Fishing Prep: What to do to Fish for Paddlefish in Western Iowa

I live in Iowa, and I was excited to find out that they now have a Paddlefish season on the Missouri River. Back in 1986, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources closed off fishing for the prehistoric fish on the Missouri due to fears that the fish was losing traction and would start to disappear. Fishing for that species was closed for just over 30 years.

In 2014, the state legislature passed a bill that would allow a paddlefish fishing season on the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers near Sioux City, Iowa. The fishing would be limited to 950 resident and 50 non-resident special licenses that would be needed to fish for the species. A resident license would sell for $22 while a non-resident could get theirs for $42. You also need to have a current Iowa fishing license to fish for paddlefish.

The season on the Missouri and Big Sioux runs from February 4th to April 30th. You can only fish from sunrise to sunset during those days.

People should know that paddlefish eat plankton and therefore cannot be caught on your normal fishing lures or bait. The only way that you can catch these fish is to snag them and Iowa allows for the snagging of paddlefish during this period. However, there are some restrictions on the hook that you can use to snag the fish.

You must use a hook that is no bigger than 5/0 or measures more than 1 ¼ inches in length when the two hook points are measured on a ruler according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

There are some great YouTube videos that show you how to put together some rigs for paddlefish fishing. They are simple, easy to understand, and will help you maximize your equipment. Just type in “paddlefish rigs,” and you will get several videos to watch and learn how to put together a rig that will work for paddlefish.

Another restriction is that you can only use a landing net or your hand to help you get your fish. You may not use a gaffe or other device that will break the wound the paddlefish.

There is also a limit on the size of paddlefish you can take. The regulations for this special fishing season on the Missouri and Big Sioux is that you must release all fish that measure 35 to 45 inches. To find the size a paddlefish you would measure from the eye back to the fork of the tail. You can keep anything below and above the 33 to 45-inch range.

So where is it best to catch these fish? Well, this writer is not that familiar with the Missouri or the Big Sioux Rivers but has researched the best areas in a river to catch them. At the time of year that the Paddlefish season is taking place, the fish are moving around to spawn. They tend to like the tailwater areas along the Missouri River and like deep slower moving water.

They can be caught by boat or on the bank. Having the electronics to see where they are in the river on a boat is an advantage. But after watching scores of paddlefish fishing videos, this writer feels that you have just as good a chance to catch one from the shore as you do from a boat especially when fishing this special paddlefish season. It’s a lot of work but in the end, the reward is worth it.

So what method do you use to snag this elusive fish? I am going to look at this from the perspective of bank fishing because when the season opens, I will be fishing from a bank. First, you need to locate the points where you feel the fish would congregate (see above). You would then prepare your rig adding your hook and weights to the line. It’s not been made clear in the Iowa rules if you can use a two-hook setup to catch these monster fish. This writer will find out and report back on it.

The strength of the line you use to catch these fish is important. You need to remember that you may run into snags when trying to catch these fish and have a need to break your line. But you will also need something strong enough to endure the possibility of a 40 to 50-pound fish. It’s recommended that you use a heavier monofilament line so you can break the line easier. However, braided line of heavier test (50 pounds or a little better) might be more beneficial so you don’t lose the fish.

The kind of rod that you use is important as well. I am going to use a South Bend, heavy duty medium action trolling rod that is eight feet six inches long. The rod needs to be durable and able to stand up to the heavy weight of a paddlefish or getting caught in a snag. Watch any of the videos that you see on paddlefish fishing and you will see that the rods are long and heavy. You can’t haul in a big paddlefish on a tiny rod.

I have been reading and researching the kind of reel that might be needed for paddlefish fishing and one that has a high gear ratio seems to be preferred. Larger reels that can hold several yards of line (because you are going to get snagged and lose some line, it’s a guarantee) and handle the rigors of reeling in a potential monster are needed.

I am going to use a Shakespeare Synergy Supreme heavier duty reel with a gear ratio of 5:2:1 which is not as good as a higher ratio reel. However, being this is my first time fishing for paddlefish, I am going to do some experimentation and see what works best for me. Next season, I will have made the proper adjustments to fish for paddlefish with solid equipment.

Finally, you need to decide what kind of weight you can use and where you can put the weight. The current in the Missouri and Big Sioux Rivers could be fast and the water could be high because of the spring melting that will be happening (hopefully) during the time of year to fish for paddlefish. I am going to bring a variety of weights with me ranging from a one-ounce weight up to a sixteen-ounce weight to see what works best. I plan to bring a variety of weights also in case I lose them to snags.

If you look at some of the rigs that are shown on YouTube, the weights are tied below the hook. That makes a lot of sense to me. After some practice tying up the rig, I plan to be ready to go with one just like I have seen on this video Paddlefish Rig Video as it seems to be the best.

I will share what I learned in a follow-up article.

When you do hook a fish, it’s important to reel it in carefully to make sure it doesn’t break your line. Sometimes, having a paddlefish break your line is unavoidable, however. Some fish have been known to put up a fight for an hour with an angler. You certainly don’t want to fight that long then lose the fish at the bank. You want to make sure your drag is set properly and that you are allowing the fish to tire himself out and eventually get reeled into shore. These fish are strong swimmers and will take a lot of effort to land.

Landing a paddlefish is a rewarding experience. It will be worth the time and effort to land one of these interesting looking fish. I have heard that they taste well fried or in steak form. They are said to taste a little bit like lobster.

I can’t wait to find out.

I will share my experiences fishing for paddlefish after I have gone fishing for them.

If you have any questions or comments to add, please let me know.