The paddlefishing in northeastern Oklahoma has been steady but unspectacular thus far. However, that could soon change.
Some paddlefish, or spoonbills, already have started moving up the river systems around Grand and Fort Gibson lakes. Anglers are catching some fish but most spoonbills are still staging at the upper end of the lakes or in the deeper holes of the rivers.
Nolen Cleaves of Edmond said that was the situation last weekend at Chouteau Bend on Fort Gibson Lake. His group caught three males that weighed 20, 24 and 25 pounds.
At the state Wildlife Department’s spoonbill cleaning station at Twin Bridges State Park on Grand Lake, around 400 paddlefish were processed last weekend.
Since it was spring break, there were a lot of paddlefishing addicts on the water, many of them fishermen from out-of-state who make an annual trek to Grand Lake for the spoonbill runs.
Oklahoma has one of the largest populations in the country of paddlefish, a pre-historic looking critter that doesn’t eat bait and must be snagged.
Spoonbills, nicknamed The Oklahoma Marlin, for its size and the way it jumps in the water, can reach 100 pounds or more in size. The state record is 121 pounds. An average size at Grand Lake is 45 pounds.
The state Wildlife Department will clean the one paddlefish you are allowed to keep per day for free in exchange for the eggs from females. Paddlefish eggs are a tasty substitute for beluga caviar, and the state Wildlife Department made $1.5 million last year in its first attempt at selling Oklahoma-made caviar.
One female spoonbill can produce 5 to 7 pounds of caviar.
As the water temperature increases, spoonbills start moving up the rivers to spawn. However, big runs are triggered by water flow from heavy rains. When that happens, the fishing can be phenomenal.
Grand Lake has several paddlefishing guides and the when the fishing is hot, anglers will line up elbow to elbow at Miami’s Riverview Park on the banks of the Neosho River.
The state Wildlife Department has posted popular paddlefishing locations on its Web site at www.wildlifedepartment.com