By Brent Frazee
Welcome to fishing’s version of blue-collar labor.
You won’t find wrapped bass boats, glitzy weigh-in ceremonies or fishing jerseys filled with patches here.
Neither will you find bait buckets, ultralight rods or tackle boxes filled with the latest lures.
When you go paddlefish snagging, life is really quite simple. You rig up with the biggest rods and reels, weights and treble hooks you own, and you go trolling.
The object? To hit a giant snag, one of the biggest fish roaming Missouri waters.
“It isn’t easy work,” said Tracy Frenzel of Kirbyville, Mo., who guides for paddlefish on Table Rock Lake. “After you spend a couple hours jerking those big hooks through the water, you feel it in your back, your shoulders, your arms.
“But once you hook up with one of those monsters, you forget about all of that.”
That’s the lure that draws thousands of fishermen to Table Rock, Lake of the Ozarks and Truman lakes each spring. They dream of catching one of the biggest, baddest fish residing in Missouri.
How big? Well, the Missouri state record, caught in 2015 at Table Rock, weighed 140 pounds, 9 ounces. Before that, the mark stood at 139 pounds, 4 ounces. That fish also was snagged at Table Rock, in 2002.
Are there bigger ones out there? Frenzel would like to think so.
At this time of the year, he is busy guiding clients in the paddlefish-rich waters of the James River arm of Table Rock, hoping to get them into one of those dream fish.
Because paddlefish are filter feeders and eat primarily plankton, Frenzel leaves the lures and bait buckets home. This is “mano to fish” type of fishing. You snag them and winch them in, or you go home.
Frenzel and others slow-troll big treble hooks and weights through the water and hope to be in the right place at the right time.
”It can be a game of millimeters,” Frenzel said. “You can be dragging those big hooks through the water and be just inches away from the fish, and you’d never know it. “
The new fish locators increase the odds, Frenzel said. They etch a clear picture of a paddlefish, with its big snout, on the screen. Then it’s a matter of getting lucky enough to hook up with one of those fish.
Frenzel knows the excitement of catching a 100-pound fish. He took his family snagging several years ago, when he felt his hooks come to an abrupt halt.
“I was steering the boat with one arm, snagging with the other,” Frenzel said. “It hit so hard that it hyperextended my elbow.
“I fought that fish for 25 minutes, but I was finally able to get it in. I was out of commission because of my elbow for the next few days, but it was worth it.”
Frenzel has guided customers to big fish, too. A couple earlier this spring had a day to remember.
“The woman had never been snagging before,” Frenzel said. “She ended up snagging an 80-pound paddlefish. Her husband had been before, but he said he had never caught anything that big.”
Frenzel said the best paddlefish snagging is just starting. With the recent rains that have created flow in Table Rock’s tributaries and the rising water temperatures, the big females are just starting to make their spawning run.
The snagging season on Table Rock and its tributaries runs through April 30, so there is plenty of time.
Snaggers can thank the Missouri Department of Conservation for the big fish they are chasing. At one time, Missouri had a self-sustaining population of paddlefish, but once the dams went in, they blocked the fish’s spawning migrations and populations dipped.
The Department of Conservation compensates for those losses by raising thousands of fish in their hatcheries and stocking them in Table Rock, Lake of the Ozarks and Truman.
Missouri is now known nationally for its snagging opportunities and the sport continues to grow in popularity.
“I remember when I was a kid and my uncle would show me pictures of fish he snagged,” Frenzel said. “They were only 30 pounds or so, but I thought they were giants.
“Now, we regularly catch fish 50, 60 pounds and some bigger.”
For information on Frenzel’s Guide Service, go to the website www.fishingbranson.com or call Frenzel at 417-699-2277