South Dakota angler lands potential new state record paddlefish

Pierre, S.D. — A Chamberlain man has landed the largest fish ever recorded by an angler in South Dakota. Earlier this month, Bill Harmon shattered a 35-year-old record when he snagged a 127-pound, 9-ounce paddlefish on May 7.

Harmon drew a permit for the Lake Francis Case paddlefish snagging season. His fish surpassed the old record of 120-pound, 12-ounce set by Don Gregg in April 1979 in the Ft. Randall tailwaters, according to the S.D. Game and Fish Department.

Annual stocking efforts of paddlefish began in the early 1990s and have resulted in quality numbers of the species in Lake Francis Case. Jason Sorensen, SD Game, Fish and Parks’ fisheries biologist, noted,

“One of the original goals of the paddlefish stocking program was to initiate a sport fishery for this species. Paddlefish are a long-lived species and the Lake Francis Case population has some very old fish. 

There is potential for anglers to harvest large paddlefish and Bills’ recent catch is proof of that.”

Paddlefish are among the largest and longest lived species of freshwater fishes. Native to the Mississippi River drainage, these prehistoric fish once roamed freely throughout the network of rivers in the central United States. From the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers in the west to the Ohio and Allegheny Rivers in the east, paddlefish are believed to have made long seasonal migrations throughout the Mississippi River basin.

The unusual appearance of paddlefish amazed early European explorers. Different from most fish species, paddlefish can best be distinguished by their very large mouths and a paddle-shaped snout that is about one third their body length. Paddlefish are bluish-gray in color and appear dark when viewed from above. Similar to many freshwater fishes, they are white on the bottom. Paddlefish lack scales and have smooth skin similar to catfish.

Paddlefish feed primarily on zooplankton (microscopic “bugs”) by swimming with their mouths open and filtering zooplankton out of the water with their gill rakers. Since paddlefish do not feed on bait fish and invertebrates, conventional fishing methods prove useless to anglers pursuing paddlefish.  Anglers typically snag for paddlefish using heavy-duty equipment and heavy fishing lines.

For a fish to qualify as a state record, anglers must have the fish identified by a state fisheries biologist and weighed on a certified scale. Other qualifications can be found on the state record fish application.

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