The American paddlefish as we know it today was swimming alongside other dinosaurs 125 million years ago. It’s easy to imagine how their absurdly long snouts and strange array of fins would have blended in seamlessly with other wacky prehistoric creatures.
Even though paddlefish have been around for so long, it’s hard to imagine many of them getting much bigger than the one Sidney, Montana, resident Steve Harris Jr. hauled out of the Yellowstone River on June 8 with his bow. The 92-pound fish broke the bowfishing world record, which had ironically been set by Justin Fisketjon, one of Harris’ best friends and his fishing buddy for the day.
“It was a catch-and-release day when I went down there to kind of scout it out, because the river was coming up fast and it was supposed to peak out the next day,” Harris told MeatEater. “We were supposed to head on vacation in Wisconsin the next morning. But paddlefish were coming up all over, so I talked my wife into leaving at noon the next day so I’d have a few more hours. I knew the river would drop before I got back a week later. So, they gave me a few hours to go out that morning.”
Fisketjon arrived at the river shortly after Harris and set up cameras on the bank where they were fishing, and Harris was also sporting a GoPro camera on his head. The two were feeling pretty confident with the number of fish they were seeing on the surface. Then the big one showed itself.
“The fish came out just perfect, right in front of me and kind of swimming straight away, just about the easiest shot you can get,” Harris said. “Which is what I need.”
Harris hit the paddler on what he believes was his fifth shot of the morning.
“It took off, stripping line right away,” Harris said. “Almost all the line was off the reel, if not all the line, before I started curling him and got him heading back towards shore a little bit.”
Fisketjon jumped down to the water and started hauling the paddlefish in until Harris could get in a position to hold him. The struggle got rowdy when the two realized the weight they were dealing with.
“I couldn't tell how big he was. He looked like a nice fish. I was like, oh, that's 60 or 70 pounds. And I walked over there, looked down, and thought he might be bigger.”
It quickly became clear to Harris and Fisketjon that they were dealing with a potential record-breaker. But to certify the feat, a scale and a video of the weigh-in would be required for submission to the Bowfishing Association of America. Harris called his wife and told her Wisconsin might have to wait a little longer.
Harris and Fisketjon hauled their fish over to High Caliber Sports, a sporting goods store in Sidney that had certified their scale just a few weeks earlier. A small crowd had gathered, including Harris’ family, to witness the weigh-in. When the scale tipped 92 pounds, the cheering began.
Harris’ paddlefish joins the ranks with the new hook-and-line record from June snagged in Oklahoma that weighed a jaw-dropping 164 pounds.
“We always talk about breaking the record, it’s just something we like to do for fun,” Harris said. “It’s something that’s attainable with just the right amount of luck.”