Fly Fishing For Garfish (Hornfisk)

by Silja Longhurst

Love them or hate them, fishing for Garfish (the kid sister of needlefish) can be a great deal of fun when targeted at the right time of year with light gear. The “horny hornies” of the Baltic Sea may not seem like an obvious choice compared to the elusive Sea Trout, but they are the perfect species to pursue if you’re in Scandinavia and looking to bend a rod.

Have you ever been fishing in Scandinavia before? Have you ever fished the Scandinavian coastline for pike, sea trout, mullet or maybe garfish (lat. Belone belone)? If not, you are missing out on some incredible sporting action.

The garfish (or the “hornfisk” as it is called here in Denmark) is the kid sister of the needlefish. With its long beak/jaw and its lean body it can grow up to 93 cm (37 inches) long. These energetic fellows are either loved or hated by the fly anglers that fish the Baltic coastline. The haters get annoyed as the garfish will ruin their beloved sea trout fishing. They take the fly as soon as it hits the water and allow no time for the fly to be fished for that elusive sea trout. They mess it up and ruin many a great pattern due to their small fine teeth and then get totally tangled in the leader and line. To make matters worse, they have a very distinct smell – rather fishy – that increases the ire of “The Haters”.

The Lovers, however, have realized that they are great sport and that it can be tremendous fun catching them. The fun starts with the right gear. Although you can use your normal coastal gear such as a #6 or #7 weight rod/line set up, the fun factor starts when fishing light in anticipation of the sport. Fish a #4 rod with a light floating line, like a RIO Gold, rigged up with a Trout tapered leader in 1x or 2x. This is a perfect sporting choice in tackle for the Gars.

The garfish season begins approximately in May and goes all through the hot summer months. High sun and a flat calm sea are perfect weather conditions to have a go at the hornies. The garfish migrate to the Baltic Sea every year and that is due to a simple biological urge; to mate. They arrive in vast shoals and then spread along the coastlines, just to gather in even bigger schools. Then they do what they have to do and it is pretty obvious. The males chase the females; the water surface is literally boiling and bubbling with frenzied activity – and this is the perfect time to cast a fly into the group of garfish and strip, strip, strip. The aggression is enormous; head and tales everywhere trying to take the fly. Garfish take any kind of fly between hook sizes 14 down to 4. Whereas shiny, glittery materials might increase your catch rate they have no preferences in colours.

To enhance the joy of fishing for garfish take it up a notch: fish Poppers! Put on a Popper and strip in as fast as you can. The fish go bezerk! A bunch of fish will follow your fly aggressively, snapping after it whenever they can until one hornie is finally hooked. The fight that follows is full of energy and involves vicious change of directions, acrobatic jumps and a deep bend in the rod – doubly exciting on light trout rods.

As the garfish are found along much of the Danish coastline during the height of summer, it is a perfect species to pursue while on holiday with the family.