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Watch: North Dakota Fisherman Snags Giant Paddlefish, Tying the State Record

Angler fights paddlefish from shore; angler weighs paddlefish.
Angler fights paddlefish from shore; angler weighs paddlefish.

On May 3, just two days into North Dakota’s brief paddlefish snagging season, Tyler Hughes and his wife were at a prime spot on the banks of the Yellowstone River. They were fishing near Fairview, roughly five miles upstream from where the Yellowstone flows into the Missouri River. They’d spent the morning casting out a big, 10/0 treble hook attached to a 5-ounce weight, but by 10 a.m., Hughes realized he wasn’t prepared to land a heavyweight paddlefish if they snagged one. He’d forgotten his long-handled gaff. “That’s when I jumped back in my truck and drove back to our campsite to get my gaff,” Hughes tells Outdoor Life. “I returned to the river with my gaff about 30 minutes later and started casting. At 11 a.m. I hooked something big that I thought was a rock or log. But then it started moving, and I knew I’d hooked a big paddlefish.” Using a 10-foot spinning rod spooled with 75-pound test braided line, Hughes battled the fish for around 15 minutes. The fish was snagged in its side, and it ran it all the way across the muddy stretch of river, where it threatened to break off. “The fish took all 250 yards of my braided line, and the knot connecting it to my 30-pound test monofilament backing line was headed out of the rod guides,” Hughes says. “I knew I had to get the mono back onto the reel because the river is full of snags and the fish would break the mono for sure.” The basic snagging rig Hughes used to catch his paddlefish. Photo courtesy Tyler Hughes After gaining back some line, Hughes walked a short distance upstream. He eventually muscled the fish toward the shore, and he swung it downstream where his wife and several other people were standing. Video footage recorded that day shows their friends Joe Martino, Kellan Geiger, and Taylor Schwede sticking the fish with two gaffs, then dragging it out of the Yellowstone and onto dry land. It wasn’t an easy haul, and the fish lost some blood and eggs in the process. “I knew it was a big one, but didn’t think about a record catch [at first],” Hughes explains. “But we loaded it into my truck, and I took it to a weigh station in Williston where a company cleans paddlefish in exchange for keeping the roe [for] caviar.” Tyler Hughes holds up his paddlefish, which officially ties the state record set in 2016. Photo courtesy Tyler Hughes Hughes’ paddlefish weighed 131 pounds on the certified scales there, and it measured 74 inches long. State officials witnessed the weigh-in, and on Tuesday the North Dakota Game and Fish Department announced that the fish officially ties the standing state record for the species, which was caught in 2016 from the Missouri River near its confluence with the Yellowstone. Read Next: How To Catch Giant Paddlefish with Giant Hooks Hughes says he thinks his fish could have been even heavier, as it was three inches longer than the 2016 record. (It’s possible that the NDGFD made a record-keeping mistake because it lists Hughes’ fish as 53 inches long in the record book but says it was 74 inches long in a press release. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.) “The caviar company got about 30 pounds of roe from my fish, and the state folks say it may have spewed some eggs before it was weighed,” Hughes says. “The two big gaff holes also caused a lot of blood loss, so it may have weighed more. But I’m so grateful. It was a surreal catch.”