Fishing For Paddlefish & Oklahoma's Caviar Bounty

Learn how to reel in Oklahoma’s most unique fish, the paddlefish, and discover how you can help paddlefish research in the state through Oklahoma’s caviar industry.

Paddlefish can be found cruising the lake and river bottoms of northeast Oklahoma's waterways searching for food.

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Oklahoma, a leading steward in industries such as oil, energy and agriculture, is now diving headfirst into yet another world-class venture: caviar. In the pristine lakes and rivers of northeast Oklahoma, anglers are casting their lines for paddlefish, one of Oklahoma’s largest fish species and a producer of high-quality roe, or fish eggs. Leading the way on the forefront of paddlefish research, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation has seized the opportunity to not only learn more about this fish species, but also to meet the demands of a world market facing a shortage of European beluga caviar. Built as a headquarters for research and as a cleaning station for anglers, the Paddlefish Research Center in Miami is successfully producing first-class paddlefish caviar while funding ongoing research and cleaning anglers’ fish for free.

How Does it Work?

Located near Twin Bridges Area at Grand Lake State Park and developed in 2008, the Paddlefish Research Center welcomes anglers each spring during the annual paddlefish spawning run. The Processing Center safely cleans paddlefish that have been captured in the rivers and lakes of northeast Oklahoma and hands over the cleaned fillets in heat-sealed, packaged bags at absolutely no cost to the angler. During the process, workers at the Processing Center salvage the eggs from the female paddlefish and process the roe into a high-quality, ready-to-eat caviar, which is then sold on the international market.

Where Does the Money Go?

The proceeds from sales of Oklahoma paddlefish caviar are used as an alternative source of income for the Paddlefish Research Center. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation funnels the funds into ongoing paddlefish research, and also uses the funds to help finance projects such as improved fishing and boating access areas on Oklahoma’s lakes and rivers, paddlefish management, angler education and more. By regulating the state sale of roe, the Paddlefish Research Center is successfully decreasing poaching, which ensures the species’ conservation for future generations.

Fishing for Paddlefish

If you’re looking to snag your first Oklahoma paddlefish, or you want to take your fishing skills to new heights, you’ve come to the right place! Below you’ll find a series of links that will aid you in catching a record-breaking paddlefish in Oklahoma.

What do I need to fish for paddlefish?
Where do I find paddlefish in Oklahoma?
When is the best time of fish for paddlefish?
What are some tips for paddlefish fishing?
I caught a paddlefish! How do I get it cleaned for free?
What if I catch a tagged paddlefish?
How can I help paddlefish research in Oklahoma?

What do I need to fish for paddlefish**?**

* Anglers must have a valid fishing license and a paddlefish permit. Obtain your Oklahoma fishing license and paddlefish permit online, or purchase fishing licenses at local sporting goods stores, bait/tackle shops, convenience stores and even large discount centers, like Wal-Mart.

* 10 to 12-ft. heavy action fishing rod.

* Large capacity reel.

* Heavy, 50 lb. test line.

* 10/0 to 12/0 treble hook. Hooks must be barbless.

* 5 oz. to 1 lb. of weight, depending on if you are trolling or bank fishing.

* Duct tape and permanent marker for tagging.

* An up-to-date Oklahoma Fishing Guide. Know the regulations before you go fishing. Paddlefish information in this year's guide begins on page 14. Note: The daily paddlefish limit is currently set at one fish with no size limits. Caught paddlefish can be kept Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, statewide. A catch-and-release policy is in effect Mondays and Fridays. Anglers cannot have a paddlefish in their possession out in the field on these two days. Anglers can keep no more than two paddlefish per year. Once anglers have caught two paddlefish, they may continue fishing using the catch-and-release method only.

Where do I find paddlefish in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, paddlefish (also known as the spoonbill) are found mainly within Grand Lake, Lake Hudson and Fort Gibson Lake along the Grand (Neosho) River basin and the Arkansas River system. The Grand Lake area provides some of the best paddlefish fishing in the world. Paddlefish were also re-introduced in the early 1990s to Kaw, Oologah and Keystone lakes.

When is the best time to fish for paddlefish?

The ideal time to fish for paddlefish is during the spring spawning run, which occurs from the beginning of March through late April.

What are some tips for paddlefish fishing?

* Paddlefish are large (many weigh more than 50 lbs. and are often found weighing more than 100 lbs.), so think big when selecting tackle and equipment.

* Trolling and snagging are the best methods to use when fishing for paddlefish. You can successfully troll for paddlefish by dragging a hook and weight behind a moving boat.

* Leave the lures at home. Paddlefish feed on microscopic creatures that live on lake and river beds and will not bite a lure.

* To set the hook, cast the hook out and start reeling the hook back in. Make long sweeps with your fishing rod away from the hook, and then reel the slack line up. Tip the rod back towards your hook. Drag the line, hook and weight behind your boat. Watch for the rod to thump, then grab the rod and reel in your catch.

* Don't give up. The more time your hook is allowed to drag through the water, the better chances you have of hooking a paddlefish.

* Paddlefish are considered "kept" if they are not immediately released. Kept paddlefish must be tagged immediately with the angler's paddlefish permit number. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation suggests the use of duct tape around the bill and a permanent marker to tag your catch. Simply wrap the tape around the bill several times and write your entire permit number and name legibly on the tape.

* Having a hard time catching a paddlefish? Strike up a conversation with fellow anglers or employees at local fishing supply stores. Many fishermen enjoy helping out visiting anglers by sharing valuable tips!

I caught a paddlefish! How do I get it cleaned for free?

Congratulations on your big catch! To get your fish cleaned and packaged for free, simply drop off your paddlefish at the Paddlefish Research Center, located at 14801 S. Highway 137 in Fairland, Oklahoma. Anglers can also arrange to have their fish picked up in the field by calling (918) 542-9422. The Processing Center will then dispatch workers by truck or boat to pick up your fish.

Important things to remember:

* Fish must be alive. Dead fish will not be accepted by the Processing Center.

* Fish must be tagged with the angler's name and paddlefish permit number. Wrap the paddlefish bill with duct tape and write this information on the tape in permanent marker.

* To ensure that anglers receive the same fish they caught, the Processing Center hands out plastic tags with assigned tracking numbers for each fish. Have your tag available when picking up your cleaned and packaged fillets.

* Fillets must be picked up within 24 hours of drop-off.

* All anglers must login to to report their harvest.

What if I catch a tagged paddlefish?

If you catch a paddlefish with a metal tag, you have successfully captured a fish that is part of the Paddlefish Management research program, operated out of the Paddlefish Research Center. This program oversees the extensive process of netting, weighing, measuring and tagging Oklahoma paddlefish with metal tags, which are typically located on the front of the jaw. This information is used to estimate the percentage of the paddlefish population that is harvested each year.

You may keep both the tag and the fish, but the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation asks that you call (918) 299-2334 with information regarding your catch. Have the following information handy when you call: the date caught, the number on the tag, where the fish was caught, whether you kept the fish or released it back, and if the tag was removed before it was released. Other information that is helpful to researchers includes the width of the fish, length (measure from the front of the eye to the fork of the tail), sex (if harvested) and any abnormalities.

Anglers can also check their paddlefish tag online to find out when it was originally tagged, where it was tagged and the length of the fish when it was tagged. Check your tag here.

For other questions regarding tagged paddlefish, contact the Paddlefish Research Center’s resident biologist at (918) 686-3673.

How can I help paddlefish research in Oklahoma?

Angler-caught paddlefish information is increasingly useful. In order to aid the important paddlefish research that is being performed in Oklahoma and to ensure that the paddlefish population continues to thrive in Oklahoma’s lakes and rivers, all paddlefish anglers are encouraged to know the regulations before they go fishing, report tagged paddlefish and use the services of the Paddlefish Research Center for kept fish. The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the Paddlefish Research Center thank you for your participation.

Happy fishing!

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