The minimum length limit is 34 inches on the Lake of the Ozarks and its tributaries, Table Rock Lake and its tributaries and Truman Lake and its tributaries. On all other waters, paddlefish less than 24 inches must be returned to the water immediately. Paddlefish are measured from the eye to the fork of the tail.

Long before North America’s paddlefish population had to be wary of snaggers’ hooks, they apparently faced another hazard – falling dinosaurs.

In 1938, the fossilized remains of a duck-billed dinosaur, also known as a hadrosaur, were found in northeastern Montana. Among the hadrosaur’s bones were found the fossil remains of a paddlefish. Hadrosaurs were plant-eaters so the fish didn’t get there by being eaten. Instead, it’s theorized what likely happened is either the dying dinosaur collapsed into the water, fell directly on the paddlefish and fatally injured it or the paddlefish swam into the rib cage of the decaying dinosaur and became trapped. This 65-million-year-old find was significant, not so much for its quirkiness but for the fact that this is the world’s oldest record of a paddlefish.

Duck-billed dinosaurs and that particular body of water in Montana have long since disappeared but paddlefish are still around and are much more than a representative of the continent’s prehistoric past. They are a popular sportfish; a sportfish a number of Missouri anglers will soon be looking for. The state’s paddlefish season runs from Friday (March 15) through April 30. The daily limit is two. The minimum length limit is 34 inches on the Lake of the Ozarks and its tributaries, Table Rock Lake and its tributaries and Truman Lake and its tributaries. On all other waters, paddlefish less than 24 inches must be returned to the water immediately. Paddlefish are measured from the eye to the fork of the tail.

Paddlefish, also called spoonbills, have no comparable freshwater relatives in this hemisphere. The North American paddlefish is one of only two living species that are remnants of an ancient family of freshwater fish. The other species resides in China, but it has not been seen in a number of years and is feared to be extinct.

The main characteristic that sets paddlefish apart from other North American fish is its spoon-billed snout; known as a rostrum. The rostrum is covered by an elaborate system of sense organs and it’s thought one of its purposes might be to locate concentrations of food organisms.

Paddlefish do not spend all their time at the bottom of lakes and rivers. They are primarily residents of open water. Paddlefish feed by swimming slowly through areas where food is concentrated, mouth wide open, passing water through an elaborate filtering system comprised of long, closely set gill rakers. Their main food source is zooplankton, which are the free-swimming microscopic animals that abound in fresh water.

Because of the changes man-made impoundments have brought to Missouri’s waterways, the state’s paddlefish population is no longer self-sustaining. Today, the state’s spoonbill population is maintained through artificial means by the Missouri Department of Conservation. Each spring, a small number of egg-bearing females are collected from Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake and the Osage River (below Bagnell Dam). The eggs are surgically removed and the adult females are released back into the wild. The eggs are incubated at MDC hatcheries, the resulting fry are reared in the hatchery and the young paddlefish are released into Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake and Truman Lake in the fall. It’s an example of how the Missouri Department of Conservation works with the state’s citizens and for them to sustain healthy forests, fish and wildlife.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) is in the final year of a five-year tagging project to help monitor paddlefish numbers and improve species management. MDC staff have placed metal jaw tags on thousands of paddlefish in Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, Table Rock Lake, and the Mississippi River. Staff have also implanted transmitters in hundreds of paddlefish at these locations to track their movements and gain other important research information. MDC asks snaggers to not remove tags or transmitters from sub-legal fish.

Report fish with jaw tags or transmitters by calling 573-579-6825 or by e-mailing MDC Fisheries Management Biologist Trish Yasger at Trish.Yasger@mdc.mo.gov. Snaggers can keep the silver jaw tags, MDC just needs a picture (with tag digits plainly visible) to verify the tag number. Those submitting tags will receive a “Caught a Missouri paddlefish” T-shirt and are eligible for cash rewards up to $500.

More information about snagging for paddlefish in Missouri and how to catch other species of fish can be found at your nearest Missouri Department of Conservation office or at www.missouriconservation.org

Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6881, ext. 1641.