Arkansas Angler Snags 127-Pound State-Record Paddlefish


An Arkansas angler trolling for striped bass snagged a state-record paddlefish instead, reeling in a 127-pound, 6-inch catch that topped the standing record by almost 10 pounds.

Veteran striper fisherman Mike Schleeper, of Garfield, was trolling minnows in 30 feet of water at northwest Arkansas’ Beaver Lake on June 15 when he found himself in the middle of an unexpected battle. “I’ve been fishing for stripers up here for about 13 years, and I’ve had the chance to catch some stripers over 30 pounds, but this was different,” Schleeper noted in a press release from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC). “It didn’t strip line and stop in surges like big stripers do; he just sort of pulled the rod down and kept going. I couldn’t turn him so we had to follow him with the trolling motor for about the first 20 minutes.”

After he managed to get the fish headed toward the boat, Schleeper spent almost another half-hour working it close enough get his first look at the giant. “I’d thought maybe it was a really big striper, but then we could finally see it a little bit,” Schleeper told the AGFC, which announced the record on Facebook June 19. “It looked like a giant catfish at first, but as we got closer to the boat, we realized what it was.”

Lacking a net big enough to wrangle the fish into the boat, Schleeper and fishing partner Tom Mayberry eventually managed to haul the whopper aboard with the help of a rope threaded through the paddlefish’s mouth. As soon as the fish hit the deck, the hook—which was embedded in one of the fish’s pectoral fins—popped free. “We got really lucky,” Schleeper said.

At 127 pounds, 6 ounces, Schleeper’s catch blows away the Arkansas record caught by James Johnson in 2020. That paddlefish weighed 118 pounds.

Related: IGFA Adds 7 New Bass Species in Record-Keeping System Shakeup

The oldest surviving animal species in North America, predating even some dinosaurs, paddlefish are filter-feeding planktivores that subsist on microscopic plants and animals. Since they typically don’t bite baited hooks or lures, they are usually caught by spearfishing or by snagging—either intentionally, during designated seasons, or unintentionally by anglers fishing for other species, as was the case for Schleeper.

Beaver Lake, a 50-mile-long impoundment on the White River, has produced even bigger paddlefish. In July 2023, a shore fisherman swam out to recover a paddlefish he observed floating on the water. AGFC officials determined that it had likely been hit by a boat prop, severing its spinal cord. That fish, which was not eligible for the state record book, weighed 165 pounds—a pound heavier than the current world record for the species.

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