Monday, June 29, 2009

No Trash Fish, No GARbage, Just Great Fishing

By Taylor Wilson

LOWER SARDIS, Miss. — Mark Beason is the editor of Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ Mississippi Outdoors magazine.
Among his many other claims to fame, he is also the self-proclaimed title of “No. 2 Gar Man” in all of the Magnolia State.
“Sure, it might not be your typical title (gar being labeled a ‘trash fish’ and all), or it might not even be a title most will claim with pride, but I will take it,” said Beason, a Jackson, Miss. resident.
“And last year, for a while, I was actually No. 1, because the top gar man was out of commission after an ATV accident,” Beason told me.
But these days, the No. 1 Gar Man is reportedly back to health, and Beason is still happy being No. 2.
And as most know, being No. 2 is not all bad because the claim is that “No. 2’s try harder”—’cause they have to.
Such extra effort might be what sparked Beason to have us meet him on this particular shoe-sole-melting day in late June.
The thermometer in my truck said it was 100 degrees when my 9-year-old son, Landon, and I waded through the parking lot’s heat waves to get to the boat.
“Only a fool, or, of course, the No. 2 Gar Man, would go fishing on a day like today. Surely, all the other gar gurus are at home soaking up freon,” I thought out loud.
“Oh, it is going to be top-notch gar weather,” Beason said. “The hotter the better!”

Beason has been chasing gar for a long time. He likes it for reasons other than the fishing is hot, though. He also likes it because the fish are big and follow suit with their fight. He claims gar battles are the closest thing to saltwater fishing that most Mid-South anglers can find.
“And it is probably not a good gar trip, if somebody doesn’t go home bleeding,” he told me.
Something that proved prophetic, at last count No. 2 was bleeding from more than one locale at day’s end. We battled many a bruiser (as well as a couple that were more into lacerations than blunt trauma, evidently.)
Beason makes his own gar lures out of white nylon rope. He frays the rope really well with a wire brush so that it resembles pieces of white beard from a Santa suit.

“These baits last forever, are inexpensive to make and the more you use ’em, the better I think they work,” he said.
He douses the wooly pieces of rope with various attractants (crawfish-, shad-scented, etc.), and believes this helps draw more strikes than rope baits not sprayed with smell-um.
Before the rope is frayed it is run therough a swivel and secured with mono-filament wraps. Above the bait, Beason places a bullet weight which gives cast-ability and added drop.
“I really fish it like you would a Texas-rigged worm, letting it sink, and maybe swimming it from time to time. I think the gar hit it most often on the fall.”
As one might imagine the frayed rope flares in the water, much as a hair- or feathered jig does.
“You don’t set the hook (there is no hook), when a gar strikes the bait,” Beason said. “You just keep the line tight and add pressure as their teeth get caught in that nylon rope. Once they shake their head, you have got ’em; though for a while there, you might think he has you,” he laughed.
Of course, getting a gar “unhooked” from a nylon fray can be a feat in itself.
We had the most success doing this by lifting them up out of the water with channel-lock pliers gripping the gar baits, and letting the weight of the fish rip the nylon tangles from their rows of teeth.

Thick gloves are recommended (see earlier mention of gar fishing trips and bleeding) when handling gar.
Beason admits to eating gar, and actually says they can be pretty good, though he also notes the best way to clean ’em is to use tin shears.
As with my previous trip with the No. 2 Gar Man, we caught lots of fish and most averaged in the 12- to 15-pound range, and some were near or over 20 pounds.
“I bet there is no one else anywhere on Sardis today that caught this many pounds of fish,” he said.
I bet he was right.
Of course, my son had a great trip. And though I worried he might not make it well in the extreme heat, by halftime he was already asking when he could come back with Gar Man, No. 2. (Having a cooler full of drinks certainly helped fight the heat.)

As it turns out most folks nearly always have a chance of catching their biggest-fish-ever on a gar trip. And Landon did this with his the first gar he caught.
“That’s the fun-est fishing trip I have ever been on,” my youngster said later at the ramp. On the way home, he covered up with a gar-scented beach towel and drifted in and out with dizzy conversation about when we would return for gar and questions about how long until duck season. (There is something to be said for a sportsman that has his priorities set at an early age!)
Admittedly, on this trip, Landon had the best of both worlds. When not landing his own fish, Beason and I would often hand over fish we had on line, so the kid could battle ’em to boat. And the battle is the reason people fish for gar, of course.
Prior to the adventure, Beason told me that no one had ever officially set the Mississippi record for longnose gar on a fly rod. (FYI, though, the all-tackle record is 40 pounds, set at Grenada spillway, according to MDWFP). So I carried a fly rod with me on this trip, for no other purpose than to catch a state record. After all, it would only take one longnose gar (any longnose gar) on the fly rod, no matter the size, to be in the sate record books, what with it being the first entry and all.
So later in the afternoon, with our game for gars about to be called due to darkness, I put down the bait-caster, took out the fly rod and caught one that weighed 8 pounds or so.
But despite a wonderful battle, and well-played fish on my end, if I do say so myself, I was denied.
“Oh no, I am not going to let you take a record with that, ” said Beason. “That’s a pup, if you are going to kick off the category, you ought to at least catch one around 15 pounds.”
So the day ended. And just as unofficially as Beason is No. 2 Gar Man in Mississippi, well, in my (record) book, anyway, I am the unofficial Mississippi record holder for longnose gar on a fly rod — for now, at least.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sight(s) Set For Fall

By Taylor Wilson

I am seeing things a different way—in a whole new light.
I broke down, or went for broke (literally) a month or so ago and had LASIK eye surgery.
My buddy Chester “Grumpy” Dixon volunteered to drive me home after the procedure.
So he was the one I handed my keys, my knives and all spare shotgun shells in my pocket over to, before I went back to be prepped for procedure.
Needless to say this gathered some attention in the waiting room. But a pocket full of ammo and knives did not stand out as much as when I accidentally showed up with a handful of waterfowl loads (post morning duck hunt) at the Capitol in Nashville for some sort of conservation meeting.
“Oh, don’t worry, it’s just steel shot, won’t hurt much and politicians are supposed to have thick skin,” I laughed as I handed over the ammo to the State Trooper.
(Hindsight, indicates I am lucky I am not still in the state pen.)
But back to eye surgery… So there I was, sitting in the back waiting for my turn under the laser, in a recliner at full-tilt, wearing a hair net, listening to Muzak and enjoying a happy pill, when they came to check on me.
“How’s Grumpy doing up front in the main waiting room? Is he behaving himself?” I asked.
“Yes, and thank goodness, because thanks to you, he now has ammo,” an employee told me.
“Well, yeah, but at least he doesn’t have a gun,” I replied and offered a relaxed-and-getting-more-so chuckle.
Several minutes later, really, my vision was corrected. Even so, I didn’t open my eyes because Grumpy was soon driving us home, and it was near 5 p.m.—on I-240.
And despite his urgent pleas to do so, I told Grumpy it was best to go home and sleep as the doctor ordered, and not stop and test my new vision at Hooters.
The next day, when I told the doctor, “it’s good to see you, and I mean really good to see you,” it was reported that I was seeing 20/15!
Of course, the goal for me, anyway, in regards to LASIK, was to be less dependent on contacts and glasses. I got that and maybe a little more.
Heck, I wasn’t that far away from Ted Williams, veteran and Hall of Fame angler and ballplayer. (Yeah, I am dreaming now, well that, and me being much minus his cat-like reflexes.)
Williams, they say, saw 20/10. And did you know doctors reported he could see at 20 feet what people with normal eyesight see at 10 feet? Armed forces ophthalmologists said his eyesight was so keen it was a one-in-100,000 proposition.
So, really, I am nowhere near that. But again, I am just happy to be less dependent on corrective lenses.
Want to know another certainty that’s come out of this? I have an increased self-obligation to protect my eyes. If I am shooting, fishing or mowing the yard (OK, at least two out of three are fun), I am wearing protective glasses. Ironic? Sure, but at such times I wear ’em because I want to, not have to.
And to top all this off, a friend has sworn to me, “You are going to really LOVE it when hunting season comes around!”
I hope so. Though I really doubt my accuracy (with bow, shotgun or rifle) will be that much better (note earlier mention of less-than-lightning reflexes; as of yet, they can’t correct that with a laser). And I will goof-up most days, anyway, due primarily to my known and accepted Charlie Brown approach or lot in life.
Still, I can’t wait to see fall this year.
(Who knows what I may get a glimpse of that I might have previously been missing?)
But until then I can only turn the thermostat down (for simulation purposes), and sit here and imagine what the Hatchie Bottom foliage will look like with new-and-improved vision.
Talk about wait and see…

Taylor Wilson is managing editor at Bill Dance Publishing. He has been writing for newspapers, magazines and websites for more than 20 years.