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The paddlefish fishing season opens March 1 on the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers and runs through April 15 (sunrise to sunset). The paddlefish season was opened on these rivers March 1, 2015 after being closed since 1986 due to concerns of habitat loss and declining population numbers.
Anglers fishing for paddlefish must have a valid Iowa fishing license, along with a special paddlefish license and unused transportation tag. The paddlefish license is required for snagging the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers and is limited to Iowa waters only. New this year, Iowa anglers are allowed to fish the Big Sioux River from bank to bank from the Missouri River confluence to the I-29 Bridge.
Paddlefish are one of the largest freshwater fish in North America. They feed on microscopic organisms called zooplankton. Since they are filter feeders, they can’t be caught with the traditional hook and worm. Snagging is the only efficient method of catching paddlefish.
Use heavy weights (from one ounce on up to 4 or 4-1/2 ounces), a medium-heavy to heavy rod at least six feet long and braided line of at least 50 pound test strength. Treble hooks can be no larger than 5/0 or measuring more than 1-1/4 inches in length when two hook points are placed on a ruler. A gaffe hook or other penetrating device cannot be used as an aid in landing a snagged fish. Wear a lifejacket and bring along dry clothes.
Paddlefish prefer slower, deep water. “These fish are extremely migratory, traveling hundreds of miles. They will try to get out of the current when they can so areas behind wing dykes with slow moving, deep water are places to target,” says Van Sterner, fisheries biologist. “They don’t associate with the bottom like catfish, but with be suspended so watch the electronics and if they are there, you should see them.”
The paddlefish slot limit on the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers requiring the release of all 35-45 inch fish protects the primary breeding stock. Most of the fish harvested will probably be below the slot limit. To properly measure a paddlefish, use a flexible tape and measure along and over the center line contour of the fish while it is lying flat. All paddlefish measuring 35-45 inches from the front of the eye to the natural unaltered fork of the tail must immediately be released alive.
Immediately after being caught, the transportation tag issued with the license must be visibly attached to the fish’s lower jaw. It is the angler’s proof of possession of the carcass; it must be attached so it cannot be removed without mutilating or destroying the tag. The transportation tag must be attached before the carcass is moved in any manner from the place of harvest and remain affixed to the paddlefish until it is processed for consumption. The paddlefish shall remain intact except for the snout in front of the eye until the fish reaches the final processing place, defined as the angler’s residence or the location where consumption occurs.
If you catch a jaw-tagged fish (numbered band in the lower jaw), call the phone numberon the tag and report the tag number, date of capture, capture location and eye-to-fork length. The Iowa DNR and other state fisheries agencies tag paddlefish to better understand and manage populations. Tagging provides valuable information to estimate population size, fish movement and growth.
For more information about Iowa’s special paddlefish season, visit the DNR website at www.iowadnr.gov/fishing.