Hey everyone! Although new to this forum, I have been frequenting many Canadian and Ontario fishing forums for the past few years. Myself and a buddy also operate our own fly-fishing blog site (if you're interested, PM me and I can forward you the link).
Happy to be apart of a new community, and figured I'd start things off with my most recent narrative!
Hope you enjoy!
These fish have been on my most wanted list since I first picked up a fly-rod 3 years ago. Combine their size, their fight, their teeth, and their prehistoric appearance, and you end up with a perfect predator, and an exceptional sport fish. Truly not given the attention they deserve, gar are fierce. Their strikes will last in your memory for a life-time, and they most certainly know how to make a reel scream – chasing these fish on the flats of Lake Ontario is commonly compared to chasing Bonefish on the flats in the tropics.
Flashback 6-7 months, and you would find Alex, Britt, Jerry, and I freezing our asses off on the banks of a Southern Ontario stream swinging for steelhead
We were having a great day on the water, landing a decent number of steelhead. The creek was empty except for us until later in the morning, when two gentlemen joined us on the banks. Stopping to make conversation, we were introduced to Nick and Jason – better known to some as Quinte Fishing Guides. We learned that Nick runs guided trips on the Bay of Quinte for Gar during the summer months, and as soon as I heard that, I made a mental note to stay in touch with this guy. Thanks to the wonderful world of social networking, we kept in touch via Facebook, and last month I setup an outing with Nick for Alex, Britt, and I to toss some flies for gar.
For weeks leading up to the trip, we were as giddy as school children waiting for the clock to tick down on the last day of school before summer vacation. All we could talk about was gar. Even though we would be out fishing for browns or brook trout, we never took our minds off of the trip for these toothy critters that was right around the corner. Finally, the time had come, and I drove back to Madoc to meet Alex and Britt at our accommodations for the weekend. It was tough to contain our excitement that evening, as we caught up with one another over a few pints, and once we saw Nick upload some photos of the flies we would be tossing the next day, we decided to call it a night, and head to bed.
Lucky for us, this was the same Saturday that bass was opening in both zones 18, and 20 – the two zones we would be fishing in. So, if the gar were to prove difficult, we could always fall back on some bass fishing. It’s not very often that Alex and I get to return to Madoc to fish our prolific rainbow trout lake, so as we were meeting Nick at 10am to start our expedition for gar, we decided to wake up at 4am in order to get some fishing in for still-water rainbow trout and bass. We had a great time pulling in 3 still-water trout all caught on sinking line and woolly bugger patterns. Since bass had opened, we decided to spend an hour or so mousing for largemouth in the shallows, and we were not disappointed. Alex even managed to catch his first fish on his mouse pattern! I wish we could of had some photos to share, but we were saving our camera gear for the gar that we would hopefully be pulling to the boat.
At 8:15am, we hauled our small boat off of the trout lake, stopped to grab some quick breakfast and coffee, and proceeded to travel down Highway 62 in order to meet Nick at a boat launch on the Bay of Quinte. Not knowing what to expect, we were thrilled when we pulled up and were greeted by Nick, who was ready to launch a gorgeous boat. We quickly parked the car, gathered our gear, helped launch the boat, and were on our way. Immediately, Nick’s professionalism was obvious, as he started going over all of the boat safety info, and where certain supplies were located. When the orientation was complete, Nick ended it with “Today is going to be a great day on the water!”, and immediately we felt as if we were in the hands of a very professional, and confident guide. He increased the speed, and we sped off across the bay towards our first location.
As we came close to the spot, Nick slowed the boat, and we put our gear together. He was supplying our leaders and flies, and as he was tying them on, made sure to inform us of everything he was doing, and why he was doing it. He even gave us a quick lesson on how he tied the gar flies the night before. We were amazed – we hadn’t even tossed a fly in the water yet, and already felt like we had learned a lot! Once the flies were tied on, we were thankful we got some practice casting the heavy mice earlier in the day. We began cruising the shallows, and getting a couple shots at a bowfin and a few nice sized bass, but they didn’t seem all that interested for the time being. Finally, convinced the gar hadn’t come quite this shallow yet, we started exploring slightly deeper waters, and within 10 minutes, we were on top of fish!
My heart was pounding as Nick slowed the boat, and began giving us directions – “Cast to your 10 O’Clock, 20 feet out, and strip left – strip, strip, strip, FISH!”
It was an absolute adrenaline rush as we floated past schools of upwards of 30 fish, having our chances at which ever fish we wanted to target. This was my first time truly sight-fishing, and it was absolutely fantastic. You would cast the fly out, strip it right across the gar’s field of view, and if they were interested, you could watch them turn direction, and start the chase. Your heart is pounding, your adrenaline pumping, as these prehistoric animals chase your fly, approach it from the side, open their bills full of razor-sharp teeth, and side-swipe your fly. To be able to witness all of this, and then set the hook only to hear your reel immediately begin screaming was an absolute rush! Keeping patient for the fish to make up its mind on whether or not to strike can be difficult, but the fight is oh-so-worth it!
Within the first 20 minutes, we had a few hook-ups, and I landed my very first gar – a fish that breached 40″.
Sorry for the above image quality, as it is a still from the video we were taking. The first day we mostly focused on getting video, and Nick would be bringing his camera on the second day of our trip to get some good photos.
There was a definite learning curve for enticing these fish, but Nick was such a great mentor and we quickly picked up his tips, and found ourselves into tonnes of fish! We easily landed 10 gar on the first day, but were hooked into many, many more. The hook-set is very difficult on these fish, as their bill is so hard and tough to penetrate with a hook – you really need to put your whole body into the hook-set. The gar are masters of lulling you into a false sense of security as well. They will go on their first run, and then act tired as you pull them right up to the boat. Thinking they’re ready, you lean over the boat, grasp behind their gills to pull them into the boat, and as soon as you touch them, they typically take off on another screaming run, bringing you very close to your backing. As Nick explained, he gives them the “rule of 3″ – usually they’ll go on 3 of these types of runs before they’re actually ready to be boated, and I’ll be damned if 99% of the time, this was absolutely true.
Next comes the other tricky part – handling. These fish are absolute tanks, and have a ridiculous amount of strength. Due to their teeth, if they decide to thrash, it can be costly, and quite painful. Luckily, Nick walked us through everything with such precision that this never happened – a true testament to his knowledge and ability as a guide.
The first day flew by, and before we knew it, we were back at the house, enjoying a nice cold beer as well as some BBQ, and recounting the days events. Day 1 was full of new knowledge, and we were so anxious to get out for Day 2, and apply our newly acquired skills on some more fish.
It wouldn’t take long on Day 2, as we arrived to our spot with Nick again, and within 5 minutes, I landed another nice fish – and this time, Nick had his camera.
Already happy with his guiding service, I was so happy with his photos as well. Nick also runs a photography business on the side, and based on these photos, I think it’s quite obvious that he does great work!
Day 2 was filled with many sightings of monster fish, and at one point I had on a gar that must have been close to 50″, but the hook-set was not the greatest, and he eventually spit the fly. No worries though, as shortly thereafter, Alex landed this tank:
This fish was a beast, and fought like a champion! We spent the morning and early afternoon trading off on a couple of more small fish as well.
It got to the point where our arms were dead from casting, double-hauls, and fighting these fish, that we decided to give Britt (who had been expertly operating our video camera for the past two days) a chance to land a gar of her own. She did not disappoint – standing on the casting deck at the front of the boat, throwing her full body into the hook-sets, and eventually landing this beauty:
After she brought hers to the boat, it was almost like the fish turned a switch, and were gone. We didn’t spot a fish for a good 30 minutes, so at 4:00pm, we decided to call it a day.
This outing changed our perspectives on fly-fishing in Ontario. So used to streams, rivers, and small lakes, we had our minds blown by the warm-water opportunities that Lake Ontario provides. The abundance of fish, big fish at that, is ridiculous. You could pull into one of these bays and have a shot at 40-50″ gar, huge carp, nice sized bass, and even the odd bowfin or two – and that could all take place in a morning!
This trip was absolutely amazing – full of memories that will last a lifetime, and I truly have Nick and Quinte Fishing Guides to thank for that! Right from the get-go, he was extremely professional, safe, a lot of fun, and an all around amazing guide. Priced very reasonably, Nick exceeded our expectations, and got us into stupid amounts of fish, and with that, passed on a lot of knowledge. If you’re ever looking to chase these beautiful fish, do yourself a favor, and try Nick’s service – I guarantee that you will not be disappointed with your experience!
When I got home from the trip, I (somewhat) jokingly said to my girlfriend, “You don’t need to worry about me wanting a sports car anymore….. Because now, I want a boat!”.