5/16/2013 7:58:00 PM Snagging the interest of Oklahoma anglers
By Sean Hubbard
It looks like a dinosaur. It has the body composition of a shark. Its nose is about a third the length of its body. And, it will give you the fight of your life. Snagging a paddlefish, or spoonbill depending on where you are from, in select Oklahoma river systems has exploded in popularity amonganglers. The thrill of dragging a treble hook through the moving water and foul hooking these unique fish bring hundreds people to riverbanks around the state every spring.
"It's really a unique fish," said Jim Long, assistant unit leader for the Oklahoma Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and adjunct assistant professor at Oklahoma State University. "They are very much like a shark in many ways."
The fish has only one bone, its jawbone. The long paddle protruding from its face is full of electrosensors, allowing the fish to find large groups of plankton to eat. "They even look like sharks before their bills begin to grow," Long said. "This unique species of fish is prehistoric." There are only two species of this fish in existence, one in Asia and the North American variety. Long said the Asian species may be in trouble, as very few have been caught in river systems over the past few years.
In Oklahoma though, the population is growing. The river systems feeding Grand and Keystone lakes fill up with adults every spring, trying to make it up river to spawn. The high waters and increasing temperatures are cues for the fish to move, and Oklahoma anglers to begin snagging.
During the heart of the season, usually March and April, fishermen can take advantage of the Paddlefish Research Center (PRC) in Miami, operated by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. Live fish can be taken to the center, in March and April, to be processed and fileted, free of charge.
"The program the ODWC is running is great for the people, and the fish up there," Long said. "Licensed fishermen are helping the fish management goals of the wildlife department and getting their fished cleaned properly, ready to take home and enjoy."
Since 2008, nearly 25,000 fish have been checked into the PRC. Biologists at the center remove the jawbones to age the fish, take length and weight numbers, clean and filet the fish and harvest females' eggs. The eggs are then sold as caviar to generate funds to further paddlefish management and improve angler success. The future is bright for the prehistoric, unique and albeit strange fish and Oklahomans enamored with snagging them. Recent netting data, collected by the ODWC, indicates a promising increase in younger, immature fish, which will contribute to the population in the future.
By understanding regulations, which can change yearly, Oklahoma fishermen can help future generations enjoy these river-dwelling treasures.