JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri’s annual spring paddlefish snagging season is a popular pastime for thousands of snaggers. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), the state’s major paddlefish snagging waters include Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake. The 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.
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. Harvest early in the season is typically dominated by local fish and small males with the occasional large female. Early in the season the fish tend to be scattered out and lower in the reservoirs. With all of the rains lately, the reservoirs are up and should provide some good water for snagging season, especially if the rains continue. 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.
Know The Regulations
Unless exempt, anglers must have a current fishing permit to snag or to operate a boat for snaggers. Once two legal paddlefish are caught they are to be retained by the angler and included in their daily limit. 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 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.
Snag A Tag - Get A Reward
MDC is in its fourth year of a five-year tagging project to help monitor paddlefish numbers and improve species management. MDC 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. Learn more about the tagging project from MDC online at http://bit.ly/2lr7e0b.
MDC staff have been out tagging fish already this year. Yasger is happy to report that the fish are in really good condition.
“The paddlefish we have tagged so far this year are nice and fat. The largest fish we’ve tagged this year is 97 pounds, and we’ve tagged a few 80 and 90 pound fish as well,” she said.
Snaggers can help by reporting tagged paddlefish and NOT removing tags from undersized or released paddlefish.
Submitted tags or photos of tags from harvested paddlefish can be submitted for rewards up to $500. MDC will send a special ‘I caught a Missouri paddlefish’ t-shirt to each snagger who returns or reports their first tagged fish. Snaggers must include the following information with each tag:
Report tags by calling MDC at 573-579-6825 with the information, or mail the information with the flattened tag to: Missouri Department of Conservation, 3815 East Jackson Blvd., Jackson, MO 63755 or by e-mailing Trish Yasger at Trish.Yasger@mdc.mo.gov.
MDC biologists are also 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 research information. MDC asks that all snaggers who harvest fish with a transmitter to report it by calling 573-579-6825 or by e-mailing Trish Yasger at Trish.Yasger@mdc.mo.gov.
Help Smaller Fish Survive
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 handling fish 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."
MDC Stocking Efforts
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 and Table Rock Lake, plus the Black River. Last year, more than 11,000 foot-long fingerlings were stocked. These fish will be large enough to harvest beginning in 2024. The annual stocking is necessary because dams and other barriers to spawning areas have eliminated sustainable natural reproduction in the lakes.
Learn more about Missouri’s official aquatic animal, regulations, snagging reports, and more at huntfish.mdc.mo.gov/fishing/species/paddlefish.