Oklahoma

Oklahoma has a lot of excellent fishing for catfish and bass, even hosting the 2013 Bassmaster Classic. However, I wanted to fish for something truly out of the ordinary: a paddlefish, or spoonbill as it is called locally. Although paddlefish exist in the southwestern corner of Virginia, I had never seen one before heading to the Midwest. Grand Lake in northeast Oklahoma is known for its paddlefish, and Ray Austin (www.fishgrandlake.com) is undoubtedly the lake’s best guide.

We fished on a sunny, 84-degree fall day, yet inexplicably had the lake to ourselves. Ray and his wife Sharon are great instructors, which is invaluable for those of us with little to no experience fishing for paddlefish. I caught four paddlefish, ranging from 25 to 45 pounds. They each put up a very good fight, and I still marvel at how bizarre they look. I was pleasantly surprised about how much fun Oklahoma was in general, and I hope that the conservation efforts for paddlefish, which are threatened and endangered in some states, are successful, because they are great fish to catch. (They can be caught and released, even when snagging, because they are such strong and durable fish.)

I loved fishing for paddlefish with Ray and Sharon so much that I made sure to incorporate another outing with them into my Arkansas fishing trip in 2014. Despite being late March, the historically cold winter meant that the paddlefish were not in their pre-spawn clusters yet. However, Ray showed why he is the best guide on the lake and put me on a 40-pounder within 15 minutes of getting to his spot. After releasing that fish, my second snag resulted in an enormous 54-pounder, measuring 66 inches from its bill tip to the end of its tail and 54 inches from its mouth to the end of its tail. This was the paddlefish I had been wanting to catch, a 50+ pound trophy.