Paddlefish fishing will return to the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers for the first time since 1986, when the Iowa Department of Natural Resources opens the season on March 1.
The paddlefish season had been closed on Missouri River in 1986 due to concerns that habitat loss, altered hydrology and migration barriers created by reservoirs could jeopardize the population.
In 1979, the Iowa Geological Survey Bureau reported that 61,642 acres of habitat between Sioux City and Hamburg was lost when the river was channelized.
Paddlefish are one species that have demonstrated resilience to changes in the river. Catch rates from netting surveys mirror results from other large Midwestern rivers. Unfortunately, usable population estimates from mark and recovery studies have eluded biologists. But that could change with help from anglers.
“This new season could provide us with enough angler collected data of recaptured tagged fish to provide us with a population estimate in which we would have some level of confidence. We encourage anglers to report any tagged fish they catch,” said Van Sterner, fisheries biologist for the Missouri River with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The tag is a small aluminum band around the fish’s lower jaw. Each tag has a unique identification number, tagging agency information and a phone number.
To participate, anglers will need a special Missouri and Big Sioux River paddlefish license – limited to 950 resident and 50 nonresident – that are only on sale from Dec. 15 to Jan. 31. A resident license sells for $22 and nonresident for $42. Anglers must also have a valid Iowa fishing license.
The Missouri and Big Sioux paddlefish season is March 1 to April 15. Those season dates were selected to coincide with the increasing discharge from the upstream federal reservoirs and when the fish are in their prespawn migratory pattern. Catch rates from netting surveys are highest during the spring rising discharge.
Snagging paddlefish on the Missouri River is different than other rivers where paddlefish will concentrate in tail water areas.
“These fish are extremely migratory, traveling hundreds of miles. They will try to get out of the current when they can so areas behind wing dykes with slow moving, deep water will be places to target,” Sterner said. “They don’t associate with the bottom like catfish, but will be suspended so watch the electronics and if they are there, you should see them.”
The flood of 2011 created scour holes in the river that have been popular with paddlefish and for anglers who can find them.
The Missouri River is a fast flowing river so anglers should be prepared to use heavy weights – from one ounce on 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. It would also be wise to wear a lifejacket while on the water, according to IDNR.
The paddlefish license is required for the Missouri and Big Sioux rivers, but not for the Mississippi and Des Moines rivers. The slot limit 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.
The paddlefish is an ancient species.
Paddlefish lack bones.
Paddlefish eat by straining zooplankton from the water
Paddlefish reach maturity at 6 or 7 years of age and can live for 30 years or more.
The Iowa state record 107 pound paddlefish was caught in the Missouri River in Monona County in 1981.
The firm white flesh of the paddlefish is excellent table fare as long as the red meat near the skin is trimmed off.
source: Iowa Department of Natural Resources