Pittsfield, Ill. — An 8-pound largemouth bass from Crab Orchard Lake. A 4.8-pound crappie at Kinkaid Lake. A 51.75-inch muskie caught in northern Minnesota.
What would it take for a fish outside of the “cool species crowd” to earn the coveted Illinois Outdoor News “Catch of the Year” title?
Pittsfield’s Jim Dain answered that question in 2022 by yanking a 140-pound paddlefish from the Lake of the Ozarks.
An informal competition started on a whim four years ago, the “Catch of the Year” contest winner is announced in the first issue of Illinois Outdoor News in the New Year, recognizing one impressive catch from the year before. There is only one rule: the angler must be an Illinois resident.
Because this hullabaloo began the year after a state record 81-pound flathead was pulled from Lake Sangchris, “second-tier species” has never been selected.
Dain was on vacation with his family when he caught the 140-pound, 10-ounce paddlefish on March 18, 2022. It barely topped the Missouri state record of 140-pounds, 9-ounces set in 2015 on Table Rock Lake.
Dain famously almost didn’t take his boat out that day because the weather kept changing.
“The forecast was calling for storms, and then it changed to no rain, so we went out, but it just kept getting colder,” Dain recalled. “We weren’t having much luck, but decided to fish for another hour so we took another turn.”
And that’s when the drag on the reel started.
“It felt like a tree was on the line!” Dain said.
The central Illinois angler reported that it took at least 20 minutes before he ultimately got the fish in the boat. After getting back to the boat ramp, Steven Henson of Bonne Terre, Missouri – incidentally, he happens to hold the Missouri state record for river carpsucker – was in the area and suggested Dain contact the Missouri Department of Conservation.
“He was at the boat ramp and happened to hold a state record,” Dain said. “He’s looking at the fish and says to me, ‘Boy, I think you should get that checked out because it could be a state record.’”
Dain contacted MDC Camden County Agent Tyler Brown, who advised him to go to a local business to use a certified scale that could handle weight more than 100-pounds.
What happened to his catch?
“We got 16 one-gallon bags of meat out of this catch,” laughed Dain. “We’ve fried it, grilled it and made paddlefish tacos the other night. We’ll be having paddlefish for a while!”
How big do paddlefish get? It seems 140 pounds is not the ceiling. In 2020, An Oklahoma man caught an American paddlefish weighing nearly 147 pounds. The massive fish was confirmed as the official new state record holder for that species, beating the previous record of 143 pounds.
Because paddlefish are rarely caught by traditional “hook and line” methods, there is no Illinois state record for the species.
According to DNR, although its average weight is 2 pounds, “the paddlefish may reach 160 pounds in weight and a length of seven feet.”
Other paddlefish notes:
• Paddlefish may live 20 to 30 years.
• It has a flat, broad, paddle-shaped snout, a long, tapered, gill cover and no scales except for a patch on the upper lobe of the forked tail. The snout contains an elaborate system of sense organs.
• The body is gray to blue gray on the back and sides with a white belly.
• Historically, the paddlefish has been used for food and the eggs for caviar.
• The paddlefish lives in large rivers, preferring slow-moving water more than four feet deep. For spawning it requires a large, free-flowing river with gravel bars that will remain flooded for the duration of the spring spawning period.
• It swims continuously.
• It does not seem to have a home range and may swim hundreds of miles.
• The paddlefish reaches maturity at age seven. It spawns in April or May. The eggs are scattered over a silt-free sand or gravel bottom in a large, free-flowing river.
• Floods of several days’ duration are needed for spawning to be successful, as the gravel where the eggs are deposited is normally out of the water.
• The paddlefish feeds on microscopic crustaceans and insect larvae it filters from the water as it swims about with its mouth open.