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For the love of gar: Don Lawrence catches Illinois-record shortnose gar



Fittingly enough, a lover of gar, Don Lawrence, caught the Illinois-record shortnose gar on Sunday from Horseshoe Lake in Madison County.

“They are apex predators and have not changed in millions of years; plus they are a blast to catch!” Lawrence wrote in a note of his gar experiences.

His complete note and a bunch of photos, provided by Illinois fisheries chief Dan Stephenson, are posted below.


Don Lawrence with his Illinois-record shortnose gar, caught May 27, 2018 from Horseshoe Lake in Madison County.

The shortnose Lawrence, of St. Louis, caught Sunday was 35 inches (if I am reading the photo at the bottom right) and weighed 6 pounds, 15.2 ounces, topping the one (5-0.96) caught by William “Garman” Meyer on July 20, 1999 from the Vermilion River in LaSalle County.

The International Game Fish Association lists the all-tackle world-record shortnose gar–8-3 (3.71 kg)–as caught by George Pittman Sr. on Oct. 12, 2010 from Lake Contrary in Missouri.

Lawrence’s shortnose should be the third Illinois record caught in May, pending completion of paperwork on Johnathan Inman’s freshwater drum and Ken Krumreich’s redear or redear hybrid (waiting on DNA testing). Click here for the preliminary story on their fish.

Fisheries biologist Fred Cronin, who verified Lawrence’s shortnose and also sent this note:

I certified a new state record shortnose gar this week from Horseshoe Lake (Madison county)! It was caught by Don Lawrence. He is a very interesting and intelligent guy. I was impressed that he was an actual gar angler and he showed me some of the cool things he does with them besides eating them. I asked him to do a short summary of his gar fishing experience. He is also an excited supporter of our alligator gar re-introduction efforts. I thought this would be great material for PR on a class of fish that is most often underappreciated.

I think Cronin correctly assessed the gar situation with the last sentence.


Some of Don Lawrences handiwork.

Here is the summary that Lawrence sent Cronin. I think it is outstandingly put:

I purchased a fishing kayak in 2013 and I caught my first gar (longnose) on July 13, 2013 on Creve Coeur lake and have been hooked (pun intended) on fishing for gar ever since. I’d never seen a gar before and when you get up close and personal, they are really quite formidable. Gar are long, slender, covered in fish scale armor plating and have mouths full of sharp pointed teeth! They are very powerful and will put up a great fight, if you can hook them. A hooked gar will often launch itself completely out of the water, shaking its head violently trying to spit the hook. I’ve lost more than my share of fish during this exciting and slightly dangerous time. In my opinion, gar are one of the best fighting freshwater fish.

My fondness for catching gar usually leads me to Horseshoe lake in Madison county, Illinois. This old Mississippi oxbow is full of shortnose and spotted gar. As an additional bonus, the IDNR stocked the lake with alligator gar in 2016. The world record for alligator gar is 279 lbs!! I’ve been hunting for ‘gator gar but have not come across one yet. I’ve had the best luck on this lake using cut bait or whole shad suspended a foot under a bobber. It’s exciting to watch your bobber zip across the lake then submerge as the gar chews on the bait. When fishing in this manner, you’ll need to be patient. Gar like taking their time and will chew a bait for a few minutes before swallowing. Most people do not eat gar but they can be quite tasty. It’s worth a try. Gar are not deserving of the “trash/rough fish” label. They are apex predators and have not changed in millions of years; plus they are a blast to catch!

That’s putting words to a righteous thing.


Measuring the Illinois-record shortnose gar caught by Don Lawrence.