POPULARITY OF MISSOURI PADDLEFISH
Paddlefish are highly valued by both sport anglers and commercial fishermen. Through MDC stocking efforts at three large reservoirs, Missouri is able to offer some of the best paddlefish snagging fisheries in the U.S. The fisheries are at Lake of the Ozarks and its tributaries, Harry S. Truman Reservoir and its tributaries, and Table Rock Lake and its tributaries, primarily the James River arm.
Without MDC’s stocking of these fisheries, and other paddlefish management practices, paddlefish numbers would sharply decline in Missouri’s reservoirs, reducing opportunities for sport snaggers.
In the past, paddlefish were naturally abundant in Missouri, but their numbers declined because of channelization, damming, impoundments and other river modifications. These modifications have greatly diminished the natural habitat paddlefish need to reproduce in the wild.
Today, paddlefish in Missouri must be stocked. MDC stocks about 45,000 hatchery-produced 10-12-inch-long paddlefish fingerlings each year in Missouri’s three main paddlefish locations: Table Rock Lake, Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks.
Paddlefish are an ancient species of fish that date back to the times of dinosaurs. The sturgeon is a similar species of fish. Both are popular for their flesh and their eggs, or roe, which is used as caviar. Paddlefish, also known as spoonbills, are most easily identified by their paddle-shaped nose, which accounts for about one-third of their body length.
Paddlefish are cartilaginous, which means that they have no bones. They are bluish-gray to blackish on the back and grade to white on the belly. They have small eyes and no scales.
Paddlefish are filter feeders. Despite their large adult size, paddlefish eat tiny crustaceans and insects, called zooplankton, as they constantly swim slowly through water with their mouths wide open.
Paddlefish can grow to a length of about seven feet, weigh up to 160 pounds or more, and live 30 years or more. Females grow larger and heavier than males. It takes about 6-8 years for a paddlefish to reach legal harvest size (34-inches) in Missouri’s large reservoirs. Female paddlefish reach sexual maturity at 8-10 years and spawn every 2-3 years. Male paddlefish reach sexual maturity at 4-5 years and spawn annually. The egg masses of female paddlefish can be up to 25 percent of their body weight, with a large female paddlefish carrying about 20 pounds of eggs, or roe.
Paddlefish live mostly in open waters of big rivers and were historically found in the Mississippi, Missouri and Osage rivers, along with other streams. Paddlefish spend most of the year dispersed throughout large reservoirs and rivers until warm spring rains increase flows and raise water temperatures, which prompts the big fish to swim upstream on their spawning run. Spawning runs occur in late spring at times of increased water flow. It is triggered by a combination of daylight, water temperature, and water flow.
Because they are filter feeders that eat tiny crustaceans and insects, paddlefish have no interest in traditional fishing lures and bait.
The most popular and dependable way to catch paddlefish is by snagging. This involves using a stiff, strong 6-9-foot pole with a heavy-duty reel and line. A sinker weight is attached near the end of the line, and a hook or cluster of hooks is attached to the end of the line.
Snaggers cast their lines so the sinkers hit the bottom of the river or lake. They then sweep the pole back and forth so the line moves through the water. This sweeping motion jerks the hooks through the water, followed by reeling to take up slack from the jerk. This allows the hooks to “snag” paddlefish to be reeled in.
For more information about paddlefish, visit www.mdc.mo.gov.