It’s not quite Hemingway’s âThe Old Man and the Seaâ.
But Halltown fly fisherman Mike Heinrichs still hooked a monster fish on the James River on Saturday.
Using a Bass Pro Shops White River graphite fly rod, Heinrichs, 39, waded through shallow water while throwing under the Lake Springfield dam. He was hoping to hang some bass or bluegill while tossing his homemade Clouser Minnow fly into a deep pool nearby.
âThe next thing you know is I’m hooked and the game is on,â Heinrichs recalls. âI was using a 6 weight fly rod and a 10 pound test line, but it pulled the line out of my hand and started tearing the trail. Then it practically took me everywhere! “
It wasn’t a sea bass but a huge spatula fish that Heinrichs had accidentally snagged in the middle of his head, by his gills.
Weighing over 50 pounds – on a fly rod, mind you – the fish ran twice so hard it almost pulled the entire line of the reel.
âThis fish pushed me upstream in 2 feet of water, but it wasn’t worn out at all,â Heinrichs said. “The line wrapped around a boulder, but I was able to untie it without breaking. Then it came back down to the other side of the river. I just let it go, then I pulled it back up. a little.”
The fight lasted an hour, man against fish, until the big spatula finally ran out and the line tangled in a tree branch stuck in the water. Heinrichs moved in and was able to grab the slippery fish by the tail.
Spatulas do not have scales and their skin looks a lot like that of a catfish.
A passerby ashore watched the battle unfold and offered to take pictures. Heinrichs, with his hands full of a nearly 5-foot-long fish, posed for two strokes, then gently put the paddlefish back into the water.
âI worked out a bit and got him resuscitated, and he swam right away,â Heinrichs said. “This is the first paddlefish I have ever caught. I was exhausted after about an hour of fighting him.”
Ironically, photographer Cole Martin said he fished in the same spot about an hour later with a “cheap” Walmart fishing rod.
âI was fishing perch for a trotting line, and when I reeled it up I also hooked up a creepy spatula fish,â he said. “He stripped the line and snapped my post in half!” “
It is not uncommon to see large spoonbills congregating under the Lake Springfield Dam. In the spring, paddlefish migrate out of Table Rock Lake where they feed on tiny plankton with their gaping mouths, then move up the James River to try to spawn.
The Lake Springfield dam blocks their upstream swimming. Paddlefish is Missouri’s largest fish, and the state record was set in the James River arm of Table Rock Lake in 2015.
This fish weighed 149 pounds, 9 ounces.
Heinrichs said he plans to return to the Lake Springfield Dam during the official spoonbill catching season next spring and try to catch another.
âIt looks like a good place to fish,â he said. “I’ll be back to throw some flies.”