Other Common Names
Billy gar, billfish, garfish, garpike
Living relic of prehistoric past; family dates back 245 million years. Nothing in Virginia is even remotely similar to the gar. The long narrow beak-like jaw, laden with sharp teeth, is the unmistakable feature. Very long, cylindrical fish with dorsal and anal fins set well back on the body, and a large rounded tail fin; note the armament of very large, hard, sharp, bony scales. Brownisholive on its back, fading to yellowish- or olive-green to white on its belly; 2 to 3 ft in length is not uncommon.
Lakes: Western Branch, Prince, Chickahominy, Buggs Island. Rivers: Chickahominy, Pamunkey, James, Rappahannock.
Large minnows are best on medium to heavy casting and spinning tackle. They are adept at stripping bait from hooks and difficult to hook in their bony jaw. Feed at night, especially moonlit nights.
Feeds mainly near the surface on small fishes, but take in small amounts of insects and other aquatic creatures.
Occurs in slow-moving rivers, streams, overflow ponds or large freshwater bays. Is tolerant of turbid waters and currents and will feed in fast currents or tides. Needs reasonably clear water and aquatic vegetation to reproduce. Is able to breath by using its air bladder as a lung, and are often seen in warm weather with their “beaks” out of water, gulping air.
In spring in shallow waters, the eggs are deposited in weedy bays on submerged vegetation. They are dark in color and said to be poisonous for humans to eat. Young have a special disk on its head to attach to vegetation, much like pike fry.