The quest to catch one of the biggest fish in Missouri’s waters will resume March 15.
That’s when the paddlefish-snagging season opens. Thousands of fishermen will take to Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake and Table Rock Lake and their tributaries with a collective goal: to catch a 100-pound fish.
It’s possible. The Missouri state record is 140 pounds, 9 ounces – caught in 2015 at Table Rock. Yet, that mark isn’t necessarily untouchable, according to Trish Yasger, a fisheries biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
“I think it’s possible that there is a state-record fish swimming around out there,” she said. “I’m convinced that we still have 100-pound-plus fish out there.”
If there is, it would likely be an old-timer. Tests determined that the state-record fish was 31 years old. And fisheries biologists say it isn’t unusual for a Missouri paddlefish to be 20 or older.
For a fish that thrives on a diet of plankton, that’s an incredible feat. But it’s common in Missouri waters, which are rich in the microscopic food source.
Table Rock has produced the largest fish lately. Before Andy Belobraydic caught his giant in 2015, the state record belonged to another fisherman who was snagging on Table Rock – George Russell, who caught a 139-pound, 4-ounce paddlefish in 2002.
But Yasger says there are sizable fish in each of the major reservoirs that are stocked heavily by the Department of Conservation.
That’s one of the main attractions when fishermen head out each spring for the snagging season. Because the paddlefish are filter feeders, they don’t bite on lures or live bait. Fishermen have to snag them, dragging big hooks and heavy weights through the water in hopes of running into the fish of a lifetime.
It’s a lot like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
But at the peak of the season, when paddlefish make a spawning run up tributaries, it can be done.
It usually takes two factors to persuade the big fish that it is time – a water temperature in the 50s and a flow in the rivers. That hasn’t happened yet.
“We need some rain to get these rivers flowing again,” Yasger said. “We still don’t have the water needed to trigger the spawning run.
“I don’t look for there to be many big females caught in the early part of the season. But there’s still plenty of time.”
The season runs through April 30 on Lake of the Ozarks, Truman and Table Rock and their tributaries..