Category Archives: paddlefish

New World Record Paddlefish

Cody James Watters of Ochelata, with help from son Stetson, 9, holds his rod-and-reel world-record paddlefish that he snagged July 23 at Keystone Lake. (Photo by Eric Brennan/ODWC
A new world-record paddlefish has again been pulled from Keystone Lake near Tulsa, less than a month after the previous world record was snagged in the same lake by a client of the same fishing guide.

Angler Cody James Watters of Ochelata is the newest owner of the rod-and-reel world-record title, after snagging a 151-pound, 14.4-ounce giant Thursday morning. He and his son Stetson, 9, were fishing as clients of guide Jeremiah Mefford of Reel Good Time Guide Service.

Not only did the fish prove to be the new world record for the species, but it also had a very interesting backstory to tell, said Eric Brennan, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Northeast Region Fisheries technician.

Mefford called Fisheries Division staff about 10:20 a.m., saying he believed his client had just broken the current world and state paddlefish record.

Fisheries staff rushed to meet the angler at Keystone Lake. Once there, they began measuring the monster. “It weighed 151.9 pounds, had a total length of 71.5 inches, and eye-to-fork length of 54.75 inches,” Brennan said. (The standard scientific method of measuring a paddlefish’s length is the distance from the eye to the fork of the tail.)

Watters wasted no time sharing his accomplishment on social media.

“I’m excited and blessed to catch a fish this big. Bonus having the son there to witness this day. Thank you ODWC!” Watters wrote.What’s more, the paddlefish had been caught in the past — as part of a research project. The fish had a band on its jaw. Once the fish was officially weighed, Brennan examined the band and “noticed it wasn’t one of our bands. It had an OSU reward tag in it.

”The band, identified as No. 667, was in poor condition and was collected by ODWC, then the fish was released in good shape.

“We only had the fish out of the water for the shortest time possible, about three minutes total. Other than that, we kept the fish moving in the water. It was a perfect release,” Watters wrote.

Brennan confirmed that upon its release, the fish was followed using Live Scope sonar and it appeared to be healthy and swimming well.

Later, a follow-up call to Oklahoma State University turned up information that the paddlefish was indeed part of research efforts by Craig Paukert, then a graduate student and currently a professor at the University of Missouri. Records indicate the fish was caught and banded in the Salt Creek arm of Keystone Lake on Jan. 4, 1997. When banded, this fish was about 2 years old, weighed 7.7 pounds and was about 2 feet long.

So this world-record fish is about 25 years old!

Wildlife Department Paddlefish Coordinator Brandon Brown participated in Paukert’s paddlefish banding efforts in the mid-1990s at Keystone Lake. When Paukert heard the news, he contacted Brown. Paukert told Brown, “It’s possible you may have tagged this fish while working with me way back when!”

The news was exciting to Paukert. “This made my day! So, I guess this means that I caught the world-record paddlefish, but I didn’t realize it until 23 years later!”

On ODWC’s Facebook page, Paukert shared some details with Watters. “I was the last person to handle that fish about 14 years before your son was born! This was part of my grad research at OSU. The fish most likely came from a net we set between the Jellystone Launch and the Keystone Marina north of the (State Highway) 51 bridge. … It was common to set nets across the river channels.

“What made my day is hearing his son was with him today. Great story all the way around in a time when we need great stories. Wish I could have been there so we could have a pic with the last two people to touch that fish — 23 years apart!”

Watters’ paddlefish will become the officially recognized rod-and-reel world record for the species when it is entered in scientific journals by ODWC biologists. This record fish is just the latest in a string of actual or would-be record-setting paddlefish snagged at Keystone this year:

On June 28, James Lukehart of Edmond snagged a world-record-setting 146.7-pound paddlefish, also while fishing with Mefford.
On May 23, Mefford himself hauled in a 143-pound paddlefish at Keystone, setting a new state record but missing the then-world record by just a pound.

On Feb. 14, Justin Hamlin of Kellyville boated a paddlefish that unofficially weighed 157 pounds, but the fish had to be immediately released because it was caught on a “no harvest” day as set in state regulations. 

The largest American paddlefish on record, taken by a spearfisherman in Iowa in 1916, reportedly weighed 198 pounds.

The paddlefish is a primitive species, with a fossil record dating to the age of the dinosaurs about 75 million years ago. Resembling a shark, it has smooth skin and a skeleton mostly of cartilage.

A long paddle-like blade, called a rostrum, extends forward from the fish’s head. The rostrum is covered with tens of thousands of sensory receptors that enable the fish to detect weak electrical fields produced by zooplankton, its primary food. The American paddlefish roams lakes and rivers of the Mississippi and Missouri basins. Paddlefish were once very abundant across their range but have declined in many areas. These fish can live up to 30 years, and they can grow to huge sizes

.Oklahoma’s paddlefish population is seen as among the healthiest in the nation, and the sport of snagging paddlefish draws anglers from many states. 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. For several months every year, the Department operates a Paddlefish Research Center near Miami, Okla.

Anglers wanting to experience battling these large fish are required to have a state fishing license (unless exempt) and a free paddlefish permit. Regulations for paddlefish snagging can be found here in the Oklahoma Fishing Regulations Guide.

And anyone wanting to arrange a guided paddlefish trip can find a list of state-licensed fishing guides here on the Wildlife Department’s website.

What Is A Paddlefish and When Is Paddlefish Time In Missouri

Paddlefish Time in Missouri
Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake are the most popular waters.
from The Fishing Wire

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri’s annual spring paddlefish snagging season is a popular pastime for thousands of anglers. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), the state’s major paddlefish snagging waters include Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake. The paddlefish snagging season for these and most other waters in the state runs March 15 through April 30. The season for the Mississippi River is March 15 through May 15 with a fall season of Sept. 15 through Dec. 15.

Also known as “spoonbills” because of the shape of their snouts, paddlefish take seven or eight years to grow to legal size and in Missouri can live more than 20 years. The state record paddlefish taken in 2015 on Table Rock Lake was 31 years old. The fish feed on plankton and other microscopic prey. These filter feeders therefore do not take bait from hooks and must be snagged using large hooks that catch in the mouth, gills, or other areas of their bodies.

The success of paddlefish snagging is dependent on weather conditions, primarily water temperature and flow.

“The best snagging conditions occur when water temperature reaches 50 to 55 degrees and there is an increase in water flow,” MDC Fisheries Management Biologist Trish Yasger said. “This prompts them to move upstream to spawn. We don’t usually see a lot of big fish being caught on opening day. Harvest early in the season is typically dominated by local fish and small males with the occasional large female. As water temperature and flow increase, you will start seeing more of the larger females.”

Yasger added snagging tends to be better early in the season at Table Rock Lake and better in April at Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake.

MDC Stocking Efforts

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) makes paddlefish snagging possible in the Show-Me State through annual stocking of fingerlings raised at its Blind Pony Hatchery near Sweet Springs. The fingerlings are released into Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake and Table Rock Lake, plus the Black River. Last year more than 314,000 foot-long fingerlings were stocked — MDC’s largest stocking of paddlefish. These fish will be large enough to harvest beginning in 2023. The annual stocking is necessary because dams and other barriers to spawning areas have eliminated sustainable natural reproduction in the lakes.

Yasger noted MDC released an especially large number of fingerlings into Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake in 2008. The more than 164,000 fingerlings released are now nine years old and will continue to provide good numbers of fish for snaggers to harvest.

“Without annual stocking by MDC staff, this popular pastime and food source would go away,” said Yasger. “We need help from snaggers to learn more about and to better manage this popular game fish so we can keep paddlefish snagging great for many years to come.”

Snag A Tag – Get A Reward

MDC is in its third year of a five-year tagging project to help monitor paddlefish numbers and improve species management. Department staff are placing metal jaw tags on up to 6,000 paddlefish netted in Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake and up to 1,000 netted from the Mississippi River. Yasger encourages all snaggers to help out by reporting tagged paddlefish and to NOT remove tags from undersized or released paddlefish.

“We will send a special ‘I caught a Missouri paddlefish!’ t-shirt to each snagger who returns or reports their first tagged fish,” Yasger explained. “All returned and reported tags will be placed into an annual drawing, held in July, for cash prizes with a grand prize of $500.”

Tags or photos of tags from harvested paddlefish must be submitted for rewards. Snaggers must include the following information with each tag:

Date caught
Location of catch including reservoir or river, mile marker, and county
Tag number
Fish length from eye to fork of the tail
Snagger’s name and complete address

Report tags by calling MDC at 573-579-6825 with the information, or mail the information with the flattened tag to: Missouri Department of Conservation, 3815 East Jackson Blvd., Jackson, MO 63755 or by e-mailing Trish Yasger at (link sends e-mail).

Learn more about the tagging project from MDC online at

Report Transmitters

MDC biologists are also implanting ultrasonic transmitters in adult paddlefish at Truman Lake, Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake, and the Mississippi River to track their movements and gain other important information. MDC asks that all snaggers who harvest fish with a transmitter to report it by calling 573-579-6825 or by e-mailing Trish Yasger at (link sends e-mail).

“It is important to return transmitters so they can be implanted in other fish,” said Yasger.

Help smaller fish survive

Yasger reminds snaggers to help undersized snagged fish survive to grow larger.

“Do not land paddlefish with gaffs. This can fatally injure sublegal fish. Use large landing nets,” she said. “Remove hooks carefully and get sublegal fish back into the water as quickly as possible. Wet your hands before handling fish and avoid excessive handling. Do not pass them around for photos and hold fish firmly to avoid dropping them. Never put fingers in the gills or eyes.”

Regulation Requirements

MDC is in its third year of a five-year tagging project to help monitor paddlefish numbers and improve species management. Department staff are placing metal jaw tags on up to 6,000 paddlefish netted in Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake and up to 1,000 netted from the Mississippi River.(NOTE: High-res image available at
Unless exempt, anglers must have a current fishing permit to snag or to operate a boat for snaggers. The daily limit is two paddlefish and snaggers must stop snagging after obtaining the daily limit on Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Lake and their tributaries, and the Osage River below Bagnell Dam. The minimum legal body length for paddlefish at Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, Table Rock Lake, and their tributaries is 34 inches, measured from the eye to the fork of the tail. The minimum legal body length is 24 inches on the Osage River below Bagnell Dam and in other Missouri waters. All paddlefish under the legal minimum length must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught.

The Wildlife Code of Missouri requires the head, tail, and skin to remain attached to all paddlefish while on the water so paddlefish should not be cleaned until off of the water. Also, extracted paddlefish eggs may not be possessed while on waters of the state or adjacent banks and may not be transported. Paddlefish eggs may not be bought, sold or offered for sale. Additionally, paddlefish or their parts, including eggs, may not be used for bait.

Learn more about Missouri’s official aquatic animal, regulations, snagging reports, and more at