Paddlefish season is slowest in a decade

Hunter Herbaugh
Sunday, June 6, 2021
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Jeremy Rudolph of Dickinson snagged an 80-lb. paddlefish on Saturday. The largest fish brought in to be processed at Intake this year was 96 pounds. Submited photo

Though recent rains helped somewhat, this year’s paddlefish season is still progressing slowly. As very dry conditions have led to a lower river level than normal, paddlefish have been slow to make their way upstream, resulting in the slow season. As of June 2, there have been a total of 312 paddlefish harvested out of the season limit of 1,000.

“It’s all based on what the river’s doing and that’s what’s been so lax,” said Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 7 Fisheries Manager Mike Backes.

According to Backes the recent rains have helped pick-up the catch rate by providing “pulses” of water that are driving the fish further upstream but not in a sustained fashion. Intake, normally a hotspot of activity, has been particularly slow, with the fish caught at the site making a up a very small portion of the total harvested amount. So far, only about 33 harvested fish have actually been caught at Intake with the rest being caught elsewhere and taken there for processing.

To point out just how slow the season is going, Backes noted that over the last 10 years, the season has ended, on average, after 11 harvest days. The 11th harvest day this year fell on June 2, and the total amount caught is nowhere near the limit.

“The last 10 years, the average number of harvest days has been 11, and right now we’re not even half way yet. We’re way behind,” Backes said.

This slow season has had some benefit though, as those who have previously never participated in the sport have had the opportunity to do so now.

“I think what we’re probably starting to see, and we’re definitely hearing it in phone calls at the front office, because the season is dragging out a little bit longer, we’re getting a lot of folks calling, saying ‘hey, we hear your season is still open, we’ve never done this, we want to come try,’” he said.

This has led to some misunderstanding though, as Backes confirmed that there have been some accidental harvests on days designated for catch-and-release fishing. These instances have generally been chalked up to someone not understanding which days are harvest day and which are not, but the fish caught have been counted toward the total harvest amount anyway.

One thing that has not slowed down the season however, is the construction on the diversion dam project at Intake. The project has closed off Joe’s Island, a popular fishing spot, but otherwise hasn’t had much of an effect. In fact, Backes said that since the bypass channel isn’t complete yet, the dam would actually be concentrating the fish if the river was flowing as high and fast as it has in previous years.

“It could have, if the river would have jumped up real high right away and got the fish to Intake, it would have concentrated them more than in the past because there isn’t a side channel for them to go around. So it should have actually made things better, but we just haven’t had that wave of fish to get that far up yet,” he said.

Looking forward, recent days with high temperatures will likely contribute to more snow melt in the mountains, sending another pulse of water this way.

Backes noted this could make for at least a couple days of improved fishing, but added it will likely be shortlived.

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