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Paddlefish, an oddity of nature, attracts many

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Now that the four Missouri trout parks have opened, snaggers in the state will be enjoying some of the best paddlefishing in the country in less than a week.

This Tuesday, March 15, is a date marked on the snagger's calendar just like March 1, when the trout parks open, because that is the date the snagging for paddlefish starts in Missouri.

There are no bones about it, paddlefish, or spoonbill as many snaggers refer to this prestoric fish, are survivors of another age. They are one of the oddities of nature.

Their only bone in their body is their jaw. More than a third of their body is in their "paddle" that is full of nerves that help them find the microscopic plankton that they feed on.

These relicts from the past are found in just a few places which include Missouri waters from Table Rock to Truman Lake. More than 20 states have populations of the prestoric fish, but their range is mainly in the heartland of the country.

The spoonbill is very mobile. A fish tagged in the Ohio River in Indiana was snagged eight years later in the Missouri River near Yankton, South Dakota, a distance of more than 1,100 miles.

Tuesday, snaggers willl be launching boats in some of the hot spots for paddlefish including the Osage River, James River, Table Rock and around the Lake of the Ozarks.

One of the popular and productive spots for opening day snaggers is the Osage River near Osceola. Jim Butler, Warrensburg, has watched opening day paddlefishermen bring in some monsters over the years.

"I don't go out very much anymore," said Butler, 76. "I still like to be there on opening day to see the big fish brought in. My son has been at Osceola for the opening of the snagging season for more than 20 years and has hooked several fish in the 60-pound range. Its just like any other kind of fishing: once you catch a big one, you are hooked for life."

So March doesn't just mean the opening of the trout parks, it also means snagging for paddlefish and after a long, cold and snowy winter, the snaggers are ready.

This prestoric fish that swims in Missouri waters, attracts hundreds of snaggers who really don't fish for them ... they work for them.

"I never thought I would be out there casting a salt water rig trying to hook a prestoric fish that might weigh more than a hundred pounds," Dave Roberts of Sedalia, who has been a snagger for more than 20 years, said. "But after I snagged a 63 pounder several years ago, I was hooked and look forward to March 15 every year."

Several years ago, Dan Burleson, a US Fish and Wildlife agent stationed in St. Peters, Mo,. wrote that back in early1990s, the caviar market took an upward swing and the priced soared to $120 a pound. With these prices came an increase of commerical fishermen and an increase in violations related to the harvest and sale of caviar along the Missouri River. Those violations included commerical fishing without a state permit, fishing in closed waters, failure to report harvested fish, selling unlicensed roe for human consumption and the use of illegal fishing gear.

Over the years, federal and state wildlife officials have documented, apprehended and prosecuted several of these caviar poachers taken from female paddlefish.

This prestoric fish will be in the fishing spotlight for the next several weeks as snaggers hit the water in search of a monster fish that might weigh well over 100 pounds.

From the Osage to the James rivers, snaggers will be out after this strange looking fish. It's something that draws a growing number of snaggers each March 15.



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Ken White
Outdoor Living