Arkansas wildlife officials announced last week that the state’s paddlefish record has been shattered by a 105-pound fish that came out of Beaver Lake. The prehistoric-looking fish was caught by Jesse Wilkes of Springdale on a 30-pound-test line when he and his fishing buddy, Richard Wynne, were trolling for some eating-sized walleye. Unexpectedly, Wilkes snagged the massive paddlefish on its side. Since paddlefish are filter-feeders, snagging is the most common method of capture in Arkansas.
“Paddlefish strain plankton from the water using their gillrakers and rarely hit a lure, so most that are caught are either intentionally snagged below dams, caught by commercial anglers in nets or are foul-hooked by anglers after other species like Mr. Wilkes’ fish,” said Jon Stein, Regional Fisheries Supervisor for the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.
Stein believed that the paddlefish more than likely came from the Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery, which first began stocking the species in the 1990s.
“The paddlefish from that stocking are 15 years old and older, so most are likely over 60 pounds by now. But this is the largest I’ve ever seen,” Stein added.
The previous record, which was also caught from Beaver Lake, weighed 103 pounds and 8 ounces.
Paddlefish are among the largest and longest-lived of all North American fish, and predate dinosaurs by as much as 50 million years. Prior to the the 20th century, American paddlefish laid claim to a wide range across the Mississippi River Basin and even the Great Lakes. A combination of overfishing and habitat loss however, pushed the species out of most of its previous territory and completely extirpated the fish from much of the East Coast. Recent restoration efforts have returned paddlefish to 22 states, yet the fish is still heavily protected by state and federal authorities.
The largest American paddlefish every caught is believed to be a 198-pound specimen from Iowa’s West Okoboji Lake. That fish was caught by a spearfisherman in 1916, nearly a hundred years ago.
Image courtesy Arkansas Game and Fish Commission