Spoonbill, or paddlefish, are among the most interesting, and are certainly some of the biggest and tastiest of treats to be found in Missouri waters. Snagging season for them opens March 15 and runs through the end of April in 2011. It’s an awesome adventure for any or all members of the family.
Missouri is one of the best places in the world to catch these prehistoric looking fish. They are found all over the state, in the Mississippi, Missouri, Osage, Grand, and other rivers. Luckily for my family, Warsaw, Missouri near our own Cedar Rock Squirrel Ranch, is among the best and most famous places to pursue them.
When I was a kid, my Dad and his friends took me with them on spoonbill snagging adventures. It was in the 1960’s and 1970’s when Truman Dam (then known as Kaysinger Dam) was still under construction. Our families camped in the City Park at Warsaw, Missouri. Many families camped there, the park was always crowded and a beehive of activity during snagging season. We drove small aluminum fishing boats, powered by 9.9 horsepower engines, up the Osage to the Grand River.
Since these fish feed on micro-organisms there is no bait that will draw them to your hook. They are caught by “snagging” them on bare treble hooks that you “troll” with or drag, along with large weights, on heavy test line, on large poles and reels. The most common method was to drag two bare #8 treble hooks tied above a 16 ounce lead weight around behind a boat while cruising up and down the rivers for hours. The high tech fish finder of that time was cruising until you found a concentration of other boats that had a few spoonbill tied on to the sides, indicating they had found success.
Sometimes this snagging would go on for hours and hours, day after day with no fish on the line. These trips were still great adventures for me. I heard my dad and his friends share stories of previous fishing, hunting, and other outdoor trips. I heard them share jokes and laugh. I heard them share troubles and find relief from the everyday stresses of blue collar jobs and raising multiple children. I got to sip soda pop, share picnic lunches with such delicacies as vienna sausages, cheese sandwiches, braunsheiwger “meat”, slim jims, chips, and snack cakes. I got to drive the boat. I got to spend time outside, away from the large City and closer to nature, with the “guys”.
The "little" boat
The place where the Osage and Grand Rivers meet is now under the depth of Truman Reservoir. Camping in the Warsaw City Park is not allowed. If you put your boat in at the City Park ramp and cruise upstream on the Osage toward the Grand you will run into the dam, and you can’t snag for spoonbill there anymore. The old snagging routes of my youth are gone, only fond memories, but…
If you cruise downstream on the Osage River, as soon as you cross under the “new” 65 highway bridge on the edge of Warsaw, you are in prime snagging territory. The methods are much the same, with some new electronic gadgetry attempting to help in locating the fish. Still, finding a concentration of successful boats is the most true method. The spoonbill are still there, thanks to great research and stocking programs of the Missouri Department of Conservation. Some folks stand on shore and cast their lines out into the river and “snag” them back to shore over and over. The resorts on the Osage River near the 65 highway bridge in Warsaw, Missouri are a great place to witness this.
My family now prefers a bigger tri-hull fiberglass boat, with a 165 horsepower motor, times change. Other things that have changed? The whole family often goes on the boat, wives, girlfriends, and all of the kids. Seems while the actual catching of the spoonbill may still be the highlight of some of the adventures, the sipping pop, observing eagles, visiting a heron rookery, eating picnic lunches, and sharing of stories and laughter is still the majority of the fun. You might want to take a break and see if the Crappie are biting too?
My wife's most recent "spoonie"
If the actual snagging seems too much like work, it is still worth the trip to see the large congregation of folks at the boat ramps and on the river. A visit to places like the “Old Oar House” grill on the bank of the Osage near mile marker 84 is a good way to see many snaggers and hear some of their stories as they come off the river to have a meal and take a break. The dining room offers spectacular views of the river. It is great fun to see the awestruck look on children’s (and sometimes adult’s) faces when they see the fish being brought in to boats or shore. Today spoonbill on these waters must measure 34 inches from their eye to the fork in their tail before they can be kept. The “keepers” usually range from 35 to 100 pounds in weight, with 40-50 pounders being quite common.
Warsaw, Missouri is a great town to visit even if you don’t go fishing. There are lots of little shops, flea markets, and family eateries. There is also a fish hatchery, and the visitor’s center for Truman Reservoir and other family activities. I encourage you to involve your family in this truly world class adventure.
Here are some helpful links:
Missouri Department of Conservation webpage to get more information on spoonbill or any outdoor activity: http://mdc.mo.gov/
Lost Valley Hatchery: http://mdc.mo.gov/regions/kansas-city/lost-valley-hatchery
Truman Reservoir Visitors Center: http://www.nwk.usace.army.mil/ht/VisitorCenter.cfm
Catfish Safari (offer guided spoonbill trips): http://www.catfishsafari.com/
Old Oar House (resort, restaurant and marina): http://www.oldoarhouseinn.com/
Warsaw Chamber of Commerce: http://www.warsawmochamber.com/