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Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula)
- Size 40-60 lbs
- Food Value Good
- Game Qualities Good
- Habitats River
With their oversized mouths and signature wacky bills, Paddlefish may look a little out of place among America’s freshwater fish. That’s because they’re old–really old. Paddlefish have been swimming around pretty much unchanged for an estimated 300 million years. They pre-date the very first dinosaurs!
The Paddlefish’s unique nose has landed it a variety of names such as Spoonbill, Spadefish, Shovelfish, Spoonbill Catfish, Shovel-Billed Cat, Duck-Billed Cat, and more. Despite their color and bulging appearance, they’re not related to Catfish, but are distant relatives of other ancient freshwater terrors like Sturgeon and Alligator Gar. They don’t make ‘em like they used to!
Paddlefish are very slow-growing and can live to be 60 years old. They can reach sizes of over 100 lbs, although the average catch is much smaller than that, around 40-50 lbs. There is no IGFA record for Paddlefish as they can’t be caught with conventional fishing methods. The Kansas state record is the largest verified Paddlefish catch, weighing in at an incredible 144 lbs. Their Chinese cousins are said to have reached sizes of over 20 feet and 1,000 lbs!
When and where?
The American Paddlefish lives only in the Mississippi River drainage basin, with the healthiest Paddlefish populations found along the main body of the Mississippi River itself. Paddlefish are usually pelagic but move to murky pools, oxbows, and backwaters to spawn, which they do intermittently roughly every other spring. The Chinese Paddlefish lives in similar conditions in the Lower Yangtze River, although it is now feared to be extinct.
How to Catch Paddlefish
Paddlefish only eat zooplankton, tiny plant and animal particles which they filter out of the water much in the same way whales do. Because of this, they will completely ignore any flies, lures, or baits you send their way, and can only be caught by snagging. Most catches of Paddlefish are actually accidental, although some snagging “specialists” do have specific setups they use to catch them, which involve casting big treble hooks and dragging them through the water until you hook into the fish’s body.
Good to eat?
Paddlefish are a relative of Sturgeon, so they produce caviar which is supposedly as good as the real thing. Because of this, poaching is a big problem for Paddlefish populations, and they’re caught both recreationally and, in some states, commercially. The meat itself is supposedly tasty when cooked fresh, especially when fried or smoked.
However, Paddlefish are officially vulnerable to extinction and are endangered or threatened in much of their range. Releasing the fish unharmed is strongly recommended, so they can go on swimming around the Mississippi basin for another few hundred million years.
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