Now is the best time to snag a spoonbill.
State wildlife officials cleaned and packaged 375 paddlefish for anglers on Thursday at its Paddlefish Research Center at Twin Bridges State Park on Grand Lake, the busiest day of the spring thus far.
More than 2,500 spoonbills have been checked in this spring at the Paddlefish Research Center, located on the junction of the Spring and Neosho rivers, where state wildlife officials filet the fish for free for anglers and package the meat in exchange for the eggs,
State wildlife officials then use the eggs to make caviar which the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation sells to a wholesaler.
The money earned is used for paddlefish research and management.
Grand Lake and its tributaries are a hot spot for paddlefishing. In April, anglers throughout the Midwest travel to northeastern Oklahoma to snag a spoonbill.
“We have 50 people from one town in Iowa down here, said Brent Gordon, northeast fisheries chief for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
As of Thursday, paddlefish were staging in the Neosho River and anglers “were having pretty good luck catching them (by trolling), Gordon said.
In the spring, the paddlefish will leave the lake and move up the river when it is time to spawn. The paddlefish don't all go at once on their spawning runs and sometimes they never go, Gordon said.
“A few will make a run, drop back down to the lake, and others will wait for the next flow,” he said. “A few hold in the river.”
For a big run to occur, the paddlefish need sustainable water flow for a long period of time, Gordon said.
“If it rains, it will really get them in gear,” Gordon said. “But if it doesn't, they may sit and wait for two or three weeks. And then if it doesn't rain, they will drop back and not spawn.
“They are not like other species. That's why they are so difficult to manage.”
Anglers are required to have a state fishing license and paddlefish permit. Anglers may keep one paddlefish per day, but Mondays and Fridays are catch and release days only.
Paddlefish are primarily found in the Grand, Neosho and Arkansas river systems in northeastern Oklahoma.