Finding gar is `unusual occurrence'


May 23, 2004|By CANDUS THOMSON

To muscle your way into the headlines these days, it helps to be a water-based life form.

Blue crabs? Check.

Snakeheads? Check.

Michael Phelps? Check and double check.

Even Mr. Perfect Game, Randy Johnson, has a certain reptilian look about him.

So when a 40-inch gar was found Tuesday on the shore of the Middle Branch, suffice it to say it was a fish destined for the pages of this newspaper.

No less an authority than Steve Early, he of the Department of Natural Resources' snakehead eradication fame, called the gar's appearance "an unusual occurrence."

That's enough validation for me.

Two men who work the security detail at Harbor Hospital found the gar on nearby rocks. (Gar on the Rocks. Sounds like a foo-foo summer drink.) Naturally, the men thought the needle-nosed varmint was a relative of the snakehead.

But the gar was kind of chewed up, which eliminated the possibility of it being a Frankenfish since we all know those alien critters breathe air, walk on land, have a two-pack-a-day habit and eat Angus cattle whole, with room left over for a piece of tiramisu.

The security guards turned to their buddy, William Burrell of Catonsville. Burrell gave the dead beast the once-over.

"I said, `Man, I've never seen anything like it,' " Burrell told Sun science guru Frank Roylance.

Sensing a possible news story, Burrell tossed the decedent into a red plastic hazmat bag, added ice and drove it to the curb at 501 North Calvert St., home of Maryland's newspaper, where Roylance awaited.

As flies and onlookers gathered, the 70-year-old Burrell pulled on gloves and pulled out the fish, which was now on the mushy side.

A Sun photographer snapped away while Burrell and Roylance chatted.

With the photo shoot over, no one offered to take the gar off Burrell's hands. That was probably because of The Sun's "No-dead-fish policy" dating back to the days of H.L. Mencken, when newspapers were called "fish wrappers."

"I don't know what I'm going to do with it," Burrell said. "It's stinking up the car."

But ever the good citizen, he "slipped it back into the bag, tied a knot in the open end and dropped it into the trunk of his Buick, spraying it futilely with air freshener before he drove off," Roylance reported.

Andy Dehart, assistant curator of fishes at the National Aquarium's Animal Care Center, said the gar in question was the longnose variety, found in brackish water from Quebec to northern Mexico. Longnose gars max out at about 70 inches, but "40 inches is certainly a large animal."

Jerry Sersen of the Fishin' Shop on Pulaski Highway said he had not heard of gar being spotted as far north as the Middle Branch. "That's more impressive than the snakehead. That's definitely out of place."

DNR's Early called the longnosed gar a "throwback to ancient natural history," with an air bladder that allows it to "breathe" air and tough out times when the dissolved oxygen in the water is low.

Gars put up a good fight. "If you ever hook one, you're in for a good battle. He's going to take you for everything you've got," Sersen said.

With the gar's sharp teeth, it's difficult to get the hook out, and with its tough, scaly hide, it's even more difficult to clean.

Sersen swears they're a popular dinner farther south, "but I don't think the flavor has caught on here."

Ever the good public servant, Early offered up a recipe for gar: "Get a big stew pot and a bottle of whiskey. Fill the pot with water and throw the fish in the stew pot. Boil up the fish and then throw it away and drink the bottle of whiskey."

And people wonder why I love Steve Early.

No digging required

Silly me. In discussing last week the various ways to fish with cicadas, I forgot the au naturel way.

Andy Todaro, formerly of Harford Road and now an Ocean City resident, called to remind me that just grabbing a live bug off the tree and baiting it up is also an acceptable approach.

Seems 17 years ago, Todaro and his brother decided to give cicadas a try at Loch Raven Reservoir.

They took a small, short shank hook - No. 4 or No. 6 will do -and hooked the cicada through the neck. The brothers didn't use any weight.

"You just flick them out there 8 to 10 feet. It'll actually fly a little bit for you and your cast will go farther," he said. "We could keep them floating for five minutes, and boy, could we catch fish."

Todaro, who owned and lived above the Montebello Deli, said they were so successful cicada fishing, they took friends and customers out.

He recalled that the bite was good with smallmouth bass, bluegills and carp. After three weeks, the smallmouth action dropped out and a week later, the bluegills stopped biting.

"We worked the shoreline. It didn't matter where you went, as long as it was open water. And you don't even need to get your bait ahead of time. You can just pick them off the trees and use them. Best part is, they're free. "

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