For those who want to try something a little different, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is now selling special licenses for Paddlefish on the Missouri and Big Sioux River.
DNR fisheries biologist Van Sterner says they were pleased with the response as they reopened paddlefishing on those two rivers last year. He says they offered 1,000 licenses — 950 resident and 50 nonresident — and sold a total of 753. Sterner says they sent out a survey card with the licenses and found most people were pleased with the season.
“We received 137 of those back and 48 percent of the respondents indicated that they had harvested a fish — which is a high success rate — but you have to take it with a grain of salt because successful respondents were probably more likely to go ahead and do the survey,” Sterner says. He says they want to see more people give the paddlefish season a try.
“We’re hoping that the popularity grows, you know last year was our first year since 1986, and many of the respondents indicated that they would do it again. So, we are hoping for more participation this year,” Sterner says. The paddlefishing season ended due to a loss of habitat and declining population numbers in the rivers.
Sterner says the numbers have come back enough to allow the fishing again. “We don’t have a handle on the actual number, what the actual population is. Our catch rates with our survey methods — with our netting — indicates that it is a good population,” Sterner explains. “And we do attempt to get a population estimate with mark and recapture — but as of yet we have not reached a level of recapture where we have a valid population estimate.”
Catching a paddlefish is a little different from going after other fish as they feed on the bottom and you have to snag them. Sterner says you can be successful form shore at the wing tip of a dam, but he says overall boaters are more successful as the fish like slower, deeper water. Sterner says it has been an interesting experience tracking the fish as they can move around quite a bit.
“Fish that at in Iowa are heading into South Dakota and fish that are in Missouri they’re heading into Iowa. Our tag returns have come from all the way from Memphis, Tennessee to all the way up to Gavins Point Dam in South Dakota. This is a highly migratory species,” Sterner says.
The Missouri and Big Sioux rivers paddlefish season runs from March 1st to April 15th. A resident paddlefish license sells for 22 dollars and you must also have a valid Iowa fishing license.
The licenses are on sale through January 31st. You can go to www.iowadnr.gov to buy a license.