NEOSHO RIVER — My spoonbill was No. 1111.
It was the 1,111 paddlefish (aka spoonbill, aka the Oklahoma marlin) that had been fileted this spring by state wildlife officials at Twin Bridges State Park, located at the junction of the Spring and Neosho rivers above Grand Lake.
"What a lucky number,” one of my fishing partners on Tuesday exclaimed, as if I had drawn four aces while sitting at the poker table.
I wouldn't have received such a fortuitous number, he explained, if I had been able to bring in the much bigger spoonbill that I had snagged earlier in the day.
He was trying to ease his guilt. The other spoonbill I had snagged, he let slip away into the Neosho River.
After sweating bullets and slinging a surf rod from a hilltop for more than an hour, I finally had hooked a good fish.
I had cranked and pulled the fish into the rocky shoreline below after a strenuous battle, only to have the tail-hooked Jurassic beast escape his clutches.
"The hook just fell out,” my butter-fingered friend said to me in a pitiful way.
I wasn't as disappointed over losing the fish as the thought of more fishing. My muscles were aching, but I trudged on, snagging a 23-pounder about a half-hour later and calling it a day.
It was a puny one by paddlefish standards. The state record is 121 pounds and the biggest spoonbill checked in at Twin Bridges this spring has been 73 pounds.
A 23-pound spoonbill still provided enough meat for a couple of meals, but no caviar. It was a male so there were no eggs for state wildlife officials to harvest, but they still cleaned my fish.
The state Wildlife Department is fileting spoonbills and packaging the meat for anglers this spring at its fish cleaning station in Twin Bridges State Park.
In exchange, they keep the eggs from female paddlefish and are processing them into caviar.
The process is fairly simple. The eggs are separated from the fish membrane, washed and salted.
The eggs are then allowed to cure for a few days and become caviar.
The caviar will be sold by the state Wildlife Department to a wholesaler.
The money earned will be used for paddlefish management, research and law enforcement.
The fish carcasses are being taken to a Carthage, Mo.