisherman Jim Stouffer during a recent outing on the James River. WES JOHNSON/NEWS-LEADER
served, but before we get to that, here’s more about the gar. There are seven species of gar found in North America, four of which occur in Missouri. Of these, the most common — and one found throughout the Ozarks — is the longnose gar ( Lepiosteus osseus). Longnose gar commonly reach lengths of three feet or more and weights of more than five pounds. Sometimes their size is much greater – the state record (by gigging method) for longnose gar is a catch that weighed more than 34 pounds. Fossils of gars have
been found from the Permian Period (290 million to 248 million years ago), a period that predates the “Age of Dinosaurs.” The fish’s most obvious characteristics are its elongated snout (“gar” is an Old English word for spear) and its needle-like teeth. Gars have the curious habit of rising to the water’s surface, opening and closing their jaws with a loud snap, then sinking again. This behavior, termed “breaking,” allows the fish to renew the supply of air to its swim bladder. Gars are effective predators and therein lay the source of the widely-
heard criticism — and lesser-known praise — for this creature. While it’s true gars will snap their jaws around any fish they can catch — including bass, crappie and other species of sportfish, studies have shown that in Missouri the bulk of a gar’s diet consists of gizzard shad. For those who love fishing; that’s a good thing. Gizzard shad are one of the most numerous fish species in the state and often compete with other fish species for food and space. But, because of their large mouths, gars are one of the few fish in Missouri that are equipped to eat adult shad, and this predation helps keep shad populations under control.
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