Mar 192017

Josh Rouse writes a detailed examination of the status of #paddlefish reproduction and management in #Kansas, #Oklahoma, and #Missouri. The #Marais_des_Cygnes River in Kansas is the upper reaches of the #Osage_River of Missouri (see Damming the Osage for the story of why the name changes at the state line).

Neely offered Grand Lake in Oklahoma as an example of a highly productive system. He said paddlefish grow faster in that body of water than almost anywhere else in the world because of the high availability of food.

“It boggles my mind how a fish can get up to 100 pounds and never eat anything that you can see with a naked eye,” Neely said. “It’s just really neat how they can do it.”

Jun 132016

#AmericanRivers and #Riverkeepers celebrate the removal of a rusty, abandoned dam on Wynants Kill near Albany, NY. Already they see the flash of silver as herring swarm upstream to spawn.

” ‘Every dam should have an existential crisis,’ ” said John Waldman, a biology professor at Queens College, tells The Associated Press.” In Missouri, time for that crisis has come for one of those aging, inoperable and dangerous structures. We have an extensive discussion of the issues surrounding Lock and Dam No. 1, a monstrous relic, more than 100 years old, of Corps of Engineers river mismanagement on our website: (click here) Lock and Dam no. 1 on the Osage River.


This was taken during the 2012 drought. The river is full now and its waters barely cover the tops of the crumbling old concrete, barely held together with rusting iron and rotten wood. More than 100 years old now, Lock and Dam No. 1 serves no useful purpose for navigation or flood control, and it blocks the migration of paddlefish and endangered pallid sturgeon.

Removing Lock and Dam No. 1 would open those 80 miles of Osage River from Bagnell Dam to its junction with the Missouri River to possible spawning of both paddlefish and the endangered pallid sturgeon. Major spawning grounds of the paddlefish were destroyed by construction of Truman Dam. Per Wikipedia, the endangered pallid sturgeon, related to the sturgeon, another ancient fish (Cretaceous period), is endemic to the waters of the Missouri River system and the lower Mississippi. Like the paddlefish, its spawning grounds have been greatly diminished by river channelization and dams.  Both species are now sustained by hatcheries. The gravel bars of that last section of the wide, slow Osage River could provide both species an environment for natural spawning.

Mar 072016
Paddlefish have not been spawning naturally on gravel bars in the Osage River since Truman Dam closed almost forty years ago.

Paddlefish have not been spawning naturally on gravel bars like this in the Osage River since Truman Dam closed almost forty years ago.

The monthly feature, “What is it?” in the March issue of the magazine published by the Missouri Department of Conservation has a close up photo of paddlefish eggs. Then the reveal on page 8 correctly states this large ancient fish is the official “state aquatic animal” (so designated in 1997) and lives “mostly in open waters of big rivers.” BUT – then it goes on to incorrectly state: “As waters rise in spring, paddlefish move upstream to gravel bars to spawn. Eggs are deposited on silt-free gravel bars where, during regular water levels, they would be exposed to air or are covered by very shallow water. The eggs hatch and the larval fish are swept downstream to deeper pools where they grow to adulthood.”


This is where paddlefish eggs hatch today. There is virtually no natural reproduction in Missouri contrary to the statement in the Missouri Conservationist.

WHAT????! This has not been true for almost forty years. Today all the paddlefish swimming in Missouri streams come from the Department’s Blind Pony Fish Hatchery. Since the Corps of Engineers closed the gates on Truman Dam, destroying the spawning grounds of the paddlefish, there has been only occasional spawning in the Marais des Cygnes in Kansas and no knowledge if these fry survived. The “silt-free gravel bars” are now the muddy bottom of Truman Reservoir.

There are problems with long-term artificial reproduction, as any biologist can tell you. It can create genetic unfitness and it is expensive. The writers and editors of the Conservationist should have consulted with the department’s knowledgeable fisheries biologists (not an old encyclopedia) before printing this outdated misinformation.

DTO-coverWe cover the sordid tale of Truman Dam – and the lawsuit that tried to mitigate its pernicious effects – in great detail in our book Damming the Osage: The Conflicted Story of Lake of the Ozarks and Truman Reservoir. The book is available on ( ) or at a discounted price on our website

How much do you want to know about the paddlefish?

Apr 052014

Big treble hooks and heavy line are splashing into lakes and rivers of the Osage and Missouri river systems as fisherman hope to haul in some of the hatchery-raised descendants of Osage River paddlefish.  The 2014 spring snagging season runs from March 15 to April 30. (find regulations  at the Missouri Department of Conservation website.)


Bank fishing for paddlefish was once the norm, but today most fishermen head out in boats to troll the channels and holes. Sport fishing with treble hooks (trolling or snagging) probably doesn’t pre-date the 1950s.  Several of our vintage images show a prized catch of spoonbill from that era.

Once an abundant denizen of the Osage River, the current population is sustained by the Missouri Department of Conservation’s artificial breeding program at Blind Pony Hatchery    In an interesting use of the word, each year’s ‘dump’ of fingerlings is now characterized as a ‘class’ – “the 2007 class year” of paddlefish should be large enough for legal taking this year.  (just a thought … suppose the MDC does a yearbook for each class?)

In the category of “facts being lost to history,” this article from the Nevada Daily Mail, ( ) notes that “Missouri doesn’t have the long river system spoonbills need to have successful spawning …“ but fails to mention that the reason those long river systems no longer support “successful spawning” is that Truman Reservoir covered much of  the Osage River, drowning prime spawning beds under flat water.

As far as we can determine, little or no research is being done to ascertain if, once released into lakes and rivers, these artificially propagated fish are reproducing in the upper or lower reaches of the Osage. Some are concerned that hatchery-spawned fish come from a few genetic lines, “leading to genetic introgression, reduced diversity and fish that have inferior responses to a wild environment.” (page 235, Damming the Osage)

Missouri Department of Conservation staff and sportswriters seem blissfully unaware that this put-and-take fishery is not a complete or long-term solution to the continued to existence of this ancient beast. Describing hatchery propagation of a species in simple minded phrases like “win-win” willfully ignores the ultimate price that will be paid genetically for the artificial generations.

Dec 052013

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These were likely taken in the American South – perhaps Mississippi or Louisiana.  The man in the boat is holding an unbaited trot line. Paddlefish swim the waters with their mouths agape as they filter-feed on zooplankton.  They sometimes are caught on bare, set hooks. Passive or accidental snagging was never a reliable fishing method and the fact that these photos were taken shows he thought the catch was worthy of recording.

Sport fishing with treble hooks (trolling or snagging for paddlefish) probably doesn’t pre-date the 1950s. Paddlefish were a common food fish in the Mississippi/Missouri river systems and were obtained by nets before that.

As we noted in Damming the Osage, adult paddlefish can survive, even thrive, in a variety of modified riverine situations, including reservoirs.  But the construction of reservoirs destroyed paddlefish spawning grounds, which means they no longer regularly reproduce in the wild. In Missouri, populations are maintained through artificial reproduction at Blind Pony Hatchery.

Continue reading »

May 122013

Paddlefish eggs at Blind Pony Hatchery

When Truman Dam closed, the paddlefish was cut off from its primary spawning grounds, the gravel bars of the upper Osage. This ancient fish has inhabited the Mississippi and Missouri river system for more than a hundred million years. Today the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Blind Pony Hatchery supplies an average of thirty thousand 10″ to 12″ fingerlings for stocking in Lake of the Ozarks, Truman and Table Rock reservoirs and in the Black River.

This close cousin of the sturgeon is highly valued, not only for its meat, but also for its roe (eggs) which makes a respectable form of caviar.  With the cooperation of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service the Department generously provided eggs, fry and even some adult Osage River paddlefish to the Soviet Union from 1974 to 1977.  Between 1984 and 1986, the Russians successfully bred this Osage River stock at the Experimental Fish Breeding Plant near the Black Sea. As well as raising them for food and caviar, the Russians have distributed paddlefish to Romania, Moldavia, Ukraine, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. International interest in the Osage River paddlefish coincides with the 1972 environmental lawsuit to stop the dam and save their spawning grounds.

The Chinese began obtaining paddlefish fry from the United States in 1988. Soon they realized that fertilized paddlefish eggs had greater viability and they began buying them from private hatcheries in the U.S. and Russia. Today, paddlefish are successfully spawned in China and raised for food in ponds in more than 10 provinces. In addition to the flesh, the head, gills and intestines are incorporated into dishes in China.

You can see more on the Globalization of the American Paddlefish on our YouTube channel.



Apr 252013


Drawing from Scientific American (19th century)

Living paddlefish are somewhat hard to draw and preserved paddlefish are even harder.  Their physical representation has been poorly illustrated.  They’re not only hard to draw, they are near impossible to mount. Their habits are even harder to observe. A large fish in muddy water is a difficult subject for accurate scientific description. Their spawning was first observed and described in the section of the Osage now under Truman Reservoir.

“It wasn’t until 1961 that anyone actually observed paddlefish spawning when Charles Purkett, a fisheries biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation, saw them release eggs and milk over flood gravel bars on the upper Osage. “

(page 204, Damming the Osage)

662-osage-old-paper-paddlefish cover

(Above) A tract from an anti-evolutionary organization, Does God Exist? September /October, 2002.  In this issue, they discuss the impossibility of the paddlefish being a product of Darwinian adaptation. Cover art does not bear out their conclusion that “God shows us His wisdom and engineering ability in such beautiful creatures as this one.”

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Mar 062013

Shovel Fish Rag

Sheet Music , 1908

Most often known as the paddlefish, Polydon Spathula, this cartoonish looking fish also been called Spoonbill cat, Shovelbuild cat, Duck-Bill cat, and Spadefish. It’s an image that evokes mirth.

Hernando de Soto was the first European to describe this prehistoric fish. When he encountered one netted by Indians on the banks of the Mississippi River in 1541, he was near the end of his long quest for gold and silver in the New World. After observing a 150-pound catfish he notes that “there was another fish called the pexe palla [‘spade fish’ in Portuguese]. Its snout was a cubit in length and the tip of its upper lip was shaped like a shovel.”

Oct 302012

Trophy Paddlefish

This looks to be taken below the Osceola Dam which was removed when Truman Dam and Reservoir was built. While the primary paddlefish spawning beds were over gravel bars between Osceola and Warsaw, paddlefish on spawning runs would accumulate below this run-of-the-river dam, making them vulnerable to snaggers.

We’ve not run across an authoritative history of the sport of snagging. The two areas most associated with snagging in the 1950s were the Osage River above Lake of the Ozarks and below the big Corps dams on the upper Missouri River. If anybody knows of any articles on snagging before the 1950s or had personal experience – we’d love to hear about them.

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