The new Missouri state record paddlefish weighed more than 140 pounds.
The new Missouri state record paddlefish weighed more than 140 pounds. MDC photo

Last week, Jim Dain of Pittsfield, Illinois, took a fishing trip with his family to Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, and went back home with a record paddlefish—and a boatload of meat for the freezer. The family packed their fishing gear, crossed the steel girder Champ Clark Bridge over the Mississippi River near their home, drove another three hours to Lake of the Ozarks, and, upon their arrival, encountered very lousy fishing weather. On Friday, they almost decided not to even take the boat out. “The forecast was calling for storms, and then it changed to no rain, so we went out, but it just kept getting colder,” Dain told the Missouri Department of Conservation. “We weren’t having much luck, but decided to fish for another hour.”

Then, Dain’s luck changed. He explained, “And that’s when the drag on the reel started. It felt like a tree was on the line!” Dain tussled with the monster for more than 20 minutes before hauling it into the boat. 

Sharklike, with their nearly scaleless skin and cartilaginous skeleton, billfish-like with their unusual paddle snout, American paddlefish, or spoonbills, are native to the waterways of the Mississippi River Basin and adjacent Gulf drainages. They are considered primitive because they have evolved very little from dinosaur times. And, because they are filter feeders, which feed by straining suspended matter and food particles, they are very difficult to catch. So, snagging is the standard method.

When Dain snagged his, he was thinking about all the dinners it would supply. But, back at shore, by chance, he ran into Steven Henson of Bonne Terre, who owned the river carpsucker record. “He was at the boat ramp and happened to hold a state record,” says Dain. “He’s looking at the fish and says to me, ‘Boy, I think you should get that checked out because it could be a state record.’”

Following the advice of Missouri Department of Conservation Camden County Agent Tyler Brown, Dain took his catch to Tom’s Slaughterhouse, where there was a certified scale that could handle huge fish. The official measurement: 140 pounds, 10 ounces—one ounce bigger than the previous record set in 2015 on Table Rock Lake.

The Slaughterhouse also fit Dain’s initial objective. “We got 16 one-gallon bags of meat out of this catch,” says Dain. “We’ve fried it, grilled it, and made paddlefish tacos the other night. We’ll be having paddlefish for a while!”