If one were to visit a local tackle shop or mega fishing store here in Missouri this week, it would appear that you were in a coastal city. Heavy deep sea poles and saltwater gear are flying of the shelves. Baskets full of 100 pound test line, 10 ounce weights, and treble hooks as big as a fist, are being shuffled through the checkout lines. Did all Missouri anglers simultaneously win a salt water fishing trip? Nope, it's just Spoonie season!
Behold the mighty Spoonbill, prehistoric denizen of Midwestern waters! The Spoonbill or Paddlefish has a long rostrum or paddle mounted up front. It was long believed this paddle was used to stir up food from the bottom of creeks and reservoirs. Science has shown that the rostrum is actually full of top secret electronics to help the big fish locate food. Missouri's Spoonies hole up for the winter in deeper waters like Truman Lake, Lake of the Ozarks, and deeper portions of large rivers like the Missouri and Mississippi. When water starts to flow and the temperatures rise, the Spoonbill heads upstream and into tributaries to spawn.
Paddlefish feed by swimming with their mouth open and collecting microscopic zooplankton in their gill rakers. Since this is their only food source, a typical bait does not work for catching them. Whether from a boat or shore, the method used to catch a Spoonbill is "snagging". Typical gear is a 7 to 12 foot surf type rod, a saltwater flat reel, heavy 40 to 150 pound braided line, #10 or 12 treble hooks, and teardrop weights from 3 to 16 ounces. You will notice a wide range in equipment weight. Casting by a dam requires lighter gear to get much distance. Hooking a Spoonie while trolling from a boat is similar to snagging a fence post, so I would opt for the heavier gear.
Rigging the line for snagging is pretty simple. Tie the teardrop weight to the end of the line, then tie a large treble hook a couple feet above it. I like to add another treble hook 2 feet above the first. Some anglers use 3 or 4 hooks, but if snagging in smaller rivers and tributaries, underwater trees and snags become troublesome. If trolling, drop your line from the boat and let out a long (50-100yrds depending on water depth) length of line. While the boat trolls along, point your rod back at the water, then make a gradual pull up and over your shoulder. It's akin to setting the hook in slow motion. Repeat this process until you hook into a stump. Then you may cuss, straighten your hooks, and repeat.
If you are using a boat, it is best to have a driver who is not snagging. We adopted the practice of yelling "Fish On!" to alert the driver to shut'er down. Be sure to use the drag settings on your reel, or an inattentive boat driver will send you into the drink! The first time you snag a 7 foot, 160 pound Spoonie, your instincts will tell you you hooked a limb or underwater obstacle. Keep pressure on the line and you may be rewarded with a monster fish.