PRATT – Anglers are eager for warm weather and time on the water, and one of the hallmarks of spring fishing is the opening of the paddlefish snagging season. But hold on, it’s not as easy as showing up on opening day. While there are several rivers in southeast Kansas where paddlefish snagging is allowed, conditions must be right for paddlefish to be present.
The Kansas paddlefish season runs March 15–May 15 during the annual spring spawning run. Paddlefish may be taken in posted areas inside Chetopa and Burlington city parks on the Neosho River; on the Neosho River at Iola, downstream from the dam to the city limits; on the Marais des Cygnes River below Osawatomie Dam, downstream to a posted boundary; on the Marais des Cygnes River on the upstream boundary of the Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area, downstream to the Kansas-Missouri border; and the Browning Oxbow of the Missouri River (Doniphan County).
Water temperatures of 50-55 degrees and an increase in river flow will start paddlefish moving upstream out of reservoirs. Most Kansas paddlefish are caught from the Neosho River at Chetopa, but for paddlefish to be present there requires a significant increase in river flow. It’s a good idea to call local Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism offices or area bait shops for river and angler updates before traveling to a site.
Paddlefish have been around for more than 300 million years, and these large, prehistoric looking fish are unique in several ways. First, they are similar to sharks in that their skin is scaleless and smooth, and their skeleton is made of cartilage rather than bones. And second, they are filter feeders, eating only microscopic zooplankton. As a result, they can only be caught by snagging. Kansas waters commonly produce paddlefish weighing 30-60 pounds, and the world record paddlefish that weighed 144 pounds was caught in Kansas.
Paddlefish anglers must have a paddlefish permit ($12.50 for adults, $7.50 for youth), which includes six carcass tags. Because the permit includes carcass tags, it must be purchased in-person from a license vendor or by calling 1-800-918-2877, in which case permit and carcass tags will be mailed. Permit-holders can snag up to two fish per day, and six for the season. Unless exempt, paddlefish snaggers must also have a Kansas fishing license.
Paddlefish may be snagged using pole and line with not more than two single or treble hooks. Barbless hooks must be used in Chetopa City Park. Catch and release is allowed in Burlington, Chetopa, and Iola, except that once attached to a stringer, a fish becomes part of the daily creel limit. There is a 24-inch minimum length limit for fish snagged in the Missouri River boundary waters, and there is a 34-inch minimum length limit for fish snagged on the Marias des Cygnes River.
Immediately upon harvest, anglers must sign a carcass tag, record the county, date and time of harvest, and attach the tag to the lower jaw of the paddlefish. Paddlefish caught out of season or in non-snagging areas may be kept only if they are hooked inside the mouth.