Garfish - the missing link in the bass food chain
  |  First Published: April 2006

Garfish are often-overlooked as a food source for impoundment bass, but we should all take more notice of these feisty baitfish.

It’s funny how all anglers have preconceived ideas about which lures are suitable for different fish species. For example, we all know skirted trolling lures are for marlin, shallow running gold minnows are for barra and big bibbed deep divers are good for Murray cod.

But what about our Aussie bass? What sort of lures do bass eat? Well, it’s a pretty big list: spinnerbaits, soft plastics, rattlers, fizzers, poppers, small hard-bodied minnows and plugs. It’s a pretty extensive catalogue, which gives anglers a range of toys to play with.

If you look at that list, there is something there to imitate just about every conceivable type of bass tucker and even some which don’t resemble anything a bass is ever likely to come across in its natural environment. However, there is a noticeable omission from the list of artificials – a lure that accurately imitates the humble garfish.

Sure, some shallow diving minnows can do the job (particularly the jointed variety), as can some of the surface lures but realistically they only produce a vague representation of a gar and they could just as easily be mistaken for several other forms of fodder. What I wanted was a lure that could really imitate a live garfish.

When bass are prepared to eat such a wide range of artificials, why would anyone waste their time looking for a garfish imitator you ask? Well, all quests have a beginning and mine started on our local impoundment, home of some really big bass.

Despite going through the entire contents of my tackle box, we struggled to hook any of the big bass. We landed numerous small bass, with fish 25-35cm (fork length) common, but much bigger beasties live in this lake and I really wanted to work out how to catch them.

Bait is great

Natural bait was starting to look like a good solution, as anglers soaking shrimps or even a bunch of worms often catch some nice fish, but that sort of passive fishing doesn’t really appeal to me. However, a chance conversation with a regular baitfisher soon changed my mind and got me thinking more carefully about that option.

You see, this old bloke fishes with live garfish and frequently catches some absolute horse bass. Now before you get morally outraged at someone catching bass on livebait, just remember that he isn’t breaking any laws and whether you choose to fish with bait or lures is a personal decision. This bloke fishes for the table and happily abides by the two fish possession limit, so good luck to him. I just hope by the time I’m his age I can still pull a fish or two on a regular basis.

I eventually gave in to temptation and decided to try his advice. To be honest, I felt a bit stupid at the time as the first gar we caught was about a foot long and as thick as tube of silicone. It would have made a great troll bait for a big Spanish mackerel and I didn’t think anything living in this freshwater lake would be crazy enough to eat it. How wrong I was!

That first gar lasted about two minute before being eaten. I don’t know if it was the shock of such a big bait getting taken or being under-gunned in the tackle department but the fish blew me away in the weeds before I could even blink.

OK, time for round two. Upgrade the leader, tie on another big circle hook and out goes another gar, this time a little smaller than the first one. Before long, I was hooked up to another bass. At 48cm to the fork, it was a good fish and a much better class of bass than we normally get on lures. So, we quickly proved that: (1) big bass were definitely there, (2) they loved live garfish and, (3) they would hit much larger baits than I imagined. Now all we had to do was put the baitfishing gear away and find a lure that could do the same job.


So I went back to the tackle box but still wasn’t able to find anything amongst my lures that would do what I wanted. Perhaps a soft plastic might be the answer? In amongst the shads, curl tails, stickbaits, worms and lizards I finally found exactly what I was looking for.

It turned out to be one of my favourite flathead lures in the form of a 5” Eyeball Tail from Eco Products. In the smoke/core blue colour it looks like a garfish and by altering the way it is rigged, you can make it do all the things a garfish does.

By rigging it on an unweighted worm hook, you can make it quiver and dart just under the surface and if there is a lure that looks more like a gar then I am yet to find it. Alternatively, you can rig them on a leadhead jig and fish them right through the water column from the bottom to the top. Both approaches are successful and I’m sure that the bass think this lure is a real garfish.

Fishing the Eyeball Tail

Normally, my bass fishing sessions start well before the sun hits the water and I like to work the lure up near the surface by flicking an unweighted Eyeball Tail around the weedbeds. Using a staggered retrieve with lots of pauses and flicks of the rod tip makes the Eyeball Tail dart forward, hover silently and then veer off in a different direction. It’s this unpredictable, lifelike action that makes the plastic such a great imitation. Unlike other stickbaits, which have very little built in action, the little ball on the end of the lure’s tail makes it quiver every time it’s moved. That’s the advantage soft plastics have and I’ve found that you just can’t get the same result from a hard-bodied lure.

As the sun gets higher, I often switch to a jighead rig and fish a little deeper. By working the outside face of the weedbeds like this, I can still pick up the odd fish even though they are less active.

When the sun gets right up, I usually do a bit of trolling as this gives everyone in the boat a chance to catch a few extra fish before we head home. By trolling a mix of small deep divers the action tends to be fairly consistent. But even when we are trolling, I still use my garfish imitation.

To troll it, I simply rig it on a jighead and then thread a Wigglefin Action Disk on the line in front of the lure. The disk makes the lure vibrate just like a bibbed minnow and the action can easily be felt at the rod tip. While it probably isn’t essential to add the Wigglefin to get the fish to eat it, at least you can tell what your lure is doing and if it’s swimming properly. This saves you from trolling around a lure covered in weed and wasting valuable fishing time.

But does it work?

So has my garfish imitation caught me any of those big bass? Well yes and no. It has certainly caught me some nice bass but there are still much bigger fish swimming around in our lake to be caught. But then again, that’s the best part about fishing – there is always something new to aspire to. Maybe if I could find an even bigger Eyeball Tail, it might be a better imitation of really big gars that appeal to the really big bass. I just happened to find some huge 8” stickbaits in a tackle shop the other day. They were meant for kingfish but the biggest model in bluey/green looked like it might be a great garfish imitation if I gave it a chance. Guess I’ll just have to grab a couple and see how they go.

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