Giant Padlefish Caught in East Texas

Check out this huge paddlefish caught below Lake Livingston dam (incidentally) by alligator gar angler Sam Brown. Immediately following a quick picture, the fish was released alive back into the river. Paddlefish like this one are native to East Texas rivers, but they are now threatened in Texas due to loss of habitat. They are the oldest surviving animal species in North America—older than dinosaurs—truly a living fossil.  Paddlefish need large amounts of flowing water in order to reproduce, and the construction of reservoir dams has decreased their numbers.

Did you know . . .

Archaeology tells us that paddlefish have been around for over 300 million years!  Paddlefish are the oldest surviving animal species in North America – older than dinosaurs – truly a living fossil.  The first recorded sighting of a paddlefish was by explorer Hernando Desoto in the 1500s.  He saw them in the Mississippi River during his travels. 

Paddlefish can grow to be 7 feet long and up to 200 pounds. They have a long paddle-like snout (called a rostrum) and a skeleton made of cartilage like a shark. They have skin without scales like a catfish. Their snout (rostrum) gives them stability as they swim and helps them to find food.

Paddlefish move into free-flowing (not dammed) parts of rivers in the spring to lay their eggs on shallow gravel bars. Eggs stick to the bottom and hatch after about 9 days.

Paddlefish feed on tiny animals called plankton. They swim with their mouths wide open and filter zooplankton out of the water, rather like whales.  As a matter of fact, they’ve often been called “freshwater whales” for this reason.

Paddlefish are known for producing delicate caviar with a subtle smoky flavor.  It’s often dubbed as the “first-timer’s caviar” since it’s not as fishy tasting as other caviars.

There are two varieties of paddlefish:  the American paddlefish and Chinese paddlefish.  The Chinese paddlefish differs slightly from the American in that it has a more triangular, pointy snout and grows larger than its American relative.  The Chinese paddlefish may be extirpated from the wild in Asia. The American paddlefish is fairing reasonably well in some rivers within the Mississippi River-Basin, providing limited commercial gill-netting and recreation-snagging fisheries. Despite restoration efforts in Texas, paddlefish remain a state-listed threatened species and must be immediately released alive if caught. Of course, taking a quick photo to document such a neat encounter is fine, provided fish is handled gently and air-exposure is kept to a minimum.

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