With coronavirus swirling about, paddlefish angler Galen Martin of Springfield knows where he wants to be.
“I will self-quarantine myself on the river any day of the week,” he said.
On Sunday — opening day of Missouri’s paddlefish snagging season — Galen took his Ascend kayak and snagging fishing pole to the James River, below the dam at Lake Springfield.
He said the water was running fast and high, so he tied his kayak off to a tree and began casting a treble hook into the turbid, roiling water.
“I hooked up one right away, fought it for a couple of minutes, but lost it,” Martin said. “I moved to a second spot and hooked another one. With the current it took me about 40 minutes to get it in.”
He pulled the slippery fish, about a 50-pounder, into his kayak and paddled across the river to tie the fish off on a walkway railing that was partially submerged. He cut the fish’s gills so it would bleed out and make the meat tastier.
“I went back out, tied up to a tree and hooked into an even bigger one, and that’s when I heard the rod crack,” he said. “The whole rod broke where it joins together. Luckily, the fish turned and swam all the way upstream to my kayak. I got prepared, though, in case it tried to run and pull me into the water.”
Despite a busted rod, Martin was still able to crank his spinning reel loaded with 30-pound test line.
“It took about 15 minutes, but I got it in.” he said.
Martin said he has been paddlefish snagging for three years, and knows the area below the Lake Springfield dam is a hot spot, especially when the water is up. Paddlefish are native to Missouri and make their spawning runs up rivers like the James when spring rains cause the rivers to flow faster.
“When I first started, people said paddlefish were just trash fish,” Martin said. “But the first time I went I caught two paddlefish in the 70-pound range and thought ‘this is fantastic!'”
Martin said paddlefish meat is delicious — if prepared properly. He said the fish’s blood contains urea, which can make the meat taste strong, so that’s why he bleeds them quickly after they’re caught.
“Then I cut out all the dark meat and soak the fillets in icy brine water overnight,” he said.
He slices the meat into chunks, puts a dry rub on one side, then smokes the fish,
“The consistency is close to shark, if you’ve ever eaten shark,” he said. “I think it has a very mild taste, which is why I put a dry rub on it.”
Martin said paddlefish below Lake Springfield dam can be snagged from shore. The dam stops them from moving higher up the river, making it an ideal spot to catch them.
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He said it’s possible big females weighing over 100 pounds might reach the dam when the river is running high. Paddlefish feed on tiny plankton and rarely are taken on lures. Snagging them with large hooks is the traditional way to catch them.
Missouri’s paddlefish snagging season runs until April 30 for Table Rock Lake, Truman Lake, Lake of the Ozarks and other nearby waters.
The snagging season on the Mississippi River is March 15 through May 15, with a fall season of Sept. 15 through Dec. 15.