by Bret Amundson
Chasing Dinosaurs with a Stick and String
When we turned the bright, LED lighting system off, the heavy fog of bugs dispersed and we were able to see how close to sunrise it was getting. A twist of my wrist revealed a watch that read 4:42 AM. It was time to wrap up an 11 hour bowfishing excursion that included big fish, thunderstorms, flooded fields and bugs. Lots of bugs.
We’d be in the boat with Carpe Diem Outdoors, which consists of long-time bowfishing enthusiasts, Darrel and Tammie Schrieber. Also along for the trip were Bemidji residents Jake Flaa (field producer for The Next Bite) and full-time fire fighter Trent Eineichner.
Jake and Trent had made the 3 hour journey to the Otter Tail County area and I had shot up Highway 59 to meet up with the Schriebers to chase longnose gar. Gar are a hidden treasure in Minnesota with only a few lakes available supporting a population.
The stories of 50″- 60″ gar seem to have been replaced with the more common 30″ fish experience. Is that from people shooting too many big fish along with the smaller fish and not giving them a chance to get to that 50″ mark?
“We just don’t see them like we used to,” Darrel Schrieber explained. “We won’t shoot the small ones, we want to let them grow. So a good day might be shooting 2 or 3.”
While finding that big gar for the wall may be generating odds that resemble big foot sightings, that won’t stop people from getting on the lakes to go after them. Just where do you start?
“Lake Notell, in Cantfindit County,” was the answer I was given from Tammie Schrieber. For a while I was afraid I’d be blindfolded and spun around three times before we left.
But that’s how well-guarded the secrets are. Some of the lakes are hard to get to, so the probability of the general public getting into them is a long shot-but not impossible. They are a resource that is held in high regard within the bowfishing community and no one wants to see it get abused.
Not only does this prehistoric fish give us a glimpse back in time-fossils dating back 100 million years have been found-but they are a bowfishing target that provides ample table fare as well. In Minnesota game fish are not legal bowfishing targets as they are in neighboring states like South Dakota, so many unethical bowfisherman dispose of their rough fish take by dumping them in the ditch or back in the water system.
Not so with gar. So how do you prepare gar?
“Use a tinsnips to get them open, because they’re all bone on the outside,” Darrel Schrieber explained. “Peel them open. Just like the backstraps on a deer, you want to take out the pure white meat. Make sure you take the gray and pink matter off the edge of it…(the meat) that’s right against the skin. Cut them into little chicken nugget-sized pieces and deep fry them.”
While I argued everything tastes great in the deep fryer, I’d still hesitate to throw a carp in there.
Now the only thing to do, is shoot one. We started on one area lake and spotted two smaller gar, laying narrow along the bottom. As someone who is used to spotting fat carp, picking out a gar would be a new challenge.
In fact, all fish were a bit scarce on this lake and only one fish ended up in our barrel-a healthy sized female dogfish.
Cloud cover and a stiff breeze worked against visibility, so it’s possible we missed some opportunities. Soon the wind pushed those clouds together and we were chased off by heavy rains. We waited it out at a nearby restaurant and watched the land around us turn into a new waterway.
All this water and rain would cause us to abandon our plans of hitting the hotspot. The lake we wanted to go after gar on was a private, out-of-the-way body of water that required permission from a private landowner and a drive across his property. The over-abundance of precipitation meant that deep ruts would be left and we weren’t about to create any rifts. Besides, we weren’t even sure we’d make it through without getting stuck.
We reverted to plan B and chased big buffalo carp, or “buffs”. For the next few hours we bobbed up and down in the waves as the stormy weather never seemed to let up. We were able to boat a couple of 20+ pound fish in addition to bonus bullhead while keeping one eye to the sky. Again we were relegated to waiting out another downpour, this time sitting in the truck before returning to the lake. A few more buffs were picked up here and there, but overall we didn’t quite have the success we’d hoped. But that’s always how fishing goes isn’t it?
Finally the Bemidji guys had to hit the road and we loaded up the Schriebers 20 foot boat. We were gar-less, but determined to try it again.
Chalk this trip up as just adding to the allure of chasing a dinosaur.