The new paddlefish fishing season opens March 1 on the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers and runs through April 15 (sunrise to sunset). 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.
Paddlefish are one of the largest freshwater fish in North America. The Iowa state record is 107 pounds and was caught on the Missouri River in 1981. They feed on microscopic organisms called zooplankton. Since they are filter feeders, they can’t be caught with the traditional hook and bait. Snagging is the only efficient method of catching paddlefish.
Paddlefish prefer slower, deep water. Use a depth finder to scout pockets of deep water, or head to areas slightly downstream from wing dams. Paddlefish feed in the current coming off the end of the dam.
Use heavy weights, from one ounce 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.
The paddlefish slot limit on the Missouri River 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 number on 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 new paddlefish season, visit the DNR website at www.iowadnr.gov.