you have to have is a 16-ounce sinker, two treble hooks and a stout pole, and you can catch a 50- to 100-pound fish by the end of the day,” said Anthony Ford, a paddlefish angler from Warsaw. “I think that’s what a lot of people like.”
The unique and simple method of catching spoonbill levels the playing field for men, women and children alike. “You pull the rod tip up, let it back down, feel the sinker at the bottom and pull again,” said Ford. “I have taken buddies, husbands and wives, parents and kids and people from 10 to 80 years old. I’ve seen women who caught six fish and their husband never caught a fish. You just never know. It’s always better to be lucky than good.”
Many of the anglers come every year, and trolling along at a leisurely pace provides the opportunity for paddlefish season to become a social event. “After you’re down there a year or two, you start knowing people,” said Ford. “You see a lot of the same people every year. You’re only moving about 3 miles per hour and there are enough boats on the river. You can have conversations with the people in the other boats. A lot of people trick out their boats, name them or decorate them with flags. It’s not like high-speed bass fishing. You’re just cruising down the river having a good time.”
Despite the laid-back style of fishing, many spoonbill anglers are taking advantage of modern-day technology. “Five years ago, everybody thought I was crazy for having a $3,000 graph, but now five out of 10 boats have them. The sonar is getting so good that you can usually tell if they are male or female by how big the fish are, and you can even see the hooks and sinkers from the other boats going through the water. People are a lot better at catching spoonbill than they used to be, and there’s a lot more people fishing, but the quality still seems to be there.”
Word is spreading about this unique opportunity and the successful efforts of MDC. “Our goal is to manage paddlefish statewide as a trophy sport fishery,” said Yasger. “It brings in a lot of people. I write a snagging report during snagging season that I post on our Web page. I’m getting more and more viewers from out of state. Paddlefish are found throughout the entire Mississippi basin so they are in many states, but a lot of people are coming here to fish.” Ford has also noticed the change in popularity. “The number of fishermen has increased by probably 300 percent in the last five years,” said Ford. “There are people coming from all over. I take a lot of people from
Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota. When the fish are stacked up, I can take five guys out in the morning and have 10 fish caught and be back by 10:30 a.m. Spoonbill fishing in Missouri is the best there is.”
Paddlefishing in Missouri
For more information, including the paddlefish snagging report and a video, visit mdc.mo.gov/node/11813.
For more information on fishing regulations, pick up the latest copy of A Summary of Missouri Fishing Regulations available at vendors, or download a PDF at mdc.mo.gov/node/3104.
Paddlefish season is March 15–April 30. Mississippi River paddlefish season is March 15–May 15 and Sept. 15–Dec. 15.