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Paddlefish prized for fishing, eating

At one time paddlefish were abundant in Missouri but their numbers have been reduced dramatically by damming and other impoundments.

Paddlefish are highly valued by sport anglers and commercial fishermen.

Paddlefish in Missouri must be stocked each year to survive. The Missouri Department of Conservation stocks about 45,000 hatchery-produced 12-inch-long paddlefish fingerlings each year at Table Rock Lake, Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks.

Paddlefish are an ancient species dating back to dinosaurs. The sturgeon is a similar fish. Also known as spoonbills, paddlefish are identified by their paddle-shaped nose, which is about one-third of its body length.

Paddlefish have no bones, small eyes and no scales. They are filter feeders. Despite their large size, they eat only tiny crustaceans and insects as they constantly swim slowly through water with their mouths wide open.

They can grow to about seven feet and weigh 160 pounds or more and live 30 years or more.

Females grow even larger and eggs can account for up to 25 percent of their body weight during the spawning season.

Because they are filter feeders, paddlefish have no interest in traditional fishing lures and bait.

In Missouri it is legal to take a limited number of paddlefish by snagging. Anglers used a stiff, strong 6 to 9-foot pole with a heavy duty reel and line. A sinker weight is attached near the end of the line and a hook or cluster of hooks is attached at the end of the line.

Snaggers cast their lines so the sinkers hit bottom of the river or lake. They then sweep the pole back and forth so the line moves through the water. The sweeping motion jerks the hooks through the water, followed by reeling to take up slack from the jerk. This allows the hooks to snag paddlefish to be reeled in.

“Sport anglers,” says Missouri Department of Conservation Protection Chief Larry Yamnitz, “may catch two paddlefish daily and the eggs may not be bought, sold or offered for sale.”

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