“The Neosho River runs down here from out south of Topeka, and as the crow flies, if we get good rain up here it takes about two days for the water to get down to the low-water dam down there in Miami, Okla., on the Neosho River,” he said while speaking from the Omaha International Boat Sports and Travel Show on Feb. 24 in Omaha, Neb. “A lot of these spooners are up here in the Grand Lakes (near Grove, Okla.) and they’re coming down the ol’ channel surrounded by males and they’ll pack down trying to get to the low-water gravel bar at the dam down there in Miami to lay their eggs. When they do that, that’s a really good time to get them.”
Both the Kansas and Oklahoma spoonbill seasons run from March 15 to May 15. In Kansas, anglers have a daily creel limit of two fish and a total limit of six per season and will need to purchase a paddlefish permit in addition to their fishing license. Kansas paddlefish permits cost $12.50 for adults and $7.50 for youths. In Oklahoma, anglers are allowed one spoonbill daily with an annual limit of only two per season. Mondays and Friday are closed to fishing during that time. Anglers are required to obtain a free paddlefish permit before fishing for spoonbills in Oklahoma through the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
“I’ll tell you something else, make dad-gone sure that those hooks are barbless,” he said. “They’ve got an old boy down there that’s got a string that works for the park and wildlife. They’ve got a string and they’ll run that over the hook and if that sticks, $75 fine brother. And then they’ll flip it over — remember you’ve got three barbs on that hook so look out.”
Anglers typically use heavy rods and barbless, 8/0 and larger treble hooks to snag the paddlefish, though Shumway said there were several equipment options available.
“Some people go get a Calcutta bamboo rod, they’re about $10 or $15 down there at the bait shop. They’re probably hard to find now. They’ll tape an ol’ reel onto that or wire it on there with some plastic ties, put a little eye on the very middle of it and a big, fat eye on the end of it and use that to snag them spoonbills, because it don’t have any give in it and you can drag it through the water real good.
“Other folks like to get them 14-foot rods, you know, them long rods got a lot of tip to them so you can sling that lead out there.”
To get some casting ballast and control the depth of the hook in the water column, anglers will add a large lead weight to the line. Heavier weights are needed for faster-moving water.
“It’s about a 16-ounce lead weight or maybe half that, depending how fast you want it to go down. The thing is, them spoonbills — from the surface of the water all the way to the bottom, they can be anywhere between the bottom and the top, man,” he said. “Weight is a factor in that situation. If you ain’t hitting them on the bottom with the heavy weights, lighten up on that weight a little bit, throw out and then start jerking until you see your line go slack. Get ready, ’cuz when you get a good one it’s fish on, buddy, fish on!”
Once spoonbills are caught, the next part of the process is being able to clean them. Anglers can often be wary of cleaning paddlefish, as they are noted for having a vein or “cord” that runs through them that can ruin the meat if nicked.
“Those fish are boneless, they don’t have a bone in them and they’ve got a cartilage going right down the center of them,” he said. “You kinda score around that tail a little bit with your knife — don’t cut it all the way off — just score it out about a quarter of an inch all the way around that tail and twist it real good and that’ll break the cartilage off around the edges. Then you whack the head of it off right there in back of the gills, split that belly open and pop all them guts out and then you can pull that cord — just keep turning that tail ’round and ’round until it pops — you can pull that cord real easy right on out of that fish.
“I clean them just like that. It’s like a pineapple. Just score them up into like steaks and then lay them down, cut the inner part out, cut the outter red out, you’ve got a pancake of meat, man.”
Once you’ve got that tasty white meat, it’s time to cook it. Many anglers will cut them pieces into nuggets, bread them and deep fry them, while others may choose healthier options. For Shumway, the choice was obvious.
“Well, you know, it’s not too healthy for you but, man, pan-fried is the best,” he said. “It’s not like regular fish. It’s a texture kind of like chicken ... you can have spoonbill nuggets or spoonbill finger bites, however you want to cut them.”
The early spring is also an ideal time to head out looking for catfish, he said, as the thawing ice can lead to some easy meals for cats.
“Right now is the time to go out on the ice thaw and get you a whole bunch of fresh-thawed shad that’s been caught in the ice,” he said. “The best bait in the world are them right now, because that’s what they’re used to is that ice thawing out and them fish eating the dad-gone old thawed-out shad. You get them big shad, gut ’em out. If you’re out there in your boat and you’ve still got ice up around a few areas, just throw that bait right up on the ice, pull it back, let it drop and hit your button and let it go to the bottom. Most times, it won’t ever make it. They’ll whack it before it even gets there.”
Shumway said he prefers to fish shallow during this time to best take advantage of the conditions.
“This time of the year is a good time to hit that shallow water,” he said. “It warms up quicker, the sun stays on it, plus the fact that in the shallow water them shad are all caught back up in there and they don’t got to drop too far to feed them. They’re all up in them flats looking to get something to fill their belly up with, for sure.”
He said he prefers to fish mid-day during this time of year, not just because it helps the fishing, but because he doesn’t end up freezing out on the water.
“That’s what I prefer, I like to let that sun get out there to hit it for a couple two, three hours if it’s real chilly,” he said, laughing. “Or if you’re full-blown catfish crazy, get that winter gear on, brother!”
• Read more about spoonbill fishing here.
• Morel mushroom aficionado Tom “The Mushroom King” Weipert is hosting a seminar and hunt at Council Grove Marina. Read more here.
• Topekan Parker Still is one of four Kansas anglers to make the Bassmaster High School All-State Fishing Team. Read more here.