Exploring the Ozarks Outdoors: freshare.net

Slow Start Likely for Paddlefish Season, But Plenty of Fish

By Jim Low, Missouri Dept. of Conservation

First posted on 03-09-2010


A larger number of spoonbills should be available to anglers this year, thanks to a larger than normal stocking of juvenile paddlefish in 2001.


Missouri’s paddlefish snagging season likely will get off to a slow start this year, but when the action picks up, anglers will find plenty of legal fish.

Paddlefish season opens March 15 and runs through April 30. Snaggers use heavy fishing rods, hefty lead weights and oversized treble hooks to snag fish that can tip the scales at well over 100 pounds. The paddlefish itself is a holdover from the dinosaur era. They are primitive fish with cartilaginous skeletons and a rostrum or “paddle,” whose sensitivity to electrical fields enables them to detect food.

Anglers are aided in their quest by paddlefish’s habit of swimming upstream to spawn in the spring. They are easier to locate when they make their spawning runs and become more concentrated in the narrow upper reaches of the reservoirs and rivers. Good places to snag include the James River Arm of Table Rock Lake, the Osage and Niangua arms of Lake of the Ozarks, the Osage Arm of Truman Reservoir and the Osage River immediately below Bagnell Dam and the lower 12 miles before it enters the Missouri River.

“Although the paddlefish snagging season opens March 15, the real action doesn’t start until warm spring rains increase flows, and the water temperature reaches 50 degrees,” said Fisheries Management Biologist Trish Yasger. “These conditions trigger the spoonbill’s spawning behavior.

“With warmer weather, more sunshine and increased water flow from warm spring rains, water temperatures should begin to slowly increase,” said Yasger. “On opening day there will be some fish harvested. However, snagging season will most likely get off to a slow start due to the expected cooler-than-normal water temperatures. The smaller male paddlefish swim upstream and usually arrive ahead of the females. The females generally do not begin their spawning runs until the water temperature reaches about 55 degrees.”

Anglers will enjoy increased action when the water warms up, according to Yasger. She notes that the Conservation Department’s Blind Pony Hatchery in Saline County produced the second-largest paddlefish crop of all time – 145,474 fingerlings – in 2001. Lake of the Ozarks received a stocking of 63,881 that year. Truman Lake received 66,620, and Table Rock received 14,973.

“Paddlefish take seven or eight years to reach the minimum legal length limit in our reservoirs,” said Yasger. “The 2001 year class began showing up in the 2008 creel. This strong year class will continue to contribute to the annual creel for many years to come.”

Blind Pony Hatchery’s largest paddlefish production of all time occurred in 2008. That year, paddlefish spawned at the hatchery enjoyed unprecedented survival. When fisheries biologists harvested the fish for stocking, they found more than 260,000 fingerlings. Those fish will start to reach legal size in the reservoirs in 2015 or 2016.

The Wildlife Code of Missouri does not allow anglers to keep most sport fish that are hooked anywhere but in the mouth. Paddlefish are an exception, because, unlike most sport fish, they do not forage for individual food items. Instead, they swim around with their mouths agape and filter tiny aquatic plants and animals from the water with specially adapted gills. Consequently, snagging is the only practical way to fish for them. Paddlefish caught by accident at Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Reservoir and Table Rock Lake outside the snagging season must be released.

The minimum legal length limit for paddlefish at Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Reservoir and Table Rock Lake and their tributaries is 34 inches, measured from the eye to the fork of the tail. In the Osage River below Bagnell Dam and in all other Missouri waters, the legal length limit is 24 inches.

Anglers need current fishing permits to snag paddlefish or to operate a boat for snaggers. If you are fishing on Lake of the Ozarks and its tributaries, the Osage River below U.S. Highway 54 or on Truman Lake and its tributaries, you must stop snagging for any species after taking a daily limit of two paddlefish. Check the Missouri Wildlife Code book for further details about paddlefish regulations.

Yasger said many snaggers land paddlefish with gaffs, which can injure and kill sublegal fish. Using large nets prevents injury, so anglers can release sublegal fish unharmed.

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