Raging waters just above Yellowstone's Intake Inversion Dam signal that we are in the right spot. Swarms of paddlefish are making their annual spring journey up the river to spawn. And this spring, we are lined along the shoreline, fishing pole in hand in anticipation of a battle with prehistoric giant fish, aka Paddlefish.
Our trucks pulled into the campground late Friday evening, and there was a buzz of activity along the Intake. Campfires burned brightly, fishing poles propped up against campers, laughter in the air, and hopes of tight lines in the morning filled the thoughts of each fisherman.
The steady fall of rain that night soaked the ground thoroughly, and with the looks of things, the onslaught of rain wasn't going to lighten up. It would be a day of wet fishing and muddy boots. But since I don't think the fish care if it rains, we didn't let it stop us. After a big breakfast of steak and eggs we were off to reel in the big one... muddy boots and all!
The method used to reel in paddlefish is unique and maybe even unorthodox to some. A giant treble is added to the end of the line followed by a heavy lead sinker. Snagging. I honestly was a bit hesitant to use the snagging method to catch these fish. However, there is a very good reason to replace lure with treble. Simply put... it is the only option to catch these monsters. Their diet consist of zooplankton which is scooped up in their uniquely shaped mouths. It simply is not feasible to use microscopic organisms as bait on a lure. And much to my relief, the biologists in the area closely monitor the caught fish. The snagging doesn't seem to even affect a fish caught and released back into the river unharmed.
They truly do manage these fish well in Montana. On non-release days, all paddlefish must be weighed and checked in. After a total of 1,000 fish are caught, fishing is shut down for the season. Part of the excitement along the shore is keeping tabs on the white board where a total fish caught for the day is recorded, along with the biggest catch of the day!
An option provided after weighing in your fish is to trade the Roe from your caught fish in exchange for free fish cleaning. What is the "Roe" you ask? It is the eggs from large female paddlefish, often referred to as Yellowstone Caviar in fine restaurants.
Unfortunately, our time along the shoreline didn't result in an epic paddlefish battle, so I never had the chance to exchange fish eggs for the free cleaning. The paddlefish amongst the water were scarce, but every once and awhile someone would yell "Fish on!" and lines would quickly be reeled in, so that the guy with bent rod could battle it out along the shoreline. Even though we didn't get to yell those two little words, our arms and shoulders told a different story. An afternoon of casting and reeling in a line secured with a heavy lead sinker, in swift Yellowstone River waters does one thing... leaves you searching for pain relieving cream or a back rub!
We had a blast trying to tag our paddlefish. This is one fishing adventure I would do again. I think it would be fun to bring a group of friends next time! Maybe we will see you in along the shoreline of the Yellowstone River one spring. There is plenty of room around our campfire!
Check out this quick video clip of a paddlefish caught, tagged, and measured.
(It was a catch and release day)