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Missouri and Big Sioux river paddlefish licenses go on sale Dec. 15
While Iowa anglers have reeled in a 93-pound bighead carp and a 101-pound blue catfish, neither of those can dethrone Iowa’s largest official state record fish, a 107-pound, 69.5-inch paddlefish caught in 1981 by Robert Pranschke of Onawa. That’s a fish almost 6 feet long! Still, that’s nothing compared to the local legend in the Iowa Great Lakes area of a paddlefish speared in 1916 that weighed just under 200 pounds.
You can most often find paddlefish in the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, but you can occasionally see them in the lower portions of the Des Moines, Cedar, Iowa and Skunk rivers. Paddlefish grow quickly, reaching 2 feet in their third year or life. A 17-year-old paddlefish averages 5 feet in length and weighs about 37 pounds. These fish can live a long time, with many living more than 20 years, and it’s not unusual for them to make it past 30. They’ve also been in our waters a long time, appearing about 50 million years before the first dinosaurs.
These giant fish subsist only on a diet of small insects and animals floating in the water. Paddlefish stand out from other Iowa fish with their long, paddle-like snouts, a shark-like body and no scales. But unlike a shark, mature paddlefish have no teeth. They swim with their mouths open to filter food out of the water. At one time, paddlefish were easy to find in the Mississippi Valley, but over-fishing and changes in the environment have reduced the numbers of paddlefish in our rivers, even wiping them out of the Iowa Great Lakes.
This article first appeared in the But Why? section of Iowa Outdoors magazine.
For more on catching paddlefish in Iowa, check out our paddlefish regulations.
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