BRANSON, Mo. – The first paddlefish snagging trip for Andy Belobraydic III will be one he’ll remember for the rest of his life.

The 33-year-old Richwoods resident turned an already successful day on Table Rock Lake into an unforgettable one by snagging a state-record paddlefish Saturday. Belobraydic’s behemoth weighed 140 pounds, 9 ounces; breaking the old record of 139-4 caught in 2002 at Table Rock. The fish, which was caught on the James River arm of the lake in Stone County, measured 56 ¾ inches in length and had a girth of 43 ¾ inches.

“I’m still sore this morning,” Belobraydic said in a telephone interview Monday.

Belobraydic had previously snagged non-game fish, but he had never snagged paddlefish until his friends talked him into taking a trip to Table Rock on Saturday. Before he hooked into the state-record, Belobraydic had already snagged two paddlefish. He released the second one because it was too small (Missouri fishing regulations allow anglers to keep two paddlefish). As soon as he hooked his third paddlefish of the day, he knew lack of size wasn’t going to be a problem.

“It felt like I hooked into a log,” he said. Fifteen minutes of work finally brought the giant to the surface and when it was apparent what he had hooked, Belobraydic said one of his friends turned to him and repeated the famous line from the movie “Jaws.”

“You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

“I told my buddies to take a picture of it in the water,” Belobraydic said, “because I knew if I couldn’t get it in the boat, no one was ever going to believe this.” Thirty minutes after initially hooking it, Belobraydic finally boated the fish. It was then taken to the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery near Branson where it was weighed on a certified scale. The catch was officially certified as a state record Monday morning.

“I love Missouri,” said Belobraydic, who has lived in the state since 2012. “I should have moved to Missouri years ago.”

Belobraydic’s state-record catch is a product of MDC’s paddlefish management. Because of changes man-made impoundments have brought to Missouri’s waterways, the state’s paddlefish population is no longer self-sustaining. Today, the population is maintained through artificial means by MDC. Each spring, a small number of egg-bearing females are collected from Table Rock Lake and eggs are removed from the fish. The eggs are incubated at MDC’s Blind Pony Hatchery and the resulting fry are reared in the hatchery and the young paddlefish are released into Lake of the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake and Truman Lake later in the summer. It’s an example of how MDC works with the state’s citizens and for them to sustain healthy forests, fish and wildlife.

Beginning this year, MDC is conducting a five-year tagging project. This will help biologists learn more about the habits of the state’s paddlefish and how anglers are enjoying this unique fishing opportunity. Anglers who catch fish tagged with a jaw tag may be eligible for a cash prize. Anglers who catch a tagged fish can send the tag to the Missouri Department of Conservation, 3815 E. Jackson Blvd. Jackson, MO 63755.

For more information about snagging for paddlefish in Missouri and about the state’s tagging project, go to http://mdc.mo.gov/node/17769

(Courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation)