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Going Back to Prehistoric Times, In Search of the Paddlefish By Gary Howey

  I’d been waiting for this moment for several years and it had finally arrived, after applying for and being unsuccessful in the past, this year, would be my year, as I was successful in this year’s drawing for a Nebraska paddlefish snagging tag!

  Over the years, my daughter one of our Team Outdoorsmen Adventures member Mieke Howey Slaba from Wagner, South Dakota had both drawn tags, but not this year as I had mine and Mieke didn’t.

  Our other Team members and I planned on meeting at the Nebraska boat ramp just below Gavin’s Point Dam. Once again, the weatherman had tricked us into believing we’d have a warm sunny day to do some Paddlefish snagging.

  When we arrived at Gavin’s Point Dam that morning, it was misting, wind from the northwest with no sun in sight.

  Team Outdoorsmen Adventures members Marlyn Wiebelhaus, Wiebelhaus Guide Service would run the boat, Larry Myhre on the camera with me doing the snagging.

  The Paddlefish season was in high gear as could be seen by the number of anglers on the shore and in boats who were equipped with long heavy rods, big reels capable of holding huge quantities of heavy line were chucking 4 ounce lead weights and 2/0 treble hooks.

   South Dakota state record, a 127-pound, 9-ounce fish came from Ft. Randall, In Nebraska, and the record came from the tail waters behind Gavin’s Point Dam, and it weighed 113 pounds 4 ounce fish.

  They are found in the Yangtze River and its tributaries in China and in the U.S. the Missouri River and its tributaries.

  Paddlefish, with their torpedo like shape and their powerful tail, are able to move through the water quickly.

They are a prehistoric looking fish; have no bones in their body, ONLY one long cartilage running along their back from the head to their tail.

  My first fish, a short one, came as Marlyn maneuvered the boat around the other boats in the stilling basin, as I brought the small fish to the boat, I noticed it had no bill, and said, “It must have lost it going through the turbine side of the dam.”

  As Marlyn lifted the fish in the boat, he commented, “it’s a tagged fish” and as I held the small fish up, Marlyn jotted down the tag number before I released it back into the water.

  Bringing even a small paddlefish like this one to the boat can be tough,  especially if hooked in the back or tail, as you’re not only are you fighting this powerful fish, you are also fighting their huge gills that flair out, filling with water.

   We caught several more fish in the stilling basin, but as it started to get crowded, Marlyn fired up the big motor and moved down stream, to an area where there were no boats

  It didn’t take long for me to hook into another fish, and the way it was taking line, I knew it wasn’t the size of those I’d taken earlier. The fish peeled the line off the reel as I reared back and cranked on the reel handle, trying to gain back some of the line I’d lost earlier. Slowly but surely, I was gaining on the fish and as he popped to the surface all of us in the boat knew this one would be a slot fish. A slot fish is one that measures between 35″ to 45″ between the front of the eye to the fork of the tail and is a fish, which has to be released. [Read more…]

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We pursue paddlefish below Gavins Point Dam By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal

There swims in the dark, swirling currents of the Missouri River a fish whose lineage dates back to over 300 million years, nearly 50 million years before the age of the dinosaurs. It’s a fish that can grow to a length of seven feet and weigh 160 pounds, although giants of that size may not exist at all anymore.

Or, perhaps not.

The paddlefish is a fish of the largest rivers in the land. Its numbers, however, have declined dramatically over the past 50 years or so, largely due to overfishing and habitat changes. Careful fisheries management has resulted in a limited harvest of this fish along the major rivers where it is found.

Recently, I joined Gary Howey, Hartington, Neb., and Marlyn Wiebelhaus, a river guide from nearby Wynot, Neb. Gary had drawn one of the 1,520 resident snagging permits. I was there for the photography.

As Marlyn guided his boat into the tailgaters area of the Gavins Point Dam I counted 12 boats with anglers hurling big snagging rods throwing heavy lines anchored by big sinkers with a single 2/0 treble hook tied just above it into the quiet water below the gates.

We slipped in among the boats and found an open area where Marlyn could work his boat. Unlike most of the snaggers, Marlyn does not anchor and cast. Instead, he trolls with the angler trailing his line behind the boat and lunging back and forth in an effort to set the small treble hook into the flesh of one of those prehistoric swimmers.

It didn’t take long.

“Got one,” Gary grunted as his 10-foot rod bowed heavily and the tip began to throb in time with the pulling of the fish.

But our visions of a primitive monster soon evaporated as the fish rolled on the surface.

“A little one,” Gary said as Marlyn lifted it into the boat.

It might have weighed 10 pounds and would have weighed more if it had the distinctive paddle making up the snout of one of these fish. Called a rostrum, the paddle-like extension was once thought to be used to dig food from the bottom, but that is not the case. This little guy almost proved that. He was fat and in good shape.

“Must have lost that coming through the turbines,” Gary remarked as he slid the fish over the side to freedom.

Our next fish also came quickly.

[Read more…]