Paddlefish swims many rivers and miles to KC

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Kansas City, Mo. – A paddlefish caught in the Missouri River in late March bore a tag indicating a remarkable journey. The fish traveled from Moon Lake in Mississippi, first venturing into canals and rivers in a long swim southward in that state to the Mississippi River. Then the paddlefish turned upstream and at St. Louis veered west into the Missouri River. Anglers snagging for paddlefish caught the fish – a species also called spoonbill -- near Levasy, Mo., just downstream of Kansas City.

“I measured it out on Google maps and figure it traveled 800 or 900 miles,” said Tom Hill, of rural Buckner, Mo.

Riley Hill, his son, caught the fish. They also fished the next day and caught three paddlefish. But the first fish with the tag was the most interesting due to the tag that marked its travels. It weighed slightly more than 21 pounds and was about four and a half feet long from snout tip to tail.

Biologists caught the paddlefish in Moon Lake, put on the identification tag and released it back into the lake on March 21, 2013, said Gary Lucas of the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks. It weighed six pounds more then. Ironically, the Hill’s caught the fish on March 22, one year later almost to the day.

“To get to the Missouri River the fish had to swim out of the lake via Yazoo Pass, down the Coldwater River, to the Tallahatchie R, to the Yazoo R, pass Vicksburg, to get to the Mississippi River,” Lucas told the Hills in an e-mail. “Then the paddlefish began the trek north to a destiny with your son on the Missouri.”

Another paddlefish tagged at Moon Lake earlier swam the same route only went on north past Kansas City to Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota, Lucas said.

Missouri has prime paddlefish snagging waters during the spring season in the Osage River between Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir, and in the James River arm of Table Rock Lake. Those fisheries are aided by a Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) stocking program with paddlefish raised in hatcheries. The fish are stocked because paddlefish spawning movements are blocked by dams.

Originally, though, paddlefish roamed freely throughout the basins drained by the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. They are a prehistoric fish little changed from the age of dinosaurs. Their name comes from a long, spoon-like snout. Paddlefish feed by filtering plankton from the water. They can top seven feet in length and weigh more than 160 pounds.

MDC researchers have also recorded some lengthy paddlefish travels, said Trish Yasger, fisheries management biologist. Fish given tags or coded wires in the Osage River in central Missouri have gone upstream and downstream. Some were recovered in South Dakota and others in Arkansas. Some moved into the Ohio River.

“It is not unusual for these fish to move great distances,” Yasger said. “It is really great and interesting to hear about them.”

Paddlefish snagging on the Missouri River is limited in scope. Yasger said some reports are received about paddlefish making spawning runs in tributaries such as the Grand and Lamine rivers. Some snagging occurs above and below the mouth of the Osage River.

The tagged paddlefish snagged by the Hills was far lighter in weight compared to similar-length fish caught from the James River arm or those moving upstream from Lake of the Ozarks. Lighter weight in Missouri River fish may be due to food competition in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers with invasive species such as Asian carp, said Kasey Whiteman, an MDC resource science regional supervisor based in St. Joseph.

“This shows how integrated the fish are with waters of this state and of other states,” Whiteman said. “It shows that as we continue to do management on a local scale it also affects management on a regional and national level.”

For more information on paddlefish in Missouri, go to