Published May 31, 2009, 04:00 AM

GF angler lands more fish than he bargained for on Missouri River

Jeremy Miskavige might as well hang up his fishing rod for the rest of the summer because he’s going to have a tough time topping the fish tale he landed last Sunday, the first day he’d wet a line in open water this year.

By: Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald

Jeremy Miskavige might as well hang up his fishing rod for the rest of the summer because he’s going to have a tough time topping the fish tale he landed last Sunday, the first day he’d wet a line in open water this year.

Miskavige, 32, Grand Forks, was fishing walleyes and saugers on the Missouri River near Bismarck with his brother-in-law, Mitch Vig, who lives in Bismarck. Fishing had been pretty good, Miskavige said, and they’d been on the water about an hour and a half when they decided to drop their jigs in a scour hole behind a small wing dam in about 30 feet of water.

They quickly picked up a couple of saugers and a catfish.

Then Miskavige hooked into something they wouldn’t see for the next half-hour.

Miskavige says he was thinking he’d hooked a sturgeon or a bigger catfish, at first, but when he failed to gain any ground after a couple of minutes, his brother-in-law figured it was probably a paddlefish.

He was right. The prehistoric fish only feed on tiny invertebrates and won’t hit a lure or bait, so Miskavige had somehow snagged the paddlefish.

As if that wasn’t exciting enough, the fish had managed to entangle itself in Vig’s line. Somehow, though, they managed to get the lines free, Miskavige said, and the battle was on.

“At first, it started out like it was not going to allow itself to get pulled off the bottom,” he said. “I’d think I was gaining on it, and then it would just take off running. It would run probably 50 feet or so, bursts like that, just like it never wanted to come up to the top of the water.”

And with a 6-foot, 2-inch spinning rod and 8-pound test line, there wasn’t much room for error.

“I certainly couldn’t force it up,” he said.

Miskavige figures he battled the fish in the main channel for about 10 minutes when it decided to head upstream about 100 yards. Vig followed with the boat to stay as close to the fish as possible.

When the fish finally emerged from the depths, Miskavige says it resembled a big, black shadow. They estimated the fish was 4 to 5 feet long, he says, a measurement that later would prove to be way off the mark.

“The thing looked like a shark,” Miskavige said. “I could see it a ways out. I’d get it up on top of the water somewhat, get it there momentarily, and the thing would dive under the boat.”

Finally, though, they got the fish into a position where they had a chance to land it. Vig was able to position the boat downstream from the fish and use the current in their favor. Miskavige then got the paddlefish far enough out of the water for Vig to get its beak in the landing net.

Miskavige says he was able to grab the paddlefish by the tail, Vig got a grip under the gill plate, and the two of them managed to hoist it into the boat — some 45 minutes and 1½ miles downstream from where he’d hooked the fish.

Turns out he’d snagged the big fish in the tail with the Northland Tackle Thumper Jig he’d been using.

“That thing was just perfectly imbedded into the bony part of the tail,” Miskavige said. “The funny thing is the hook didn’t straighten out more than it did.”

A quick measurement put the paddlefish at almost 72 inches in length with a girth of 33 inches. North Dakota’s state record paddlefish, snagged in 1993, measured 76 inches and weighed 120 pounds.

They didn’t weigh the fish, but Miskavige can attest it was heavy.

“It was well over 100 pounds because I was tired,” Miskavige said. “Trying to lift that thing was all I could do with the size of it.”

After a couple of quick shots with Vig’s cell phone camera, they revived and released the fish and decided to call it an afternoon. Keeping the fish wasn’t an option because North Dakota law only allows the snagging and harvesting of paddlefish during the month of May in a small area at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, and a special tag is required.

As for Miskavige, it’s by far the largest fish he’s ever caught.

“I’m surprised I didn’t lose it,” he said. “It was unbelievable how tough that thing was.

“It’s a pretty interesting fish, though — just small, beady little eyes. It was tremendously exciting.”

Dokken reports on outdoors. Reach him at (701) 780-1148; (800) 477-6572, ext. 148; or send e-mail to