Sixteen-Year-Old Snags New North Dakota State Record Paddlefish

Sixteen-year-old Alex Mergen of Black Hawk, South Dakota, set a North Dakota state record when he snagged a 130-lb. paddlefish May 2 on the Missouri River. Mergen's catch shattered the old state record of 120 lbs.
Alex and his 18-year-old brother Zach (right) were fishing with their father and uncle. The four anglers took turns sharing one rod, a 12-ft. ugly stick spooled with 80-lb. mono.
They were snagging about 20 miles southwest of Williston, North Dakota …
… near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, not far from where the previous state-record fish was caught by Brian Johnson in 1993.
"The fight was really quite anti-climactic," said Alex's father, David Mergen. "It only took about 7 or 8 minutes to get it in. The actual battle was nothing."
The real struggle came once the fish was on shore.
Seems hoisting a 130-lb. paddlefish is harder work than landing it.
With their long, paddle-shaped rostrum, smooth skin, small eyes and toothless mouth, paddlefish are closely related to sturgeon, and their eggs are prized as homegrown caviar. The filter feeders subsist mostly on zooplankton. Paddlefish can live 50 years or longer, and the largest on record--speared in Lake Okoboji in 1916--was 85 inches long and weighed an estimated 198 lbs.
Alex weighed his catch at North Star Caviar. A digital scale topped out, so a spring scale was installed …
… and with the winch barely clearing the fish from the ground …
… the scale registered 132 lbs. Two pounds were deducted to account for the weight of the hook used to hang the fish, and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department certified Alex's new state record.
The paddlefish measured 74 inches long and 46 inches in girth. It yielded 22 ½ pounds of eggs.
"I was just happy it was bigger than my brother's fish," Alex says of his first paddlefish catch after several seasons trying. "He always catches more fish; he's the luckiest guy in the world when it comes to fishing. He'll catch a bunch and I'll catch one, but mine's always the biggest in the bucket."
The two grew up fishing together. Their uncle, Daryl Mergen, took this photo when the boys were 4 and 6. At the time he wrote: "Alex, the seasoned fisherman at 4, lives for fishing and catching frogs. He recently returned from one of his weekly trips with his father along with a stringer of crappies. Not being old enough for school, he has the advantage of being available to go fishing any day of the week in one of many lakes and streams around the Black Hills of South Dakota. "Alex couldn't quite remember the name of the lake (Sheridan Lake), the bait he used, or the day of the week these fish were caught, but he knew he had caught them and had a picture as proof. Alex turns five in December, so between now and when he begins school next year, he plans a lot more fishing trips."
Throughout the years the brothers' smiles haven't changed much, whether sharing little catches …
… or large.