The Roundup -

Paddlefish Season Coming Up in May


Keith Gourneau, of Williston, ND, had the fight of his life landing his 92 pound paddlefish last June.

Although it doesn’t feel like it, May is just around the corner which means so is paddlefishing season. People flock from all over the country to ‘fish’ for this unique species.

Paddlefish, which are considered to be a prehistoric fish, can grow up to seven feet and as much as 200 pounds. Although they have cartilaginous bodies like a shark, they are not related. In fact there aren’t any other animals in North America like it.

The name paddlefish is rather obvious when you look at the fish. Scientists originally thought the paddle was used to dig food items from the bottom or to dislodge them from vegetation, but this turned out to be false. After looking in the mouth of the paddlefish it was discovered that they are a ‘filter feeder’, meaning they filter out tiny plants and animals from the water. paddlefish swim with their mouths open, bringing water through their gills.

It was also discovered that the underside of the paddle is covered with taste buds which are believed to help them sense where there is a higher concentration of the tiny plants and animals they eat. The paddle, which is usually one third of the body, also helps the paddlefish keep their mouths open while swimming.

Due to the fact that they are ‘filter feeders’, they will not bite a hook. This makes fishing for them interesting as you must snag them. The size of the paddlefish makes this a difficult but fun adventure. The Montana state record paddlefish caught weighed 142 pounds, which was caught in 1973. More recently, the North Dakota state record was set in 2010 with a 130 pound paddlefish.

Paddlefishing is a popular sport, not only because they are fun to catch, but also because they produce eggs that are used to make caviar. In fact, there are organizations in both Montana and North Dakota that process and sell it. On the Montana side, there is the Glendive Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, while on the North Dakota side there is North Star Caviar.

Both entities encourage people to donate the eggs for them to process, as they use the proceeds to improve local fisheries and recreation areas, as well as give grants to local organizations for historical and cultural projects. In exchange for your donation, they will clean your paddlefish for you.

Female paddlefish are capable of producing over half a million eggs, but most don’t spawn every year. It also takes them up to 12 years to mature to the point of producing eggs.

Due to the fact that paddlefish have increased in popularity and their eggs are wanted for caviar, the regulations for paddlefishing are constantly changing.

Although they use their taste buds to find high density of food, most paddlefish that have a deformity or wound to their paddle still have a good sense of where the food is. Ashley Harris caught this injured paddlefish May 26, 2010. Paddlefish tend to swim along the surface and may get struck by a boat propeller.

Paddlefishing season in North Dakota is May 1st through May 31st, while Montana’s season is May 15th through June 30th. Both states also have a set quota of fish. Once they meet that number, the season will be closed prematurely.

Fishermen are restricted to harvesting one fish per year. It is required to purchase both a state fishing license as well as a paddlefish tag. The fisherman that has the tag is required to cast, hook, and retrieve the fish him or herself. Although these are similar regulations, many of the regulations vary between North Dakota and Montana, so check the state specific fishing regulations either in the regulation booklets or on the internet.

If you do catch a paddlefish this year, send us your photo at: [email protected]


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