HomeOutdoorsNewsStunning jet black paddlefish caught (and released) by Oklahoma Angler

Stunning jet black paddlefish caught (and released) by Oklahoma Angler

by Jon D. B.
black paddlefish
Paddlefish caught by Oklahoma Paddlefish Guide Service May, 2023. Tulsa County. (Photo courtesy of Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, ODWC)

We love a good catch and release for native species, and this solid-black paddlefish is a perfect example of why.

When a fish is this remarkable, it’s a true shame to kill it for the sake of sport. Thankfully, Oklahoma Paddlefish Guide Service practiced catch and release after reeling in this beautiful stark black adult on Monday, May 22 in Tulsa County.

There’s definitely some unusual pigmentation going on here. But as the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation (ODWC) explains, all paddlefish have the ability to be pitch black in coloration. We “rarely see this in wild, adult fish,” however.

PHOTO: Oklahoma Paddlefish Guide Service May, 2023. Tulsa County. Courtesy of Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, ODWC)

“When adult paddlefish spend extended time in shallower tailwater habitats, where the water clarity may be greater, they will take on a darker coloration, sometimes almost black,” ODWC continues. “It is likely that this paddlefish spent some time in clear, shallow water, effectively getting a dark suntan.”

Fascinatingly, as the dept. pinpoints, you can actually see this adult’s “tan lines” around the gill cover:

PHOTO: Oklahoma Paddlefish Guide Service May, 2023. Tulsa County. Courtesy of Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, ODWC)

So why don’t we see this more often? “This example could be a combination of a melanistic fish and the normal effects of shallow clear habitats on paddlefish coloration,” ODWC notes.

Paddlefish are endangered in many places, including Oklahoma

Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula), spoonbill or paddlers for short, are unique freshwater fish identifiable by their long, unique paddle-esque snouts and cartilaginous skeletons. And it’s important to note that paddlefish are endangered in many parts of their native range.

Paddlefish are native to North America, primarily found in rivers and lakes in the Mississippi River basin. This includes the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio Rivers. Over the years, paddlefish populations have faced numerous threats, including habitat degradation, overfishing, dam construction, pollution, and loss of migratory routes. These factors have contributed to their decline and designation as endangered or threatened in various states.

Specifically, Polyodon spathula is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in some states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

A deeper look at that darker color

The majority of paddlefish sport a gray or bluish-gray coloration on their bodies. Black is among their naturally-occurring colors, but seeing one completely jet black like this is a stunning rarity. This dark coloration can be due to a few factors:

  1. Melanin pigmentation: Melanin is a pigment responsible for the coloration of skin, hair, and scales in animals. It can produce various shades ranging from light to dark. Paddlers with higher levels of melanin in their skin and scales may appear black or very dark in color.
  2. Genetic variation: Genetic variations within a species can lead to differences in coloration. Some paddlers may carry genetic traits that result in darker pigmentation, leading to a black appearance.
  3. Environmental factors: The coloration of fish can also be the result of environmental factors such as water quality, sedimentation, and light conditions. In some cases, paddlers living in habitats with darker or murkier water may exhibit darker coloration as a form of camouflage or adaptation to their environment.

Young paddlefish may also sport different coloration compared to adults, which can change as they mature.

ODWC celebrating that “This paddlefish was released back to go fight another rod, another day!” is fantastic to see for all of the reasons above. Good on you, gents!

For a more typical coloration yet gigantic size, see this paddlefish record shattered with largest fish ever caught in Tennessee.