By Travis Huber, Augustana University, Class of ’18.
One of my absolute favorite seasons that South Dakota has to offer is catching Paddlefish. Snagging paddlefish is a very special event for me, because I only draw a snagging tag about once every three years. Paddlefish are one of the biggest and most extraordinary fish that you can find in South Dakota, and they taste amazing of course.
My dad and I headed out to Gavins Point Dam in Yankton in the evening of the first Saturday of the season. The place was filled with people and I had about two hours of fishing time left in the day, so I found myself a spot and started casting away. My dad did not have a tag, so he opted for watching everyone fish and scoped out which places seemed to be the best if a spot opened up. In my two hours of fishing, I caught one paddlefish that measured approximately twenty-seven inches from the front of the eye to the fork of the tail; that’s how paddlefish are measured. I also lost a few lines to some snag spots. I couldn’t wait to keep fishing the next day.
The next morning came and I was sitting on shore at 6:45 a.m., fifteen minutes before people are allowed to start casting. The shore was beginning to fill up, but I had my perfect spot set and was just waiting for the clock to tick down. At 7 a.m. sharp, every person on shore picked up their poles and cast out, including me.
I cast out as far as I could, yanked once, yanked twice and had a fish on. I looked to my left, and see that the next two people down from me ALSO had fish on. I was working on reeling in my fish when my neighbor’s line happened to cross into mine because his fish decided it didn’t want to come in easily. He got his line in but it was tangled in mine. His catch turned about to be a bighead carp, and my fish was still out there swimming around. We spent a couple minutes untying the lines and after that I cranked in my fish- a paddlefish.
I measured it, and it came to be almost at the absolute mark of thirty-five inches, the biggest you can keep for the bottom half of the slot limit. Paddlefish between thirty-five and forty-five inches have to be thrown back, and I’ve seen a very select few above forty-five caught, so I had decided I had my keeper in just a matter of a couple minutes into the morning. I was almost disappointed to be done so quickly because half of the fun is catching and releasing a few slot fish, but then again I was also excited and lucky to have caught one that measured to be a keeper.
After tagging my fish and cleaning it, I stuck around just to watch other people fish, as well as help people bring theirs in. If someone had a fish coming in and no one with them to grab onto it, I was running for the water’s edge to grab the tail and pull them up the shore. There were paddlefish hauled in much bigger than my own, but almost all of them were thrown back due to the slot size. I even helped haul in a fifty-pounder that measured just shy of forty-two inches. I felt bad for the guy who had to let that one go, but at least it was a great catch.
While I spent that extra four hours helping people bring in fish, I witnessed about fifteen more people keep paddlefish under thirty-five inches, and only one keeper above forty-five inches. It made me realize how lucky how I got on my first catch of the day, but it was time for me to get packed up, and I headed home. I can’t wait for my next chance at paddlefish though, because I’m definitely going for the one over forty-five.
Travis is blogging for The Outdoor Campus as part of a 20-hour internship in public relations.