The world record for paddlefish taken with rod and reel will likely fall to a giant 146.7-pound Oklahoma monster snagged at Keystone Lake on June 28 by James Lukehart of Edmond.
The massive fish was confirmed as the official new state record for that species, beating the previous record of 143 pounds set just over a month ago by Jeremiah Mefford of Kiefer, who was on hand to see his state record fall by the wayside.
Mefford is a fishing guide, and Lukehart was his client when he snagged the huge paddlefish. Mefford provided a witness signature on the record fish affidavit.
The standing rod-and-reel world-record American paddlefish, taken from a Kansas pond in 2004, is listed at 144 pounds. The largest American paddlefish on record, taken by a spearfisherman in Iowa in 1916, reportedly weighed 198 pounds.
Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Senior Fisheries Biologist Jason Schooley and Fisheries Technician Eric Brennan were able to quickly travel to Keystone Lake to weigh and certify the potential world-record fish.
Lukehart’s monster measured 70.5 inches in length and 45 inches in girth. Under the guidance of ODWC, the fish was released and monitored after official measurements were taken.
Paddlefish are filter feeders and do not go after bait, so the preferred method to catch them is by snagging. Most fishing record-keepers do not recognize fish caught by snagging. Schooley said Lukehart’s catch will become the recognized rod-and-reel world record after publication in scientific literature.
Several variables lined up in order for the record paddlefish to be certified by the Wildlife Department. The fish was snagged on a Sunday, a day when harvest is allowed. (Paddlefish regulations prohibit harvest on Mondays and Fridays, and ODWC will not certify any paddlefish records on those days.) Also, ODWC employees were nearby and were able to respond in a timely manner to certify the fish and complete the affidavit.
The paddlefish is a primitive species, with a fossil record dating to the age of the dinosaurs about 75 million years ago. Resembling a shark, it has smooth skin and a skeleton mostly of cartilage.
A long paddle-like blade, called a rostrum, extends forward from the fish’s head. The rostrum is covered with tens of thousands of sensory receptors that enable the fish to detect weak electrical fields produced by zooplankton, its primary food.
Oklahoma’s paddlefish population is recognized as among the healthiest in the nation, and the sport of snagging paddlefish draws anglers from across the country. The Wildlife Department’s paddlefish management program involves an extensive process of netting, weighing, measuring and marking paddlefish with metal bands on the lower jaw. For several months every year, the Department operates the Paddlefish Research Center near Miami, Okla.
The American paddlefish roams lakes and rivers of the Mississippi and Missouri river basins. Paddlefish were once abundant across their range but have declined in many areas. These fish can live 25-30 years in Oklahoma.
Anglers wanting to experience battling these large fish are required to have a state fishing license (unless exempt) and a free paddlefish permit. Regulations for paddlefish snagging can be found here in the Oklahoma Fishing Regulations Guide.
Several state-licensed fishing guides offer paddlefish snagging trips. A list of state-licensed fishing guides can be found here on the Wildlife Department’s website.