by Joe Jerek
Missouri’s annual spring paddlefish snagging season is a popular pastime for thousands of anglers. The state’s major paddlefish snagging waters include Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake. Paddlefish snagging season for these and most other waters in the state runs March 15 through April 30. The season for the Mississippi River is March 15 through May 15, with a fall season of Sept. 15 through Dec. 15.
Also known as “spoonbills” because of the shape of their snouts, paddlefish take seven or eight years to grow to legal size and in Missouri can live more than 20 years. The state record paddlefish, taken in 2015 on Table Rock Lake, was 31 years old. The fish feed on plankton and other microscopic prey. These filter feeders do not take bait and must be snagged using large hooks that catch in the mouth, gills, or other areas of their bodies.
The success of paddlefish snagging is dependent on weather conditions, primarily water temperature and flow.
“The best snagging conditions occur when water temperature reaches 50 to 55 degrees and there is an increase in water flow,” MDC Fisheries Management Biologist Trish Yasger said. “This prompts them to move upstream to spawn. We don’t usually see a lot of big fish being caught on opening day. Early harvest is typically dominated by local fish and small males with the occasional large female. As water temperature and flow increase, you will start seeing more of the larger females.”
Yasger added snagging tends to be better early in the season at Table Rock Lake and better in April at Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake.
MDC makes paddlefish snagging possible in the Show-Me State through annual stocking of fingerlings raised at its Blind Pony Hatchery near Sweet Springs. The fingerlings are released into Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, Table Rock Lake, and the Black River. Last year, more than 314,000 foot-long fingerlings were stocked — MDC’s largest stocking of paddlefish. These fish will be large enough to harvest beginning in 2023. The annual stocking is necessary because dams and other barriers to spawning areas have eliminated sustainable natural reproduction in the lakes.
Yasger noted MDC released an especially large number of fingerlings into Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake in 2008. The more than 164,000 fingerlings released are now 9 years old and will continue to provide good numbers of fish for snaggers to harvest.
“Without annual stocking by MDC staff, this popular pastime and food source would go away,” said Yasger. “We need help from snaggers to learn more about and to better manage this popular game fish, so we can keep paddlefish snagging great for many years to come.”
MDC is in its third year of a five-year tagging project to help monitor paddlefish numbers and improve species management. Staff are placing metal jaw tags on up to 6,000 paddlefish netted in Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake, and up to 1,000 netted from the Mississippi River. Yasger encourages all snaggers to report tagged paddlefish and to not remove tags from undersized or released paddlefish.
“We will send a special ‘I caught a Missouri paddlefish!’ t-shirt to each snagger who returns or reports their first tagged fish,” Yasger explained. “All returned and reported tags will be placed into an annual drawing, held in July, for cash prizes, with a grand prize of $500.”
Tags or photos of tags from harvested paddlefish must be submitted for reward eligibility. Snaggers must include the following information with each tag:
Report tags by calling 573-579-6825, or mail the information with the flattened tag to Missouri Department of Conservation, 3815 East Jackson Blvd., Jackson, MO 63755, or email Trish Yasger at Trish.Yasger@mdc.mo.gov.
Learn more about the tagging project at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z3e.
MDC biologists are implanting ultrasonic transmitters in adult paddlefish at Truman Lake, Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake, and the Mississippi River to track their movements and gain other important information. MDC asks that all snaggers who harvest fish with a transmitter report it by calling 573-579-6825 or by emailing Trish Yasger at Trish.Yasger@mdc.mo.gov.
“It is important to return transmitters so they can be implanted in other fish,” said Yasger.
Yasger reminds snaggers to help undersized snagged fish survive to grow larger.
“Do not land paddlefish with gaffs. This can fatally injure sublegal fish. Use large landing nets,” she said. “Remove hooks carefully and get sublegal fish back into the water as quickly as possible. Wet your hands before touching them and avoid excessive handling. Do not pass them around for photos and hold fish firmly to avoid dropping them. Never put fingers in the gills or eyes.”
Unless exempt, anglers must have a current fishing permit to snag or to operate a boat for snaggers. The daily limit is two paddlefish, and snaggers must stop snagging after obtaining the daily limit on Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake and their tributaries, and on the Osage River below Bagnell Dam. The minimum legal body length for paddlefish at Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, Table Rock Lake, and their tributaries is 34 inches, measured from the eye to the fork of the tail. The minimum legal body length is 24 inches on the Osage River below Bagnell Dam and in other Missouri waters. All paddlefish under the legal minimum length must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught.
The Wildlife Code of Missouri requires the head, tail, and skin to remain attached to all paddlefish while on the water, so paddlefish should not be cleaned until off of the water. Also, extracted paddlefish eggs may not be possessed while on waters of the state or adjacent banks and may not be transported. Paddlefish eggs may not be bought, sold, or offered for sale. Additionally, paddlefish or their parts, including eggs, may not be used for bait.
Learn more about Missouri’s official aquatic animal, regulations, snagging reports, and more at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z3n.
March 1 marks the opening of catch-and-keep trout fishing at Bennett Spring State Park near Lebanon, Montauk State Park near Licking, Roaring River State Park near Cassville, and Maramec Spring Park near St. James. The catch-and-keep season at the trout parks runs through Oct. 31.
MDC operates trout hatcheries at all four parks. To help predict angler turnout on opening day, hatchery staff rely on permit records going back more than 70 years. Montauk, Bennett Spring, and Roaring River hatchery staff expect crowds of about 2,000 anglers at each location, and Maramec Spring staff is planning for a crowd of about 1,000. Based on these predictions, hatchery staff will stock three trout per expected angler on opening day for a total of more than 21,000 fish, averaging a foot in length. The hatcheries will also stock a mix of “lunkers,” ranging from 3 to 10 pounds.
Trout anglers need a daily trout tag to fish in Missouri’s trout parks. Daily trout tags can only be purchased at each of the four trout parks. Missouri residents 16 to 64 need a fishing permit in addition to the daily tag. Nonresidents 16 and older also need a fishing permit. Missouri fishing permits are available from numerous vendors around the state, online at mdc.mo.gov/buypermits, or through MDC’s free mobile apps, MO Hunting and MO Fishing, available for download through Google Play for Android devices or the App Store for Apple devices.
For more information on trout fishing in Missouri, visit short.mdc.mo.gov/Z3m.
To prevent the spread of the invasive alien called didymo or “rock snot,” trout anglers are reminded that the use of shoes, boots, or waders with porous soles of felt, matted, or woven fibrous material is prohibited at all trout parks, trout streams, Lake Taneycomo, and buffer areas. Get more information at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z3s.
Join us March 8 from 1–2 p.m. to learn more about fishing in Missouri through our MDC Wild Webcast: Discover Nature Fishing. The webcast will feature a short presentation by MDC fisheries staff, followed by an open question session. To register, visit short.mdc.mo.gov/Z38.
MDC will also offer Wild Webcasts on birding in May, mountain lions in September, and invasive animals and plants in November. Dates and other details will be available in future issues of the Missouri Conservationist.
Curious about how the Conservation Department’s George O. White State Forest Nursery near Licking operates? Department staff will offer behind-the-scenes public tours this spring. Tours will showcase how the nursery grows, stores, and ships almost 3 million seedlings each year.
The open house is scheduled April 1 from 9 a.m.
to 2 p.m. To reserve a spot on the tour, call 573-
674-3229, ext. 0.
Henbit is a branching, soft, weedy plant with square stems. This nonnative weed blooms from February–November, and can be found statewide, but is most common south of the Missouri River. Its flowers are small, bright lavender with red spots, and have an unpleasant odor. Except for the leaves right beneath the flower clusters, all leaves are rounded, scalloped, and close to the ground. Henbit can grow up to 10 inches tall. Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees drink nectar from these early-blooming flowers, and some species of birds consume the minute seeds. The plants can play a role in binding soils that are otherwise bare and prone to erosion. —photograph by Jim Rathert
The season starts with the youth portion April 8 and 9, followed by the regular season April 17 through May 7. Get details on hunting regulations, harvest limits, allowed methods, required permits, and other related information from our 2017 Spring Turkey Hunting Regulations and Information booklet available where permits are sold. Get more information on turkey hunting at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z3h
We work with you and for you to sustain healthy fish, forests, and wildlife.
Each year, the Missouri Department of Conservation works with fire
departments around the state to help put out thousands of wildfires that can
consume tens of thousands of acres. Any person who starts a fire for any
reason is responsible for its control and any potential damages it may cause.
You can help prevent wildfires by observing the following tips.
• Call 911 at the first sign of a fire getting out of control.
Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld
Art Director - Cliff White
Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek
Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner
Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter
Designer - Stephanie Thurber
Circulation - Laura Scheuler