Yep, Still a Really Big Fish
October is paddlefish snagging season on the Missouri River in northeast Nebraska. Paddlefish are BIG, weird-looking fish and for those reasons they generate a lot of interest. Last week I blogged about the new state record paddlefish that was caught on the ninth of this month, Stop the Presses, BIG FISH! If you want to learn some more about that fish and the angler, Tom Keller, check out this video:
There is an additional story, and video, that ran on Omaha’s Channel 7 KETV, Nebraska Man Catches Largest Fish Ever Caught in State.
Take one look at that record fish and the first thing you will notice is the girth, fatness of that fish. Here is another photo that shows just how much fat:
All of that creamy-white “stuff” laying on the fish-cleaning table was fat. That is evidence of a fish that spent all of its life swimming around inhaling plankton milk shakes. I always have said that record class fish are rare, they are exceptional fish, they are Uber-fish. For a fish to reach those sizes it has to have the right genetics, live in excellent habitat, have an abundance of food, and live at least a relatively long life. The pounds of fat in that state record paddlefish are evidence that fish had it all going for it.
Pardon the pun, but here is a great way to illustrate the dimensions of the record paddlefish catch.
Back in Black
Of course Tom Keller and his fishing partners have not been the only anglers catching some paddlefish in the past few weeks. Generally, I have been hearing very good reports from anglers fishing our paddlefish snagging season. Like any fishing, success during our annual snagging season always depends on a host of factors, not the least of which is water flows, so we never know for sure how easy, or how hard, the paddlefish snagging will be. I will say that the reports I have heard this year have been for the most part positive, it has been a good season.
Joe Voelker sent me a picture of a paddlefish he caught and released, one that was darkly colored.
That fish could have been an oddly-colored fish, a genetic oddity (Weird), or it may have been a fish that lived in a habitat where it developed that dark coloration. The coloration of fish is a characteristic that is highly variable and can change in a short period of time. For that reason, as a pointy-headed fish biologist, I will always tell you that coloration is NOT the only thing you should look at when determining the identity of any fish (obviously, paddlefish have a paddle, Duh). It is not unusual for fish of the same species to be differently colored depending on water clarity and habitat conditions. Joe’s fish may have lived in some deep hole just below Gavins Point Dam where the water is relatively clear, it could have migrated hundreds of miles upstream from some other habitat, or it could just be genetically unique. I have no idea which one of those was true, all I know is that it was a really neat fish.
Paddlefish in Other Nebraska Waters?
The only waters where Nebraska anglers and archers can legally take paddlefish are the stretch of the Missouri River downstream of Gavins Point Dam that is open for our bowfishing and snagging seasons. Paddlefish are a big river species found in waters like the Missouri, but occasionally they show up in other Nebraska waters. I have credible reports of paddlefish in sandpits or waters that are near the Missouri or near the lower reaches of our tributaries to the Missouri. In those sandpits, paddlefish wandered in there at some time when flood waters flowed into those pits.
I even recall a very large paddlefish that showed up in Lake Maloney near North Platte several years ago. It spawned some fantastic fish stories for a few years and then was found dead on a shoreline. That fish was likely an escapee from holding ponds on the south side of Lake Maloney. In the past we used to hold some state fair fish in those ponds. The holding ponds were connected to Lake Maloney, but they were screened to prevent fish escape. There must have been a hole in a screen through which a state fair paddlefish escaped from one of those holding ponds and then spent a long and prosperous life swimming in Lake Maloney.
In recent years Nebraska fisheries biologists have decided to try to establish paddlefish in another Nebraska waterbody, the Tri-County canal in central Nebraska. That canal system is basically a long ditch with significant water flow, stained water, and high productivity. Another river species, sauger, have been introduced there and been very successful. In the past two years, Nebraska State Fish Hatcheries have raised some paddlefish to stock into that canal system. A few more than 2400 paddlefish have been stocked into the canal system in 2014 and 2015.
While sampling fish populations on the canal this fall, one of our field crews collected a paddlefish from the canal!
The fish that Mark is holding in that picture would have been the size of the one in the photo just above it, just one year ago! And, like Mark, that fish has a healthy girth (Sorry, Mark, Ha). Looks like that paddlefish is loving canal life.
Now, I am not promising that we will have paddlefish seasons on the canal system anytime soon. If we can establish a harvestable population there, it will likely take a number of years to do it. But, that is our hope, if successful maybe we will someday have another fishery in the state where anglers and archers can have an opportunity to take this very unique, and very large, fish!