Daytrippin: Fishing is the Lure

Staff Reports

Fishing pole-wielding visitors include recreational and competitive anglers alike. Table Rock Lake, with its mild winters, never freezes on the main lake allowing fishing throughout the year.

Table Rock Lake also happens to be one the best spots in the state for anglers to test their skill snagging the exotic-looking paddlefish. Often referred to as dinosaurs of the deep.

Less than two hours away, for those who want to give snagging season a try, Table Rock is a great destination.

By combining skill, some heavy-duty tackle and a little luck, you have everything needed to challenge the senior residents of the river, the paddlefish.

This exotic-looking fish, also known as the spoonbill, has a long paddle-shaped nose, or rostrum, that accounts for about one-third of its body length. Unlike most fish, these filter feeders use their comb-like gill rakers to sieve crustaceans and insects from the open water.

The largest freshwater fish in America cannot be caught by conventional fishing methods; live baits and lures are useless against these formidable foes…they must be snagged. With snagging, there’s no finesse involved. Because paddlefish swim through the water with their mouths open, filtering out their food, traditional baits don’t work. Large treble hooks and a weight attached to heavy fishing line are yanked through the water with the hope the hook will snag a paddlefish. If you catch a paddlefish in the mouth, it is purely coincidence. That just happens to be where the hook snagged it.

The major paddlefish snagging waters include Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake and Table Rock Lake. The season for these and most other state waters 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.

When snagging on one of the major lakes in Missouri -Lake of the Ozarks, Truman and Table Rock lakes - and their tributaries, Missouri Conservation Agent Eric Swainston said all paddlefish less than 34 inches in length (when measured from the eye to the fork of the tail) must be released unharmed immediately after being caught. Once a legal-sized paddlefish is caught, it must be kept by the snagger and included in their daily limit, Swainston said.

Unless exempt, fishermen snagging for paddlefish must have a current valid fishing permit. This includes the operator of a boat for people who are snagging. Also, the head, tail and skin must remain attached to all fish while on the waters that length limits apply, or until the fish have been checked by an agent of the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).

Swainston reminds snaggers to immediately release sublegal paddlefish for future harvests and offers these tips:

· Use landing nets, not gaffs, which can kill young paddlefish.

· Wet hands before handling fish and avoid excessive handling.

· Never put fingers in the gills or eyes.

· Remove hooks carefully and get undersized fish back into the water as quickly as possible.

Due to the value of their eggs, paddlefish are a constant target for poachers, Swainston said. One female paddlefish may produce more than 500,000 eggs, weighing more than 20 pounds, which leads to a new threat from anglers. Their grayish-black eggs, or roe, are sometimes illegally processed into caviar. 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. Paddlefish, or parts thereof, including eggs may not be used for bait. Sadly, females cannot be identified by external characteristics, so poachers slit open every paddlefish caught, discarding males and females without eggs, leaving them to die from their wounds.

Despite the unconventional fishing methods, their prehistoric origins and rather ugly appearance, paddlefish are quite tasty. Swainston said. He recommended filleting the fish and trimming off any red or gray meat, which is high in fat and can have an unpleasant flavor. The meat can be canned, steamed, smoked, baked, fried or grilled.

When snagging, Swainston reminds anglers to follow guidance from the Center for Disease Control and state or local public health authorities concerning social distancing, overcrowding, disinfection of surfaces and handwashing.

While most of Table Rock Lake lies within the state of Missouri, the upper reaches of the Long Creek, Kings River and White River arms stretch into Northern Arkansas.

The Department Of Conservation collects paddlefish broodstock in a spring at Table Rock Lake. Paddlefish are spawned at Blind Pony Hatchery in Sweet Springs, and the young are raised until September when they are large enough to release. Paddlefish stocking and management are directed by a statewide paddlefish management plan developed by the Conservation Department. The goal of this plan is to manage paddlefish statewide as a trophy sport fishery.

Table Rock has been one of the best tournaments and recreational fishing lakes in the country for decades. Dozens of unique lakefront resorts, and the outstanding natural beauty of the Ozarks, make this the perfect spot for your next fishing adventure.

Information contained in article provided by https:/www.visittablerocklake.com/ and Missouri Department of Conservation. Vicki Wood contributed to this report.