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Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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Published: Sunday, 6/1/2014 - Updated: 4 months ago

OUTDOORS

Fish stories — funny money, finding a paddlefish, record that got thrown back

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE OUTDOORS EDITOR

Every angler who has spent plenty of time on the water has hooked something unusual, odd, or bizarre. An old shoe, a discarded plastic jug, or a fishing rig someone lost a couple of years earlier — they have all managed to end up on the end of a hook and line.

A couple of young fishermen in Tennessee added a new item to that scavenger hunt-looking list earlier this spring when they snagged a bag filled with cash while fishing the Tennessee River near Hiwassee Island, about midway between Knoxville and Chattanooga.

They were after bass, but hooked the heavy bag and dragged it to shore, according to a report filed by WTVC-TV in Chattanooga. Inside, the anglers saw what was more than $10,000, along with rocks that had obviously been used to sink the bag, and exploded dye packs that coated much of the money in streaks of bright red. They did the right thing and called the law.

While a detective from the Rhea County Sheriff's Department was going over the contents of the bag, the anglers hooked a second bag — same contents — rocks and a pile of money all stained from another dye pack that had detonated inside the bag. Authorities surmised that the cash came from a bank robbery that had taken place in December in the town of Ooltewah, about 30 miles southeast of the fishermen’s location.

Now, the two guys that allegedly pulled off the bank heist had been arrested months ago, and informed the authorities that they had jettisoned the evidence of their crime — the bags and the dye-stained money — into the river, but a search by divers failed to locate the missing cash.

Once the hoopla over their catch died down, the young anglers then had to answer that question every fisherman faces when they reel in something worth bragging about — what bait were you using? In this case, it was a Rat-L-Trap crankbait.

RECORD THROWN BACK: An Akron-area man vacationing in Florida earlier this year was bass fishing on Lake Istokpoga, located north of the legendary bass hotspot of Lake Okeechobee in the southern half of the Sunshine State. This 28,000 acre piece of water is very shallow and more swamp than lake, with an average depth of just four feet.

According to an account in the Akron Beacon Journal, Bobby Kotch caught something big, but it wasn’t a bass. Kotch was not certain just what he had, so he snapped some photos, measured the specimen and weighed it, and then threw it back.

Turns out the fish Kotch caught was a 25-inch, 10.9 pound blue tilapia that would have established a world record if it had been certified. Once he learned of his blunder, Kotch was understandably angry. This is like the golfer who gets a hole-in-one while playing alone. But at least he has those pictures to back up his “the big one I let get away” story.

Tilapia are native to Africa but have become established in warm water regions in the U.S. due to accidental releases. They can not tolerate water temperatures below 50 degrees, so they do not survive beyond fall in Midwest waters.

The world record tilapia still belongs to Floridian Pamela Henry of Stuart, who caught a 9.6-pounder last summer that measured 24 inches long. She was fishing the St. Lucie River, just a little southeast from where Kotch later released his monster tilapia, and she was using a bait that makes angling purists wince — a bread ball.

RARE FISH FIGHT:The paddlefish is a dinosaur that missed the asteroid explosion that killed most of the animal life on earth, and then after that it just forgot to evolve. This species remains very primitive, with today’s paddlefish showing very little change when compared to its ancestors’ fossil records from 70 million years ago.

In early May, South Dakota angler Bill Harmon was searching for paddlefish near the Fort Randall Dam on the Missouri River. The state issues a very limited number of permits to snag or bowfish for these ancient creatures, which are believed to live longer than any other freshwater species.

Harmon tied into a huge paddlefish, and after a sustained fight, it took several attempts before he and his fishing partner could hoist the fish into the boat. According to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission, it weighed in at 127 pounds and nine ounces, making it the largest paddlefish ever caught in the state, and breaking a record that had stood for more than three decades.

The prehistoric-looking paddlefish have large mouths and huge snouts that are equivalent to one-third of the length of their bodies. They have smooth skin with no scales and are filter feeders, swimming with open mouths and straining out tiny zooplankton from the water as it passes over their gills. Since they do not attack baits, anglers usually snag paddlefish with heavy tackle.

Paddlefish were once fairly common in the large river networks of the central U.S., from the Yellowstone River in the west to the Allegheny River in the east. They were thought to make long migratory runs across the Mississippi River watershed. Their numbers plummeted, however, largely due to dams that restricted their movement and access to spawning areas.

Stocking programs have proven to be effective in bolstering the paddlefish populations in some waters, including the stretch of the Missouri River where Harmon caught his record paddlefish, which biologists estimated could be 60 years old.

Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.



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