The growing popularity of catching paddlefish has led to a new fishing regulation to protect one of Oklahoma's most unique species.
The Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission in December passed an emergency rule that allows anglers only to keep two paddlefish for the entire year in 2014. Anglers can continue to catch and release as many paddlefish as they want.
Only 16 percent of Oklahoma's paddlefish anglers were keeping two or more fish during a year, according to six years of data analysis by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Still, state wildlife officials wanted to start protecting the population from potential over-harvest, said Jason Schooley, paddlefish biologist for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“We haven't experienced a population crash, but we have been watching it decline,” Schooley said. “Our goals are to limit harvest but not limit fishing opportunities. We want people to continue to enjoy the resource.”
Grand Lake is the state's blue-ribbon fishery for paddlefish, commonly called spoonbills by Oklahoma anglers.
The peak of fishing activity is from mid-March to mid-April when the fish are making spawning runs in the Neosho and Spring rivers.
During January and February on Grand Lake, the fish are less active and anglers catch them by trolling for them on the upper end of the reservoir where the fish congregate.
Last month, Bradley Valdois of Carl Junction, Mo., caught and released a 106-pound spoonbill while fishing on Grand Lake with guide Rusty Pritchard.
The lake record is 110 pounds, caught by Heather Fink of Grove in 2008, who also was fishing with Pritchard.