A Minnesota angler fished for striped bass at Beaver Lake but ended up catching an Arkansas state record paddlefish.
James Johnson of North Oaks, Minn., caught a paddlefish that weighed 118 pounds, 9 ounces. He and a buddy were fishing about 11 p.m. on Aug. 27 with John Wood, owner of L and L Striper Guide Service.
Johnson, 52, was trolling for striped bass in the Starkey area of the lake using a Rapala lure with a jig trailer tied behind the Rapala.
The paddlefish measured 69 inches long, nearly 6 feet, from the tip of its bill to its tail, said Jon Stein, fisheries biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission who weighed the fish. The paddlefish had a 44-inch diameter girth. It measured 49 inches from eyeball to tail.
The fish was caught in the mouth, Stein said. Paddlefish eat plankton, not baitfish, so they don't bite lures. But they swim with their mouths open to feed on plankton, Stein explained.
Johnson said the paddlefish put up an arm-straining fight.
"It made several big runs of 100 feet or more, going from one side of the boat to the other," he said. At one point Johnson was worried the big fish would strip all the line from his reel.
He was using a 60-pound test line with a 30-pound-test leader.
No way the fish would fit into the net, fishing guide Wood said.
"When we finally got it to the boat, it took three of us to lift it in. We ended up grabbing its bill and getting a rope around its tail," the guide recalled.
They started thinking state record and figured the paddlefish weighed way more than the now-former state record of 105 pounds. That fish was also caught at Beaver Lake, on March 2, 2015, by James Wilkes of Springdale.
It was after midnight when Johnson got the fish back to the dock at Coppermine Lodge on Beaver Lake, where he and his fishing buddy were staying.
"We thought, 'what are we going to do with this until we can do something about it in the morning?'"
The fishermen carried the fish into their cabin and put it in the bathtub. "We were lucky," Johnson said, "that the ice machine at the lodge was unlocked." They grabbed 30 bags of ice and put them on the fish to keep it cool.
Friday morning, they contacted Stein with Game and Fish. The paddlefish was trucked to a UPS Store in Bentonville to be weighed on a certified scale. Stein called ahead to make sure the staff was OK weighing a 6-foot long, 118-pound fish at its store.
"They were excited we were bringing it," Stein said. "We put it in a cart and wheeled it in. It really drew a crowd. People came running out of their offices saying 'What is that thing?'"
Johnson plans to have the state record paddlefish mounted and to give it to Coppermine Lodge for display. He'll be able to see his record fish any time. After dozens of fishing trips to Beaver Lake, Johnson plans to move from Minnesota to Northwest Arkansas soon.