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  http://www.dammingtheosage.com/paddlefish-trophy-fish-3-snapshots-circa-1940/ 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, (http://www.nevadadailymail.com/story/2060915.html ) 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.

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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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