Tags Fish Guide

Robust Garfish

Tags Fish Guide
Category: Low Risk

GARFISH are one of those species which just about everyone likes to target from time to time, albeit for different reasons. Gardies, or gars, as they are more commonly referred to in Western Australia, are a table species for some anglers and a great source of bait for others. They have also been the saving grace for many of us on potentially fishless days. Eat your bait? Certainly, in this case.
The gardie is a very important link in the marine food chain, and is on the preferred menu list of key angling species such as tailor, salmon, mackerel, tuna, sailfish and marlin and probably quite a few more. And given their tendency to spend much of their lives swimming on the surface they are also popular targets for a multitude of seabirds. The poor old gar cops it from all directions.
There are several species of garfish distributed throughout our waters. In addition to the robust gar the other main oceanic species are the southern sea gar, Hemiramphus melanochir, found up as far as Lancelin, and the snub-nosed gar, Arrhamphus sclerolepis, a northern species ranging from Carnarvon right through to the tropics.
It took me a surprisingly long time to get to eat gardies with enthusiasm. Eventually I realised that a fresh, carefully filleted gardie pan-fried in breadcrumbs must have been discovered about the same time as Sauvignon Blanc. Beaoootiful.
When boat fishing I put gardies straight into an ice and seawater slurry - this dispatches them quickly and keeps the flesh firm and fresh for ease of filleting and freshness of flavour.

The chunky robust gar - also known as three-by-two, storm or black-spot - is quite easily distinguished by its deep body and a dark spot just under the dorsal fin. Another key distinguishing feature is a longish lower lobe on the caudal (tail) fin.

Robust gars grow deep through the body and reach a maximum length of around 48cm. That's a jumbo gar and at that size you wouldn't need many for a good feed.

H. robustus is widely distributed from about Geographe Bay in the South-West right up through the tropics. At times they turn up along the metropolitan coast at spots such as Grant Street (Cottesloe) and Hillarys and Mindarie marinas and the nearby reefs. However, H. melanochir is by far the most common garfish species along the southern half of our vast coastline.

Breeding and migration
Not much seems to be known about the breeding habits of robust garfish but it's likely that juveniles occupy estuaries and embayments, favouring areas such as seagrass meadows which can provide a host of algal filaments, small crustaceans and other shallow water odds and ends to complete a well-balanced diet. There's no doubt that robust garfish migrate but again not much appears to be known about the extent of their migration patterns. But I can tell you that at the beginning of April there are generally good numbers in Kalbarri waters, especially out from the red rocks down at Jake's Corner.

Loss of inshore seagrass nursery habitat and declining water quality are the main threats to this species.
Seagrass meadows are constantly under threat in populated areas such as Albany, Geographe Bay and Cockburn Sound and Owen Anchorage.Our level of diligence in preventing habitat loss will need to increase in this millennium or we will lose more than just garfish. Commercial catches of gars for the retail and bait markets have remained static over the last 20 years.

Shallow inshore reef areas are traditional habitats for robust gars. It seems that the clearer the water the better your chances of catching a feed - I have never had any success in stirred up or dirty water.

Tackle and bait
A two-metre light spin stick is the ideal tool for boat fishing but you will need a light 3m-plus beach rod from shore because it may well be necessary to cast 50m or so to reach the fish. At times they seem to school well out, frustratingly beyond casting distance.
Many anglers use a fixed or free-running berley blob above a light four-kilo trace and long-shank hook. Others prefer a berley cage and similar trace arrangement. When boat fishing I prefer a short stick float and a very small amount of lead shot on the trace which I can slide up and down depending on where gars are feeding in the water column. But from the beach or rocks I favour the tried-and-true blob rig. Many anglers use maggots, or wogs, which these days are readily available from tackle shops. No need to set up a stinking wog farm down near the back fence! Better to keep them in a bait-and-beer fridge - the lady of the house is sure to object to you keeping them in a dormant state on a shelf of the family fridge. [Many years ago your hapless Editor went close to divorce when some not-so-dormant wogs escaped and crawled onto a pork roast!]
Small pieces of prawn will often do the business when other tougher baits fail, but some days when the gars are hot to trot little bits of squid, occy or even a cube of gardie or herring cut from a fish caught earlier will do the trick. Some anglers have success with baitchasers cut down to two or three hooks.

Fishing methods
I believe that you can use too much berley and send the fish off the bite by allowing them to fill up on it. So I use it sparingly. When using a berley blob resist the temptation to keep casting way out. Doing that may well move your berley trail farther and farther offshore and keep the fish out of range. If gars seem shy at first, and won't come close, simply cast towards them with no berley in the blob. The closer they are the more fish you're likely to end up catching.
Some days gars prefer a moving bait and a slow retrieve may switch on a finicky school. And remember that the lighter you fish the more fun you have, especially when gars are spooky, which is much of the time.
Sometimes boat anglers are driven right back to basics - that is, a totally unweighted three-kilo handline. Do whatever it takes because catching big gars is one of fishing's great delights.

References: Kailola, Williams, Stewart, Reichelt, McNee and Grieve Australian Fisheries Resources 1993. Hutchins and Swainston Sea Fishes of Southern Australia 1986.
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