Henry Dyer was fishing in northeast Tennessee last Thursday when he snagged what he thought was an underwater stump. After a strenuous half-hour battle, the “stump” turned out to be an American paddlefish weighing well over 100 pounds. The fish, which easily out-measured the tailgate on Dyer’s pickup truck, is a new state record, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).
Dyer was fishing Cherokee Lake on April 13 with a heavy rod and a spin casting reel spooled with 80-pound test when the giant paddlefish took his bait. “All of a sudden it just took off,” the angler later told WTVC ABC. “[It] made five long runs. It took about 35 minutes for me to get it to the boat.”
Upon landing the prehistoric lunker, Dyer took it to the nearby Hawkins Farmers Co-op to get its official weight and measurements. On April 14, the co-op announced in a Facebook post that, at 149 pounds, the behemoth was heavier than Dyer himself. It measured 79 ⅝ inches in length with a 44 ⅜ inches girth.
TWRA officials followed up with a Facebook post of their own on Monday, confirming the official record. The post has garnered more than 3,000 likes and over 500 comments. “Look at his mouth,” said one Facebook user. “[He] could eat us,” commented another, adding a wide-eyed emoji for emphasis.
Paddlefish, also known as spoonbills or shovelnose cats, are the oldest surviving animal species in North America, predating dinosaurs by 70 million years. They are cartilaginous, like sharks, and have massive toothless mouths, which they use to scoop up algae and plankton. They do not pose a threat to humans.
Chad Collins caught the previous Tennessee record while fishing in Cherokee Lake on April 14, 2022. It was 75.5 inches long with a 41.5-inch girth and weighed 120 pounds. The world record paddlefish, caught in Oklahoma on Keystone Lake in 2021, weighed 164 pounds.
While Dyer’s paddlefish fell short of the world record, it’s the largest fish of any variety ever caught and recorded in the Volunteer State. Prior to last week, that honor was held by J.C. Garland who caught a 130-pound blue catfish from the Ft. Loudoun Reservoir in 1976.
Paddlefish are endangered or threatened in several states. Poachers frequently target the species for its valuable caviar. In Tennessee, anglers can harvest paddlefish from April 24 through May 31, with a daily limit of two per day and no size restrictions—except on designated bodies of water. According to local news reports, Dyer donated his catch to the TWRA to aid in their research.