Trish Yasger is no longer surprised when she sees a huge paddlefish during fisheries surveys on Missouri waters.
The shock value of seeing one of these monstrous fish has long ago disappeared. It takes a lot to impress her now.
“Even in our surveys, we had our hands on a few 90-pound fish,” said Yasger, a fisheries management biologist who leads the Missouri Department of Conservation’s paddlefish program. “And we know there are bigger ones out there.
“They’re just fat, healthy fish.”
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Yasger and others collected paddlefish recently to put jaw tags in them as part of a study to help fisheries biologists learn more about the habits of paddlefish and the effects of angling pressure.
Fisheries workers affixed metal jaw tags to about 2,000 paddlefish netted in each reservoir — Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock and Truman Lake — and 1,000 fish netted in the Mississippi River. The same process will be followed each spring through 2019.
Each fisherman who returns a tag will receive an “I caught a Missouri paddlefish!” T-shirt and will be entered into a drawing for cash prizes. Submitted tags must include the date the fish was caught, location of the catch, tag number, fish length from eye to fork of tail, and snagger’s name and complete address.
Fishermen can report tags by calling 573-579-6825 or by sending them to the Missouri Department of Conservation, 3815 E. Jackson Blvd., Jackson, MO 63755.
The study is just another step in what has become a nationally recognized paddlefish program. Missouri originally had naturally reproducing fish that made long spawning runs up rivers such as the Osage. But when dams were built and reservoirs were opened, that natural production all but ceased.
The Department of Conservation stepped in to make up for those losses through an aggressive stocking program. Stocking started at Table Rock in 1972, at Lake of the Ozarks in 1982 and in the ponds in the Truman Lake basin before the reservoir was even inundated.
Today, that program continues. About 15,000 fingerlings 12 to 16 inches long are stocked each year at Lake of the Ozarks and Truman, and 7,500 are added to Table Rock. The fish are raised at the Department of Conservation’s Blind Pony Hatchery near Sweet Springs, Mo.