About 25 years ago, a friend and I used to go spoonbill fishing so much one summer that people started calling us “Spoonbill and Hush Puppy”. We could have our own reality television show now.
The ODWC tells us that the “spoonbills”or paddlefish are one of the most unique fish in Oklahoma. They can live up to 50 years and range throughout the U.S. from Montana to Louisiana. In Oklahoma, they are found mainly in the Grand Neosho and Arkansas river systems.
The Wildlife Department’s paddlefish management program involves an extensive process of netting, weighing, measuring and marking paddlefish with metal bands on the lower jaw.
In 1992, fisheries biologists began an effort to re-introduce paddlefish to waters where they had become locally eradicated. Dams on several rivers had blocked the annual movements of paddlefish in several river systems. Hatchery professionals raised young paddlefish in Byron and Tishomingo and then released them in Kaw, Oologah, Texoma, and Hugo lakes.
As a sportsman, I, along with others, appreciate the efforts of our wildlife department and others involved in the paddlefish program.
During their early spring spawning run, this prehistoric fish can be caught by snagging with a stout surf rod, heavy test line, and a large barbless treble hook.
Anglers are required to obtain a free paddlefish permit before fishing in Oklahoma. The permit can be obtained by going to the ODWC online.
The rules are important for conserving paddlefish in the Grand River system that largely supports the state’s — and some would argue the nation’s — most popular paddlefish fishery.
Choosing an individual annual harvest limit of two fish was the ideal option to limit the high-harvest anglers (those putting the most strain on the resource).
Paddlefish daily limit is one daily on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Any paddlefish caught on a Monday or Friday must be released immediately. Anglers cannot possess a paddlefish in the field on Mondays or Fridays.
Paddlefish have long oar or spoon-like bills and don’t look like any other Oklahoma fish.
They have smooth scale-less skin and broad shark like tails.
During the spring, males develop sandpapery like bumps (breeding tubercles) on their heads and back.
Paddlefish have wide gaping mouths and toothbrush-like bristles in their gills. They swim through the water with their mouth open and filter feed on small microscopic plankton, much like whale sharks do.
A common misconception is that paddlefish use their bills to stir up the bottom. In fact, their bills are covered with sensors that are very sensitive to weak electric currents and help paddlefish detect their favorite meal – tiny plankton living in the water.
Paddlefish mature slowly — females must reach 8-10 years of age before they mature and reproduce; males, 6-8 years of age. And even then, paddlefish are "episodic" reproducers, meaning their populations are marked by good but sporadic years of successful reproduction mixed with less than ideal years.
Last summer, the state and world record paddlefish was caught by Cory Watters on Keystone Lake. It weighed 151 lbs. 14.4 oz.
Wagoner County Game Warden Ben Haff said the spoonbill fishing right now has been a little slow, but that is all subject to change with the anticipated rain.
Haff mentioned that below Fort Gibson Dam is one of the few places that you can catch paddlefish in June, July and August due to the hydro-flow.
Haff said that below the Fort Gibson Dam area is really unique due to thefact that three tributaries join. These are the Grand, Arkansas and Verdigris rivers. The so- called “Three Forks”.
A popular bait and tackle shop there is called Canyon Road Outdoors and it is owned by Greg Perryman. They usually have a line on what is going on with the “spoonies”.
I spoke with Donnie Rose and they stock a wide variety of fishing tackle including the long, snagging rods, hooks, sinkers and bait needed for other species as well.
Personally, I’m in favor of paddlefish conservation for future generations. I’ve done some of this “poor man’s deep sea fishing,” as I term it, and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.
It’s a blast.
To contact Kilgore, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.