A new season has been added to our list of things to do -- paddlefishing

It was a major hoot! With the Big Bend powerhouse looming in the background, I'd anchor my feet in the jagged rocks at the tailrace water's edge, sit back on a sofa-sized boulder, and launch hooks and sinker with a rod as stiff as a pool cue. An ...

It was a major hoot! With the Big Bend powerhouse looming in the background, I'd anchor my feet in the jagged rocks at the tailrace water's edge, sit back on a sofa-sized boulder, and launch hooks and sinker with a rod as stiff as a pool cue. An 8-ounce sinker was tied beneath two menacing, tennis ball-sized treble hooks. My braided nylon line was 100-pound test. The paddlefish I sought averaged 50-65 pounds. My biggest ever went 94 pounds.

Now the real work began. I'd point the rod tip at the opposite bank and sweep it back a full 180 degrees. Then I'd point it back again at the far side while reeling in the slack as quickly as possible. It was work, hard work, and eventually one would slide into a mindless trance, only to be awakened when the hooks hit the proverbial brick wall in a bone-jarring collision. "Fish on!" I'd scream.

As you probably know, Lake Francis Case, the reservoir between the dams at Pickstown and Fort Thompson, once again has a paddlefish snagging season. It will run through the month of May, and it will include Francis Case Reservoir along with the White River up to the Highway 47 bridge. A special lottery drawn tag is needed. Don't accept today's column as everything you need to know about the new season. Read the regulations carefully!

If you assume the regulations are the same as they were back in the paddlefish snagging heyday of the '60s and early '70s, you are headed for trouble. Things were far more liberal in the old days. The following includes only some of the differences I noted when I read the new regulations.

First, we used to butcher our spoonbills immediately and put the chunks of boneless white meat in a plastic bag. Now, you take the entire tagged fish, including head, tail and skin, (you may remove the entrails) home with you, unless you are going to eat your fish on location.


Second, there is now a slot limitation. If the fish measures 35-45 inches between the eye and the slot in the tail, it goes back in the water immediately. We're talking big fish!

Third, you may use only one hook, single or treble, and it may not measure more than a half inch between the barb and the shank. (a No. 2 or smaller)

I've fished our South Dakota Missouri River impoundments since the early '60s, when Oahe and Big Bend were still under construction. If I were to choose one Missouri River scenario from the past, I'd pick our twice a week trips to Fort Thompson during the month of May and the first two weeks of June. I'm talking spring 1968 through the early '70s. My home bases during that period were Parkston and Burke. The fishing I'll talk about, and did describe in today's introduction, was a "sure thing."

A group of us, generally school employees, would sneak out as soon as possible after the 3:30 p.m. dismissal and head for Fort Thompson. We took turns driving. After a quick trip to the bait shop for minnows, we would park along the east river bank beneath the second light pole.

Generally, we had more anglers than snagging rigs, so some of us would go straight to snagging from the rip-rap while the others jigged from the bank beneath the light pole for walleyes and white bass. When a snagger nailed his spoonbill, he would turn his rig over to one of the jiggers. We would clean and package our own paddlefish as they were caught. The limit on paddlefish was one per day -- not one per season as it is today.

The jigging action was phenomenal. The walleye daily limit was eight, and the biggest ones, three- to four-pound fish, came early with the 15-inch fish hitting from sundown 'til dark. Big white bass hit every second or third cast, and the guys kept as many as they wanted. On Friday nights, I generally kept my limit of 50 as I didn't care what time I got to bed. There were many older folks who wanted fresh fillets back then, and with the red meat removed, white bass rival walleyes on the table. I added a few walleye fillets to their mix, but once on the table, telling one from the other was next to impossible.

One had to master the jigging technique. We used quarter-ounce jigs tipped with a minnow. You tossed the jig upstream so the current would wash it by you. Sometimes eddies would cause the water in front of you to flow toward the dam. Then you simply cast the jig downstream. You wanted the jig close to the bottom, a ledge that separated shallow water from deep water, when the line was tight and in the 12 o'clock position. Once there, you slowly jigged the jig back to you ... and hung on!

The above described location and technique should work today as well as it did 40 years ago -- the primary difference being the number of walleyes and today's limit restrictions. I'd like to try it again for old time's sake, but with today's gas prices, why drive to Fort Thompson when I live 12 miles from Pickstown?


From day one, I've always been one to have a camera along, and looking at the photos from those Fort Thompson days brings back fond memories. Our Parkston crew usually included Duane Metz, Ralph McGregor, Dave Walker, Jerry Shepherd and the late Bob Fink. Our Burke bunch was led by Art Jones and the late Andy Wayne Klein -- two of the finest people I've ever known.

At Pickstown, I like to tie up my boat to the concrete wall on the Gregory County side of the tailrace just above the beginning of the rip-rap. I then fish a minnow and jig in the same manner described above. I get mostly walleyes and white bass with occasional trout, bass, catfish, buffalo and snagged paddlefish. Though snagging is not permitted in South Dakota, inadvertently snagging a spoonbill is not illegal so long as it is released. Don't haul that paddlefish into your boat. A jig-snagged paddlefish will sometimes come out of the water like a tarpon! I see this wild action as kind of a bonus.

*See you next week.

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