PADDLEFISH, one of America’s largest freshwater fish, are popular among many Missouri anglers. These fish can weigh more than 100 pounds. The current Missouri state record paddlefish, caught in 2002 on the James River Arm of Table Rock Lake, weighed 139-pounds, 4-ounces.
Paddlefish, also known as spoonbill, have a long, paddle-shaped rostrum that accounts for about one-third of their body length. Paddlefish are cartilaginous, which means that they have no bones. They have small eyes and no scales. They are filter feeders, and they spend most of their lives in open water eating microscopic animals called zooplankton. During warm weather they can often be seen jumping from the water.
Paddlefish require specific flows, temperatures and substrate to reproduce. Spawning is triggered by a combination of daylight, water temperature, and water flow. When water temperatures climb between 50-55 degrees and spring rains cause the rivers to rise, paddlefish migrate upstream to spawn. Male paddlefish reach sexual maturity at 4-5 years and make spawning runs annually. Females reach sexual maturity at 8-10 years and make spawning runs every 2-3 years.
In the past, paddlefish were abundant in Missouri, but their numbers declined because of dams, increased contaminant levels, and the illegal harvest of adult paddlefish for caviar.
Paddlefish are native to the Mississippi, Missouri and Osage river basins in Missouri. In 1972, the Missouri Department of Conservation established a paddlefish population in Table Rock Lake by stocking hatchery-produced fingerlings. Paddlefish fisheries in Table Rock, Truman and Lake of the Ozarks are maintained by annually stocking hatchery-produced fingerlings that are 10-12 inches long.
To accomplish this, the Department collects paddlefish brood stock in the spring at Table Rock Lake. Paddlefish are spawned at Blind Pony Hatchery in Sweet Springs, and the young are raised until September, when they are large enough to release. Paddlefish stocking and management are directed by a statewide paddlefish management plan developed by the Conservation Department. The goal of this plan is to manage paddlefish statewide as a trophy sport fishery.
Because they are filter feeders, the most popular and dependable way to catch paddlefish is by snagging. Anglers harvest paddlefish by snagging during a 45-day snagging season that runs March 15 through April 30.
Successful snagging depends primarily on water temperature and flow. Early in the season, smaller male paddlefish comprise the bulk of the harvest. As flows and water temperatures increase, the fish move upstream, and the number of larger females increases.
When lakes and