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Lake life

It was the Russians. No kidding

When nothing else will bite, you can almost always catch a spoonbill catfish. At least in some places like Bayou D’Arbonne, especially in the deep channel and below the spillway of the lake.

And seriously, it was Russian collusion. If not collusion, then indirect influence.

Why are there so many spoonbill catfish in the Ouachita River drainage system? I went to one of my dark web fishing expert friends who filled me in, in code, of course.

You might be surprised to know that part of the answer to that question is related to the fall of the Soviet Union (that’s pretty much Russia for those of you who slept through 6th grade History class). Changes related to that historic event included a loss of organized protection for their Beluga Sturgeon. Those fish were the source of exquisite and expensive cavair. Overharvest ensued and the fishery collapsed. To meet demand processors turned to lesser known sources of caviar, like Louisiana’s paddlefish (aka spoonbill catfish).

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A Bayou D’Arbonne paddlefish.

Before long, those fish with the big nose were being snagged, eviscerated, and discarded in mass on the shorelines of spillway tailwaters in Louisiana. As a result, LDWF implemented strict regulations to protect paddlefish from overharvest in Louisiana. The action was successful and the species is secure in parts of it range now, like the Ouachita River drainage.

The current population is probably not too far away from normal abundance. They rarely venture too far from deeper water (like the D’Arbonne channel). Now that the water’s down a little, they may be more concentrated. Fact is, paddlefish are a native species that have coexisted with other native species for millennia. They are no threat.

So why do they seem to “bite” all the time? Well, it seems that paddlefish swim through life with their mouth gaped wide open all the time (kind of like CNN’s Jim Accosta). Except the paddlefish do it to feed their bodies, not their ego. They filter zooplankton from the water. It’s not hard to imagine how they snag our tiny crappie jigs in that big maw during the process of feeding.

Restrictions for sports fishermen have been lightened. You can keep a couple of them now, but there are length limits. If you are thinking about it, check the regulations. I can’t imagine you trying to explain why you got a ticket for a paddlefish violation at Sunday School. They tell me you can eat them, too. They apparently taste like a big mudcat that’s been left on a car hood for a few days.

Fisheries experts won’t talk it about it openly too much, but these fish will probably be one of the first casualties of the Asian carp invasion. They are direct competitors for the same food. Unfortunately, the carp reproduce at an overwhelming pace. Paddlefish don’t. I’m afraid that you may not be seeing too many paddlefish down the road, not that anybody will miss them. Isn’t that something. They survived the Russians. They survived us.

And now the Asian carp mafia may get them.


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