Paddlefish season in Iowa begins this weekend on the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers. Iowa residents can no longer apply for licenses or paddlefish tags, but D-N-R fisheries biologist Van Sterner says those who are eligible for the season — which opens Sunday — are required to follow strict rules. “We do have a protected slot limit,” Sterner says. “Fish measuring 35 to 45 inches, measured from the front of the eye to the fork in the tail, must be released immediately, unharmed.”
The odd-looking fish has a flat front that looks kind of like a paddle. It’s also known as a spoonbill. Sterner says some of the fish may have a tag in their lower jaw that’s very similar to those seen on waterfowl. Those who snag a tagged fish are asked to report it to the Department of Natural Resources to help track and research the population. “Nebraska and South Dakota do have a fairly valid estimate up there in the Gavins Point area but down this way, in the channelized stretch of the river, we just haven’t collected enough tag returns,” Sterner says. “This is all based on mark and recapture and we haven’t collected enough recaptures to give us a valid estimate yet.”
He says the department is hoping to increase interest in catching paddlefish in the future. “We offered 1,000 licenses, 950 resident licenses and 50 non-resident licenses,” Sterner says. “The 50 non-residents sold out and we sold a total of 743 licenses, so we didn’t sell out this year.”
This will be the first time anyone can legally go after paddlefish on the two rivers since 1986 when fishing was cut off out of concern for the survival of the species. The season opens Sunday and will continue through April 15th.