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Show Me the Record Book: New World Record Paddlefish Reported in Missouri

The new record came on St. Patrick's Day on Lake of the Ozarks.

Show Me the Record Book: New World Record Paddlefish Reported in Missouri

While fishing on Lake of the Ozarks with Jason Smith and his Smith’s Fishing Adventures guide service out of Warsaw, Mo., St. Patrick’s Day brought some world-class angling luck to angler Chad Williams (second from right) and his group of angling friends in the form of a world record paddlefish weighing 164 pounds, 13 ounces. The big Show Me State catch overtakes the previous world-record mark of a 164-pound paddlefish, caught on Oklahoma’s Keystone Lake back in June 2021. (Photo courtesy of Smith’s Fishing Adventures / Warsaw, Mo.)

For several years now, Oklahoma has had a stranglehold on the world record paddlefish benchmark with a handful of Sooner State specimens one-upping one another in rapid-fire succession.

But not anymore, not since Olathe, Kan., angler Chad Williams snagged what appears to be a new world record for the species thanks to Williams’ 164-pound, 13-ounce paddlefish pulled from the Lake of the Ozarks on Sunday, March 17, 2024.

Barring any hiccups in the certification and paperwork process, Williams’ behemoth spoonbill seems poised to become the new world record maintained by the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wis.

It’s worth noting that the International Game Fish Association, the longtime keeper of angling records from around the globe, doesn’t recognize snagged fish in its record-keeping system. The reason why is that traditionally, the filter-feeding paddlefish with its outsized rostrum—or spoonbill as many call it—can’t be caught with traditional rod, reel and hook methods and must be snagged. 

While the IGFA doesn’t recognize snagged paddlefish, the FWFHOF and its museum does, and that gives anglers and paddlefish enthusiasts a benchmark for the ancient-looking piscatorial species to be compared to. 

Prior to the recent Oklahoma spoonbill surge that began a few years ago, the previous FWFHOF benchmark came from a specimen that various media reports indicate was a 144-pound specimen caught in a 10-acre Kansas pond by Clinton Boldridge in 2004. And years before that, Ed Godfrey, outdoor scribe for The Oklahoman newspaper, notes that the FWFHOF’s benchmark for spoonbills was a 142-pound, 8-ounce specimen snagged in 1973 on the Missouri River in Montana.

And that brings us back to Williams’ epic catch in the Show Me State on St. Patrick’s Day. But after he wrestled the giant spoonbill into the boat, the world-class catch left all of his angling friends turning green with envy.

With the Missouri Department of Conservation's March 15-to-May 15 paddlefish snagging season being only two days old, Williams noted in an MDC news release that he had no previous experience with the angling method of snagging prior to getting aboard the boat of Smith's Fishing Adventures. But once he did, it wasn't long before record-book history was being made.

"I was lucky enough to get invited to go out snagging with friends,” Williams said in the MDC release. “I’d never been snagging before. Never seen a paddlefish – didn’t even know what it was!” 




Even so, it wasn't long after getting out onto the water of the 54,000-acre reservoir in central Missouri that Williams was hooked up with something big. And once that hookup happened, it set into motion a rod-bending, knuckle-busting, back-straining battle that left Williams taxed to the limit.

"I was thinking I was extremely weak because it was taking so long to reel in," he said. "My body was aching.” 

That's understandable, since few anglers in history have ever tangled with a paddlefish in that size range.

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Once the big showdown piscatorial battle in Missouri was completed—and according to guide Jason Smith on his Facebook page, the fish was so big that it likely wouldn't have made it aboard the boat without the help of his deckhand—everyone was in disbelief concerning the catch, understanding immediately that they had a record-book contender.

The path to that paddlefish record was then set into motion, and soon, the group was meeting with staff of MDC's Fisheries and Protection unit at Three Brothers Meat Company in Montreal, Mo., to record the fish's weight on a certified scale. 

When the digital numbers settled on the final weight tally, it presumabley breaks the previous Lake of the Ozarks lake record of 140 pounds, according to MDC’s Pritchard, as well as the world mark.

That previous world record mark was a 164-pound paddlefish snagged from Keystone Lake near Tulsa, Okla., on June 22, 2021, when Grant Rader was fishing aboard the boat of renowned paddlefish guide Jeremiah Mefford. Rader, who was then 18 years old and celebrating his graduation from high school with a fishing trip to the Sooner State, couldn’t have picked a better spot or guide, as it turns out.

His record catch was from northeastern Oklahoma, a hotbed for big paddlefish, and yet another big spoonbill having been pulled aboard the boat of Mefford, who has learned the art of using Garmin LiveScope in to find these normally hard-to-find fish.

Like the twisters that Oklahoma is famous for, Rader's catch some three years ago was part of a whirlwind run where the Sooner State cemented itself as the center of the paddlefishing universe, much of that thanks to Mefford's guiding efforts.

Beginning on Valentine's Day in 2020, a record-book-smashing run began with a huge catch that wasn't able to be recorded since Tulsa area angler Justin Hamlin snagged a fish that unofficially weighed 157 pounds. But since the catch came on a day deemed a "no harvest day" under the paddlefish management guidelines established by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, it had to be immediately turned back into the water.

A few weeks later, on May 23, 2020—as the world was emerging from the COVID-19 shutdowns—the guide actually guided himself, with Mefford boating a paddlefish from Keystone that weighed 143 pounds, good enough for a new Oklahoma state record but missing the world record by a single pound!

Barely a month later, Keystone Lake and Mefford were up to their old tricks again as James Lukehart of Edmond snagged a world-record-setting 146.7-pound paddlefish while aboard the guide's boat. That June 28, 2020 paddlefish was so massive that the photo of the spoonbill looked almost otherworldly, like some creature from the depths of a 23,600-acre reservoir in Oklahoma's prairie country.

But even then, the ongoing saga of Oklahoma's sudden status as paddlefish-angling hot spot wasn't finished since Cory Watters and his then 9-year-old son Stetson went paddlefish angling with Mefford on Keystone Lake that same summer. And, on July 23, 2020, it was Watters turn to land another behemoth Sooner State spoonbill, this time a 151.9-pounder world record.

Two paddlefish world records, one near miss, and a record-smashing catch that couldn't be counted, all in short order, all in the same state, and all from the same lake with the same guide, now that’s a pure bedlam angling run.

But the great rush of the Oklahoma paddlefish run into the record book’s stratosphere crawled to a halt, not being revisited until the following summer when Rader brioke the record on June 22, 2021, with his 164-pounder.

And after that, it was a nearly three years until Williams’ historic St. Patrick's Day paddlefish catch.

According to Williams’ guide Smith, the numbers of the giant Missouri paddlefish are world-class. 

“The fish was certified by a Missouri Conservation agent and biologist,” he noted in a Facebook post on his guide service’s social media page. “The fish was 62 1/8 inches from back of the eyeball to fork of the tail and 47 1/4 inches in girth.”

For Smith—who credits Tombstone Tackle in Columbia, Mo., for the Surge Elite rod that helped land the world record—he’s just as excited as anyone else about the whole ordeal.

“This is a dream come true for me, as I might not have been able to be the one reeling on the fish, it’s just as fulfilling knowing I was able to put him on this world record.”

According to MDC’s Pritchard, Williams indicated that he and his wife kept some of the paddlefish meat for the table—it, along with paddlefish’s caviar are considered to be delicacies—and shared the rest with their fishing group. He also has plans for some sort of taxidermy mount involving the big paddlefish’s head and rostrum.

In the meantime, Williams has seen his Sunday catch go viral in a matter of hours. And it’s a catch that has left some wondering just how much farther the upper limits of paddlefish growth can be stretched. 

With the feverish pace of the world-record paddlefish chase slowing as of late, perhaps the catches over the past several years are near the species' upper limits. But when you consider that a 1986 paddlefish status report by Thomas W. Gengerke cited a long-ago report of a 198-pound paddlefish being speared in Iowa back in 1916, then again who knows?

“I’m honestly still processing this whole thing,” Williams said. “Conservation Agent Tyler Brown was in disbelief it was my first time snagging. He said, ‘You don’t have to go out fishing ever again! Nothing can top this!’ and he’s probably right!”

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