Meet the American Paddlefish, our oldest species and largest fish. Paddlefish look like sharks and are nicknamed “spoonbills” or “spoonbill cats” because of their large, paddle-shaped snouts.
Paddlefish are large. They can grow longer than five feet and weigh more than 60 lbs. They are also long-lived and can survive more than 30 years. Paddlefish are primitive creatures whose skeletons are composed of cartilage rather than bone. Their mouths are enormous, but they have no teeth. Amazingly, paddlefish survive on tiny microscopic water animals. The fish feed by swimming with their mouths open wide. They filter food from hundreds of gallons of water passing through a complex system of gills.
Only one other species from the paddlefish family existed in modern times. The Chinese Paddlefish was found only in the Yangtze Valley in China, and was recently declared extinct. The last one spotted was in 2003. In the Midwest, paddlefish are found in the Mississippi River Valley and some large reservoirs. During most of their life, paddlefish live in quiet or slow-moving rivers that supply the microscopic life it feeds on. When spawning, the fish requires larger free-flowing rivers with clean gravel bars where they deposit their eggs.
Paddlefish, Missouri's official aquatic animal, are found in big rivers. They can no longer reproduce naturally, so today, they are raised in hatcheries and stocked in the wild. They are a highly valued sportfish with a special snagging season in the spring.
Paddlefish are popular among many Missouri anglers. Their size, strength, and speed gives anglers a thrilling experience. Here are some tips for how to fish them.
In Missouri, snagging for paddlefish can occur at:
Discover more about snagging.