An Oklahoma angler on his first paddlefish outing snagged a rare, black-colored specimen weighing 28 pounds, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) announced last week in a Facebook post.

Aidan Miller caught the unusual spoonbill at Kaw Lake in northcentral Oklahoma on Feb. 24. One member of the party, Steven, was an experienced paddlefish angler who was showing the others how snagging works. Apparently, Steven is a good teacher: Both Aidan and another friend, Chance, snagged paddlefish “at the exact same time,” according to the ODWC. While Oklahoma regulations allow anglers to keep one paddlefish per day and two per year, both Aidan and Chance—whose paddlefish weighed 30 pounds—released their catches.

The dark coloring of Miller’s fish is unusual but not unheard of. “All paddlefish have the ability to be pitch black in coloration, but we rarely see this in the wild,” ODWC wrote on Facebook. “When adult paddlefish spend extended time in shallower tailwater habitats where water clarity may be greater, they will take on a darker coloration. Effectively, these fish are getting a dark suntan. This could be a combination of melanistic traits and the effects of shallow and clear water habitats.”

Paddlefish are native to Oklahoma, where they are found mainly in the Arkansas and Red River systems, and throughout much of the greater Mississippi/Missouri river watershed. They can live 50 to 60 years and top 100 pounds. The Oklahoma state record spoonbill, caught by Grant Rader in 2021 at Keystone Lake, was also announced as a world record at the time. It weighed 164 pounds, stretched 81 ¾ inches long, and boasted a girth of 43 inches. 

The 428,000-acre Kaw Lake near Ponca City is one of a handful of lakes that received stocked paddlefish as part of a partnership between the ODWC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-introduce the species to Oklahoma waters where they had become locally eradicated. Beginning in 1992, biologists raised young paddlefish in hatcheries and released them in Kaw, Oologah, Texoma, and Eufala lakes.

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State fisheries biologists continue to gather significant data on paddlefish each year, including information reported by anglers who catch one of the thousands of paddlefish fitted with a jaw band. Data gathered from yet another world-record paddlefish caught in Oklahoma in 2020 showed that 25-year-old, 151-pound fish had been banded in 1997, when it was about 2 years old and weighed 7.7 pounds.