Arkansas Angler Accidentally Hooks Record Paddlefish

Mike Schleeper recently went fishing for striped bass — and came home with an absolutely giant 127-pound paddlefish. Schleeper was fishing at Beaver Lake in Northwest Arkansas with his buddy Tom Mayberry on Saturday, June 15 when it all went down.

According to an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) press release, Schleeper and Mayberry were trolling brooder minnows in about 30 feet of water. But instead of hooking into a nice striper, they fouled a big paddlefish in the pectoral fin — and the fight was on.

“I’ve been fishing for stripers up here for about 13 years, and I’ve had the chance to catch some stripers over 30 pounds, but this was different,” said Schleeper. “It didn’t strip line and stop in surges like big stripers do, he just sort of pulled the rod down and kept going. I couldn’t turn him so we had to follow him with the trolling motor for about the first 20 minutes.”

After 45 minutes, Schleeper boated the fish with the help of Mayberry, who managed to wrangle a rope through the fish’s mouth before they both hoisted it aboard. In some states, snagged fish aren’t eligible for record consideration, but in Arkansas, paddlefish, which don’t take lures or bait, are. The fish came in at 127 pounds and 6 ounces, soundly topping a 118-pounder pulled from the same lake by James Johnson in 2020.


AGFC regional fisheries biologist Jon Stein tells Wired2fish that Schleeper’s fish was likely stocked into Beaver Lake between 24 and 34 years ago. “The stocking happened to make sure we had a source of broodstock in case there was a crash in the paddlefish population on the Arkansas River,” he says. “Thankfully, that was not needed, so these fish are just producing some pretty incredible catches.”

Paddlefish, which are currently found throughout the Mississippi River Basin, have been around for 125 million years. They are considered the “oldest surviving animal species in North America” according to fossil records. Today, members of the species can live for over 50 years and grow up to 7 feet long.

Importantly, Arkansas anglers are not currently allowed to target paddlefish with snagging methods on Beaver Lake, but they can retain and qualify for a state record with an unintendedly snagged fish. Stein says that the AGFC is planning a highly controlled snagging season there in 2025.

“We don’t think there’s any natural paddlefish reproduction in the lake currently,” he says. “We are also looking into finding a place to get broodstock and propagate paddlefish that we can stock back in the lake to allow this cool fishery to continue.”