Fishing for Dinosaurs!
David Casaletto, President, Ozarks Water Watch
Springtime may bring flowers, but outside my living room window on the James River Arm of Table Rock Lake I see very slow moving boats. In these boats are fisherman with very large fishing poles with no bait on them. They continuously pull back on the pole dragging a large treble hook along the bottom hoping to snag a fish that is 50 million years older than the dinosaurs!
March 15th is the start of Missouri's Paddlefish (Spoonbill) season.
Paddlefish, also known as spoonbill, have a long, paddle-shaped rostrum that accounts for about one-third of their body length. Paddlefish are cartilaginous, which means that they have no bones. They have small eyes and no scales. They are filter feeders, and they spend most of their lives in open water eating microscopic animals called zooplankton. During warm weather they can often be seen jumping from the water.
While these are native North American fish, human activities such as dams have altered traditional paddlefish habitats and blocked spawning migrations. Today the Missouri Department of Conservation's Blind Pony Hatchery supplies an average of thirty thousand fingerlings for stocking in reservoirs each year. It then takes the paddlefish seven to eight years to grow to the legal 34 inch size for harvesting.
Pictured above is the 140-pound Missouri record paddlefish caught in 2015 on the James River Arm of Table Rock Lake very close to our home. This part of the lake is where we take the boat and anchor and swim. After this picture appeared in the local newspaper, it took awhile to get everyone back in the water. It seems they kept hearing: Da Dah Da Dah Da Dah...... OK for the younger crowd, this refers to the 1975 movie thriller JAWS. (An adult friend of ours was actually scared to sit on her toilet seat after she saw the movie.)
Paddlefish eggs at the MDC Blind Pony Hatchery.
Paddlefish eggs are also prized as caviar! In 2013, authorities arrested, charged or cited more than 100 Missouri residents and people living in eight other states for the illegal commercial trafficking of paddlefish and their eggs for use as caviar. The eggs, also known as roe, were destined for the U.S. and international caviar market. A female paddlefish can be carrying 20 pounds of eggs which can produce $4,000 worth of caviar even at black market prices. At retail the caviar would be worth more than $11,000.
So if you want to experience a different type of fishing now through April 30th, gear up, hook up the boat and head to Cape Fair, Missouri. I will wave to you from my window!