CAMDENTON–Gene Swope, Excelsior Springs, and his grandsons will always remember April 23, 2011, as the day they set a Missouri State fishing record. Fisheries Programs Specialist Andrew Branson shares their excitement, but he has mixed emotions about the monster fish that earned them a place in the record book.
Swope was snagging for paddlefish with grandsons Garron Grass and Justin Swope near the Old Oar House Inn at Lake of the Ozarks when he snagged a 106-pound bighead carp. A 35-minute tussle ensued. When Swope finally brought in the 4-foot, 8-inch fish, it took the combined strength of all three anglers to wrestle it into the boat.
Fisheries Management Biologist Tory Mason verified the fish’s weight on a scale at the Lawson Agri-Services. The catch easily eclipsed Missouri’s previous record of 80 pounds for a bighead carp caught through snagging or other “alternative methods.”
Branson, who administers the state fishing records program for the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), said the bighead carp is classified as a nongame fish. Snagging is a legal method for taking nongame fish in Missouri, but it is not a method allowed under the rules of the International Game Fish Association. Consequently, Swope’s fish does not qualify as a world record, even though it outweighs the existing record by 16 pounds.
According to Branson, bighead carp are not known to spawn successfully in lakes or ponds. They need current to suspend their eggs in the water during development. The fact that anglers are not catching any young bighead carp at Lake of the Ozarks is a good sign.
“Bighead carp are an invasive Asian species,” said Branson. “This is an example of how invasive species can thrive outside of their native environment, and the importance of preventing their spread. At least anglers are removing some of these from the lake, and that’s good news.”
Good news, said Branson, because bighead carp and other invasive species have the potential to upset the ecological balance in Missouri waters. The consequences for popular species, like paddlefish, bass and crappie, could be serious. The presence of Asian carp in Missouri waters also has implications for other forms of recreation, such as boating and skiing. Bighead carp are close relatives of silver carp, which have become notorious for their habit of jumping several feet in the air when passed by watercraft. Human injuries have grown more common as Asian carp spread and multiply.
Tim Banek is MDC’s invasive species coordinator. He said anglers have an important role in preventing the spread of invasive species. One thing they can do to prevent the spread of Asian carp is not to move baitfish from one lake to another or release them alive.
“Many different kinds of fish look like minnows when they are small,” said Banek. “It is easy for a few invasive fish to get mixed in with baitfish. If any of those get loose, they can start a completely new infestation. It’s important for anglers to obtain minnows and other bait locally and dispose of unused bait properly.”
He said proper disposal means putting bait into the trash, rather than dumping it in the water or on the ground. More information about invasive species in Missouri is available at www.mdc.mo.gov/node/10244/.