This Oklahoma Lake Is Serving Up Anglers Monster 100-Pound Paddlefish

by Taylor Cunningham

Anglers on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake O’ The Cherokees are still reeling in giant paddlefish even though the prime season has ended. And one fisherman even caught a 102 monster just this week.

“This is the latest in the year that we’ve ever caught a 100-pounder,” fishing guide Pritchard told Field and Stream. “November 1 to March is usually the best window for a big one.”

Grand Lake is one of the only places in the U.S. where paddlefish breed naturally and freely. In most lakes, people have to stock the fish to keep them plentiful. But in this Ohlamoma spot, anglers can catch the fish with ease.

Because the species freely spawn there, scientists have taken to studying the fish that come out of the lake. The Paddlefish Research Center (PRC) began studying Grand Lake paddlefish back in 2008. And since then, they’ve examined more than 22,000 of them.

PRC will even clean and bag catches free of charge if fishermen allow the center to study the fish beforehand.

The strange-looking fish gets its name because it has what looks like a paddle coming out of its face. And science is so interested in them because they’ve been around since before the dinosaurs. They’re filter feeders that eat zooplankton. And they can live up to 50 years, which is how they get so monstrous.

Oklahoma Anglers Use a Snagging Method to Catch Giant Paddlefish

Paddlefish can be tricky to catch, though. Unlike most other fish, they have no teeth nor do they have instincts to snatch bait or lures. So anglers have to catch them by snagging.

“We developed a deep-water trolling technique more than 20 years ago,” Pritchard said. “We use Dreamweaver divers (similar to Dipsy Divers) to get the 12/0 treble hook down to where we’re marking the fish. In the winter, most fish will be in the main river channel. We find a big school, get our divers down and then the rest of it is mostly luck. The 102-pounder came out of 80 feet of water.”

People have had plenty of luck bringing them in with that technique, too. According to Pritchard, who has been a guide on the Oklahoma lake for 25 years, it’s not uncommon to reel in an 80 pounder. And the largest catch was a staggering 110.8 lbs. Pritchard has even snagged one that weighed in at 107 lbs just last year.

And the best thing about the giant paddlefish is that they’re easy to bring in. Unlike most monster swimmers, fat paddlefish aren’t fighters.

“They’re pretty sluggish in the wintertime,” he said. “It’s the 30-pound males that pull the hardest.”

“They have no energy to go upriver to spawn,” Pritchard continued. “They just lay around in the channel and get fat. That’s why we call them ‘landmines.’ You hit one every so often.”