After a Sunday start to the trout parks, the starting day for paddlefish also fell on a Sunday which brought out the snaggers who threw a heavy weighted hook, cast blindly and hoped to snag a fish that might weigh more than a hundred pounds.
Fred Walker, Springfield, was at the opening day start of the catch and keep trout season at Bennett Spring, and last Sunday, he was on hand for the start of the spoonbill snagging season. “What a difference a couple weeks made. On the first day of the trout parks, I was using my flyrod, and today I am using deep sea fishing gear...Talk about a variety of fishing,” Walker said.
A Humansville snagger, Dan B. was one of the many snaggers fishing the Osage River near Osceola, where he snagged a 70 pound fish. He said the fish were just starting to move upstream as the water temperature was warming and the flow was good, two conditions which make the snagging better. This was Dan's third start of the season. Two years ago, he hooked a 125 pound spoonbill from the river.
The spoonbills, also called paddlefish, are relics from the past that could have fit in with creatures from the Jurassic movie. These oddities of nature feed by swimming with their big mouths open and filter their food — microscopic plankton.
A Warsaw snagger, Doug Thomas, was on hand at the Osage River last Sunday.
“Several years ago I never thought I would be snagging spoonbill,” Thomas said. “I always thought it looked like too much work to throw a bare hook to try to snag a fish. Several years ago, a fishing friend asked me to go along with him snagging. He had extra gear, so I decided to join him. After a few minutes, I hooked a 54 pound monster and hat made me a snagger, so I was more than ready for the season this year.”
Thomas moved to Missouri from New Jersey, where he had never heard about spoonbill except hearing they were big fish. You do not fish for them, you work for them. Thomas remembers his first fish like it was yesterday.
“There were a lot of boats in the river and I saw one snagger hook a monster fish,” Thomas said. “While watching him bring the big spoonbill close to his boat, I felt a tug on my 80 pound test line, I knew it was a big fish. After it made several long runs, I started to bring it in. When we finally got it in the boat, I couldn't believe the size of that monster. I had no ideal that I would ever catch a fish that large."
For most of its life, the spoonbill inhabits slow-moving water rich in microscopic life. During the spawning season it moves to fast flowing rivers caused by spring floods.
Weather always plays an important role in a snaggers success. Spoonbill are easier to hook when they swim upstream and congregate below dams in response to spring rains. The best snagging conditions occur when water temperature reaches 50 to 55 degrees. Water temperatures as the season opens are usually in the 30s and 40s.
The fish often do not start running upstream as early as Sunday, March 15. Usually you don't see lots of big fish being caught on opening day, but as the water temperature and flow increases, you will start seeing more of the larger females.
The season which started Sunday will continue through April with a daily limit of two legal fish.
Meanwhile, crappie fishing is showing improvement as my grandson and I found out last week. We caught 18 big crappie using jigs and small Kastmaster lures. It will only get better as the spawning season gets closer.
White, a Stockton resident, has a versatile background in the outdoors as a participant and journalist. His column appears weekly.