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Fish: Paddlefish

Rare Paddlefish Encounter

Post By: BioGuy      Posted: 5/9/2012 12:09:34 AM     Points: 445    
When I was backpacking on the south side of Lake Texoma, we saw a weird white object floating on the surface of the water across a large inlet. We hiked for over an hour around to the other side and got close enough to see a very large fish floating on top of the water belly up. (Later, we found out it was a paddlefish).

We had been hiking all day and it was very hot. I set up camp and we relaxed for awhile. The whole time the fish was floating belly up and barely moving. I decided to swim out to him to investigate. When I arrived at his side, he was very unresponsive so I pulled him closer to shore to investigate. When I first started to slide him out of the water by the tail , I let go with surprise when I saw his strange gill slits. I then reacted the same way a second time when his huge paddle started to wave in and out of the murky lake water. After finally realizing he was not some weird freshwater shark I slid him out of the water carefully. He was a magnificent fish and one the likes of which I had never even heard tall tales of! After a closer examination I saw he had been floating for hours on the top of the water with a full swim bladder. His belly was swollen almost to bursting and red and blistered from sun exposure!

I decided that this strange fish deserved to at least swim one more time in deeper water. I could not let him sit there and blister in the sun. (I did not know he was a threatened species at the time). Being a Biologist and having training in first aid, I used a hypodermic syringe from my medkit to puncture the swim bladder, and a loud hiss came out of the end of the open syringe immediately. After several minutes of moving water across his gills he began to become responsive. After another minute I was rewarded by him kicking his powerful tail and he swam off vigorously. It was a long shot but after being in the sun that long I figured he at least deserved to return to deep water, even if he didn't make it. Who knows? I do know that there are quite a few articles that show how to puncture a swollen swim bladder, and even a video from an Australian news show that shows how to do this. Either way, it is controversial and I would never do it on any caught fish. This was something that at the time, seemed right, and in hindsight I probably should have let this guy die from whatever caused his swim bladder to swell in the first place. At the time I was convinced it was was from being pulled from deep water by a fisherman, and knew he was dead from the sun exposure and lack of oxygen from being unable to swim anyways.

I wonder from time to time what happened to him. I did get a beautiful sunset as a reward and got engaged that night, but that is another story altogether...

Clear skies and good fishing!

 Reply by: Lloyd Tackitt      Posted: 5/9/2012 6:42:36 AM     Points: 18748
I don't see how you could have gone wrong - it was as good as dead so any chance at all was a better chance than it had. You've got my respect for the way you treated the situation. I've never seen one of those outside an aquarium - strange looking beastie.