BRANSON, Mo. – Anglers looking to set a personal record, and possibly a state record, may have their best chance of 2017.
Paddlefish or spoonbill season in Missouri officially opened Monday.
The bar was set by Andy Belobraydic back in March of 2015, when he hauled in a 140 pound 9 ounce paddlefish near Cape Fair on Table Rock Lake. To this day, it is the largest fish caught in the state’s history.
But even if fishermen are unable to beat Belobraydic’s mark, there’s a good chance they could pull in a fish weighing more than 50-pounds.
"[The paddlefish] looks like a dinosaur and basically that's what it is -- a fish that hung out with the dinosaurs back when they walked the earth,” says Francis Skalicky with Missouri’s Department of Conservation.
Skalicky says the fish’s unique look isn’t the only thing that hooks enthusiasts.
"It's not your standard throw a hook in the water and catch a fish,” he says. “You do throw a hook in the water, but it's a lot of work, it involves blind-snagging of very large paddlefish."
Skalicky says in presettlement times, paddlefish migrated up rivers like the Missouri and Mississippi to spawn on their own. But as streams were redirected and dams were built, Missouri’s Department of Conservation had to step in.
Now, biologists collect paddlefish broodstock from Table Rock Lake each year to be raised at the Blind Pony Hatchery.
“And then those eggs, those young paddlefish, are released into Truman Lake, Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock Lake," he says.
The MDC is also in the middle of a five-year paddlefish study aimed at monitoring population size and migration patterns of paddlefish.
The public can assist in those efforts simply by fishing; biologist have tagged some 7000 fish around the state and are hoping anglers will call in when they snag one. Those landing a tag for the first time will get a free t-shirt and will be entered into a drawing for $500.
Skalicky says even if anglers don’t win the $500, it still worth the time and effort to try and haul a paddlefish in.
"What you're getting is a very meaty fish, to the way it looks, which is very unique, to the way you fish for it, which is also unique,” he says.
“It's just a one of a kind experience,” Skalicky says.
For more information about the MDC Snag and Tag program click here. Paddlefish season runs through April 30.
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