Skip to main content

Right Fish, Wrong Day for 'Record' Paddlefish

Heartbreaker: Record-sized fish caught, released on Valentine's Day doesn't count.

Right Fish, Wrong Day for 'Record' Paddlefish

Tulsa angler Justin Hamlin landed this massive state record sized paddlefish from Oklahoma’s Keystone Lake on Valentine’s Day. (Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Mefford)

For Tulsa angler Justin Hamlin, Valentine's Day 2020 brought joy and heartbreak within a few moments.

Fishing with Jeremiah Mefford and the Reel Good Time Guide Service on Oklahoma’s Keystone Lake, Hamlin reeled in a fish that would have set a state record and potentially a world record.

It would have been a record if the fish had been caught on another day, that is.

Thanks to a unique Sooner State regulation that helps conserve big paddlefish, Hamlin's fish—caught on a Friday—had to be released back into the water.


"What an incredible fish,” said the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation in a Facebook post. "During a guided trip on Keystone last Friday, Justin Hamlin caught the fish of a lifetime. The estimated 157-pound behemoth paddlefish would eclipse the current world record by more than an estimated 10 pounds and would have smashed our state record of 132 pounds!"


The Wrong Day for a Fishing Record

But as stated above, Hamlin's potential record-smashing fish—known officially as an American paddlefish, or Polyodon spathula—won't be acknowledged as a state record. The humongous fish was weighed on hand-held scales in the boat and released back into Keystone Lake as required by a unique Oklahoma law.

ODWC noted in its Facebook post that "… regulations for more than a decade have required all paddlefish snagged on Mondays and Fridays be released immediately to help protect these unique fish from over-harvest. The fish was not eligible to be recorded as a state and world record. But the good news is that Justin released the fish and it is still out there for someone to catch again."

"We shattered the state record but we couldn't keep it to take it for an official weight because Fridays and Mondays are catch-and-release-only days." Mefford told the Tulsa World newspaper. "It was a monster, so that was a heart-breaker."

On Valentine’s Day, no less.




What's the World Record for Paddlefish?

As noted by ODWC, the Hamlin paddlefish could have held even loftier claims if it had been officially weighed in. While there is no official world record in the International Game Fish Association records—the IGFA does not recognize snagged fish—it’s possible that Hamlin’s fish could have been the largest paddlefish landed in the world.

But while the IGFA doesn’t recognize snagged paddlefish, the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame does. Various media reports indicate that a 144-pound specimen caught in a 10-acre Kansas pond by Clinton Boldridge back in 2004 is the NFWFHOF’s world record for the species.

And there’s also the belief that a paddlefish speared in Iowa back in 1916 is perhaps the biggest specimen ever recorded. It was indicated to weigh in excess of 198 pounds, according to a 1986 paddlefish status report by Thomas W. Gengerke.

Recommended


OKPaddlefish
Unfortunately, Hamlin couldn’t claim the record since Oklahoma regulations mandate that paddlefish caught on certain days of the week be released back into the water. (Photo courtesy of Jeremiah Mefford)

Will We See It Again?

There's the hope that Hamlin’s giant paddlefish might someday be caught again.

That seems entirely possible since Mefford has reportedly become quite adept at guiding clients to the big fish on Keystone. In recent weeks, he's had several clients land 100-plus pound paddlefish, a streak that includes the new official lake record, a 125.8-pounder caught on Feb. 2 by 12-year-old angler Case Rowland.

Given Mefford’s developing prowess in catching big paddles on Keystone, it would seem that the chances of Hamlin’s fish being caught again are somewhat greater than they might normally be.

A large, primitive species that excels in the Red, Arkansas, and Grand River systems, paddlefish are a popular Sooner State target. ODWC is known far and wide for having one of the top paddlefish management programs in the nation. That management annually produces huge fish and lures anglers from around the nation who want to catch one of the prehistoric-looking fish.

Sooner State Paddlefish Reputation

That reputation is well-deserved. In addition to Hamlin's big catch a few days ago, the current official Oklahoma rod-and-reel paddlefish record is a 132-pound, 8-ounce fish snagged, weighed, and released back into the Arkansas River (above Keystone Lake) on April 29, 2018 by angler Larry Morphew.

Morphew's record beat the previous state record mark from the Arkansas River, a 125-pound, 7-ounce giant snagged by Aaron Stone in April 2011.

Incidentally, the Sooner State's largest unrestricted division state record paddlefish is a 134-pounder snagged on a trotline in Grand Lake by angler Charles Ham in August 1992.

While Hamlin won't know the satisfaction of an official record, he will know he caught what is almost certainly the largest paddlefish ever snagged in Oklahoma or elsewhere.

With any sort of luck, it's only a matter of time before an angler lands such a record-breaking fish on a day that the brute can be officially weighed and recorded as a benchmark catch for Oklahoma.

Why is that? Because Oklahoma continues to champion the unique species. In fact, ODWC notes in a separate news release that back in 1992, Oklahoma fisheries biologists began an effort to re-introduce paddlefish using hatchery-raised fish to help re-establish them in waters where they had been eradicated.

The Future for Paddlefish

This ODWC effort enabled self-sustaining populations of paddlefish to become established in a number of places across the Sooner State, fish that anglers have been reeling in with increasing frequency over the last few years.

That trend should continue for the foreseeable future thanks to the ODWC Paddlefish Research Center opened in Miami, Okla., in February 2008. Operating in March and April each year, ODWC biologists at the PRC conduct research, collect biological data, salvage paddlefish eggs, and even process paddlefish fillets for anglers who cooperate with the program.

According to the agency, each paddlefish brought into the PRC is examined by biologists who are seeking to gather information concerning the health of the paddlefish population. Eggs harvested from females are processed into caviar that is sold in worldwide markets. Proceeds from those sales fund ongoing research for the species, gains additional angler access to Oklahoma waters, and supports other ODWC conservation efforts.

ODWC reports that information gleaned from the state’s paddlefish research continues to guide management decisions, creates an important revenue stream necessary for management, and gives cooperating anglers some great tasting paddlefish meat. All in all, it's a win-win scenario for Oklahoma, its paddlefish population, and the anglers who eagerly participate.

As long as you catch your giant paddlefish on the right day, that is!

Editor’s Note: To contact Mefford, see the guide service’s Facebook page or call 918-695-0296

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Sometimes you have to fish a bait that allows you to cover a lot of water efficiently. When you're on the search for bass that have moved into deeper water off the bank and away from obvious holding spots, a swimbait can locate them.
Fishing

On the Search with Swimbaits

One of the best imitations of a wounded baitfish is the soft-plastic jerkbait, or fluke. A fluke darting just beneath the surface can be too much for a bass to resist. Rig it and fish it according to water conditions and cover to make this great bait even more effective.
Fishing

Fun with Flukes

There are three models in SPRO's Outsider crankbait series: 55 (runs 3-4 feet), 60 (7-9) and 80 (19-21). Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley goes over the specifics at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.
Fishing

SPRO's New Outsider Crankbait Series: First Look

Professional bass angler Jonathan Kelley highlights the features of SPRO's new lures at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.
Gear

New Essential Series Spinnerbaits and Buzzbaits from SPRO

Syd Ribes with Sea Falcon highlights four new lures for saltwater fishing. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.
Gear

New Lineup of Lures from Sea Falcon

Syd Ribes highlights two new saltwater lures from SPRO: Flutter Tail Shrimp and Cannon Ball Jig. At ICAST 2022 in Orlando.
Gear

New Saltwater Lures from SPRO

AFTCO's Matt Florentino highlights the features of the new Barricade cold-weather suit, a Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022 in Orlando. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.
Gear

New from AFTCO: Barricade Cold Weather Tactical Gear

Three-time ICAST Best of Category winner Bubba covers it all with new knives set. With Bubba's Matt Kinamore and Game & Fish's  Adam Heggenstaller at ICAST 2022 in Orlando.
Gear

4-in-1 Bubba Multi Flex Cutlery Kit

The innovative landing net will weigh and measure your catch while it's still in the net. Best of Category winner at ICAST 2022. With Game & Fish's Adam Heggenstaller.
Gear

Award-Winning Frabill Witness Net 'Keeps You Honest'

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit mymagnow.com and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now