From NewsChannel 9: A Kingston, Tenn. man is celebrating his new state record for paddlefish, just announced Tuesday by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).
Henry Dyer caught the massive fish that weighed 149 pounds the evening of April 13 on Cherokee Reservoir in upper East Tennessee.
Based on a review of records, not only is this the largest paddlefish ever caught in Tennessee, it is the largest fish of ANY SPECIES ever caught in the Volunteer State – at least since official records have been kept. The second largest fish in TWRA’s records is a 130-pound blue catfish caught by a commercial fisherman on Ft. Loudon Lake in 1976.
Jason Henegar, Assistant Chief of Fisheries for TWRA, said “It’s a big deal, at least in my mind it is.”
When contacted, Dyer was not aware of the “biggest fish ever in Tennessee” factor.
“Really,” he exclaimed. “I didn’t realize that. When I snagged that thing, I thought I’d hung on a stump and then all of a sudden it just took off.”
Dyer was using a heavy rod he calls “Old Blue,” outfitted with a Penn fishing reel filled with 80-pound test line.
“I was in the back of a boat and it was everything I could do to hold on to it,” said Dyer. “The fish made five long runs. It took about 35 minutes for me to get it to the boat.”
This wasn’t the first paddlefish he had snagged. But this was Dyer’s first ever multi-day excursion snagging with longtime friend, Brian Townsend, an East Tennessee fishing guide.
“I don’t snag for paddlefish a lot,” said Townsend. “We’d just gone down there to try and catch some stripers or hybrids, but we saw other people snagging for paddlefish so decided we’d try it.”
Dyer said, “When I got the fish to the boat Brian got a gaff in it. Then he hollered, ‘Help me.’ I grabbed another gaff and it took the two of us three tries to get it in the boat. I’m a little feller and that fish weighed more than me.”
Ed Stroud with the Hawkins Farmers Coop in Rogersville helped weigh the huge paddlefish, also sometimes called shovel bill catfish.
“We have certified scales so we’ve weighed several of these,” said Stroud. “But this is definitely the largest one I’ve ever seen.”
It’s been a few days since Dyer caught the massive fish he has nicknamed “Old Big Boy.” But he says even after several days, “You can’t wipe the smile off my face right now.”
Dyer donated the huge fish to TWRA who will use it for research purposes. The fish was just shy of 80 inches long (79 5/8”) and it was more than 44 inches around. It weighed 29 pounds more than the previous record of 120 pounds caught in 1982.
Paddlefish are unique in that they rarely, if ever, bite lures or bait. Paddlefish are like whales. They simply swim through the water with their big mouths open wide, using fine gill rakers to filter almost microscopic plankton and algae out of the water.
Even though Dyer caught the fish by snagging (yanking large treble hooks through the water), Bart Carter, TWRA Region 4 fisheries biologist, said it is classified as a Class A record (versus Class B reserved for fish caught in commercial gear). Class A is usually reserved for fish caught using traditional hook and line, but Carter said that since snagging is really the only means to catch paddlefish, they are included in Class A records.
In his job Carter has seen a lot of big fish but he said, “It’s quite incredible to see a fish that size. That fish could be 30 years old. We’ll see.”
It is legal for sportfishermen to snag for paddlefish during the established seasons, which vary in different bodies of water. Commercial fishermen also take female paddlefish in limited numbers for the eggs (roe) as it is a common form of caviar, especially since the importation of sturgeon eggs from overseas has been restricted in recent years.
CAN IT HAPPEN AGAIN?
Paddlefish populations are healthy, but biologists do monitor and regulate populations closely. Following a decline in the paddlefish numbers in some parts of the state several years ago, there was a special committee formed. Henegar said Tennessee’s Commercial Fishing Advisory Committee (CFAC) is made up of commercial interests who work closely with TWRA biologists to monitor and protect paddlefish.
Based on Dyer’s catch, apparently those efforts are working… at least on Cherokee Reservoir.
“It was an incredible fish,” repeated Carter. “I’d say (this record) will stand for a while.”