powerful tail and no desire to come toward the boat. The fight was enough for me to question my manhood. As my knuckles turned white and my legs and arms quivered, I had to decide my fate. I planted my feet and, after what seemed like an eternity of pumping and reeling, the slick-skinned paddlefish emerged from the water. The guide wrestled the fish into the boat despite the fish’s attempts to pull him overboard.
The sight of my arms hanging by my sides, my legs still quivering, and the lack of color in my knuckles brought no sympathy from the guide. “Ready to get another one?” he asked, enthusiastically. It must have been the combination of adrenaline and testosterone that caused me to say yes, as the next thing I remember is closing the release on the reel again, feeling the lead bump along the bottom and holding on for dear life.
The Lovin’ Spoonbill
Paddlefish, otherwise known as spoonbill, possess unique physical characteristics that reveal their prehistoric beginnings. They have small eyes, no scales and a boneless structure, but their elongated rostrum (the fish’s paddle, bill or shovel) is what really sets them apart from other fish and is the source of their varied common names. Even though the rostrum is their most recognizable trait, the purpose is still not entirely understood. “There is a lot of speculation about the rostrum,” said Trish Yasger, fisheries management biologist for MDC. “Some think there are electrical sensors on it to help locate food and navigate, but the ones that get their rostrum knocked off by a boat prop or other accident do just fine and grow to a large size.”
Paddlefish are one of MDC’s restoration success stories and another example of how conservation makes Missouri a great place to fish. They historically roamed the waters of the Mississippi basin and the free-flowing Osage River, but their ability to reproduce was severely hindered by the introduction of dams. “When the Bagnell Dam and Truman Dam were put in, they blocked the spawning migrations and flooded the spawning grounds,” said Yasger. Without the right conditions for reproduction, this long-time resident of Missouri waters was headed for a dismal future. MDC began raising and stocking paddlefish into Table Rock Lake in 1972, Truman Lake in 1978 and Lake of the Ozarks in 1982.
Today, Blind Pony Hatchery, just outside of Sweet Springs,