JEFFERSON CITY—Trey Hooks wasn’t expecting to connect with a record fish or call up controversy when he launched his boat into the rain-swollen Osage River March 15, but he got both on his line.
Hooks, of Fortuna, was snagging for paddlefish just downstream from Bagnell Dam at approximately 7 p.m. when he connected with something big.
“I was just starting to jerk my rod up when the hook hit,” said Hooks. “I lost my balance and fell down in the boat.”
Hooks stopped his fall by grabbing the side of his boat, but in doing so, he dislocated his thumb. That made landing the fish even more difficult than it would have been.
Hooks’ wife, Fonda, tried to take the fishing rod from him when she saw how badly his thumb was hurt, but he wasn’t about to give up.
“It was just like her to try and get that fish off me,” Hooks said. “I told her to hook her own danged fish.”
Snapping at his wife didn’t help Hooks’ situation. When he got the fish to the surface after a 20-minute tussle, she refused to help him get it in the boat. Struggling to maneuver an oversized net beneath the fish with a bad thumb, Hooks slipped again. This time he banged his chest against the side of the boat. The impact dislodged his cell phone from the chest pocket of his coveralls, and the Nokia E71 dropped straight down into the fish’s gaping maw. At the same moment, the big treble hook he used to snag the fish tore through its skin and the monster paddlefish slid back into the river.
“I about died,” said Hooks. “That phone was brand new.”
But all was not lost. Hooks remembered that, at his wife’s suggestion, he had put the phone inside a zipper-type sandwich bag to protect it from moisture. The phone was on, and its GPS (global positioning system) function allowed the couple to follow its progress using his wife’s matching phone.
“Once I seen how big that fish was, I was sorry I hadn’t helped him,” said Fonda, “so I held the phone and told him where to cast.”
Incredibly, Hooks resumed his dropped connection with the fish. This time the fish was tired, and it came to the net more easily. Knowing he had a potential record, he rushed to find to a certified scale and an official with the Missouri Department of Conservation to witness the weighing.
The fish registered 223.5 pounds on the scales at Billy’s Bait ‘N Bread in Brixley. That included the cell phone. Fisheries biologist Javiar Roe was on hand certify the fish’s weight and species.
The Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame’s current world-record paddlefish weighed 144 pounds.
In spite of its enormous size, Roe said Hooks’ fish probably will not qualify as a state or world record. The problem, he said, is the way it was caught.
“It’s a question of fair chase,” said Roe. “Normally you have to guess where paddlefish are in order to snag one. Mr. Hooks used an electronic device to track this fish and catch it. I know he didn’t intend to violate the rules of fair chase, but his method certainly is questionable.”
Roe said he has not decided yet whether Hooks should be cited Under Wildlife Code 3 CSR 10-6.410 (5), which prohibits using an electrical device to take fish.
When asked how old Hooks’ fish might be, Roe said, “Fish aren’t like birds or mammals. Deer and eagles and people only get so big, and they’re done. Fish can continue to grow throughout their lives if they have enough food and good habitat.”
Roe said an average 10-year old paddlefish measures about 40 inches from the tip of the rostrum (the spoon bill) to the tip of the tail. A 30-year-old paddlefish can be 7 feet long. Hooks’ fish measured 8 feet, 9 inches.
“I would hesitate to even attempt to estimate its age,” said Roe. “I don’t know if it was 50 years old or 150.”
When reached by cell phone, Hooks’ fish declined to disclose its age. It did say, however, that the cell phone that proved its undoing tasted a bit ironic.
“I’m not a big fan of tongue-in-cheek food,” said the spoonbill. “When you have been eating plankton as long as I have, you aren’t all that interested in foreign food. Still, it did make the electrical sensors on my paddle tingle in a sort of interesting way.”
Happy April Fool’s Day.