OUTDOORS with Bill Wehrle: Snagging season starts Monday

BILL WEHRLE, C-T Outdoors Sports Editor
Bill Wehrle column

By BILL WEHRLE, C-T Outdoors Sports Editor 

Want to catch a really big fish?

You’ve got that opportunity when Missouri’s annual spoonbill snagging season opens Monday (March 15). It’s a different type of fishing, but you’ve always got the possibility of bringing in a real giant of a fish.

Spoonbills (paddlefish) are giant, prehistoric fish whose species dates back to the days of dinosaurs and can grow to more than seven feet long and 100 pounds.

The statewide spoonbill snagging season is only open until April 30, although on the Mississippi River it runs through May 15 with a fall season there Sept. 15 through Dec. 15.

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, the state’s major paddlefish snagging waters are Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, and Table Rock Lake and their tributaries. Paddlefish go upstream to spawn annually when the water gets warmer (above 50 degrees).

Even though they can grow to giant size, paddlefish feed only on minute plankton, so they won’t bite on usual fish baits; thus they have to be “snagged” to be caught.

Snagging involves dragging a large hook with heavy sinker through their spawning waters, using ocean fishing-type heavy rods and reels. It can be cold, hard work, but once you hook one of these huge fish, it’ll be worth it.

Unless otherwise exempt, spoonbill anglers must have a current fishing permit to snag or even operate a boat for snaggers.

The daily limit is two paddlefish and there are length limits on the size of fish you can keep.

Fish caught on Lake of the Ozarks, Truman Lake, or Table Rock Lake must be at least 34 inches long (measured from the eye to the fork of the tail); those caught on the Osage River below Bagnell Dam and in other Missouri waters must be at least 24 inches.

All paddlefish under the legal length limit must be returned to the water unharmed immediately after being caught. Once a legal-sized paddlefish is caught, it must be kept by the snagger and included in their daily limit.

Missouri’s Wildlife Code requires the head, tail, and skin to remain attached to all paddlefish while on the water, so they should not be cleaned until you’re off the water.

Extracted paddlefish eggs may not be possessed while on the waters of the state or adjacent banks and may not be transported. Paddlefish eggs may not be bought, sold or offered for sale. Paddlefish or their parts, including eggs, may not be used for bait.

Paddlefish don’t really start their spawning runs until the water warms to at least 50 degrees, so they may get a late start this year, due to the recent excessively cold weather. If you’re itching to go spoonbill snagging, keep a close eye on water temperature and get out there when it warms up. With spoonbills, one good fish can make a great season, so be ready to go when they are.

I apologize for the untimeliness of my ice fishing column last week. Who knew that between the day I wrote it and when it was published the weather would warm from below zero to above 50 degrees. Just file it away and see what next winter brings.

Turkeys are gobbling now, so I’m told, so warm weather may be here to stay.

(Bill Wehrle’s outdoors sports column appears in the Constitution-Tribune each Saturday.)