To say that Jesse Palmer of Kennebec Telephone was excited when he heard that he was chosen for one of the 350 paddlefish licenses at Lake Francis Case on the Missouri River (near Chamberlain, South Dakota) in 2012, would be an understatement.
He remembered seeing photos of his father and grandfather with these huge fish, but there hadn’t been a paddlefish season on the lake for 30 years. Palmer knew that the odds were against him; more than 2,000 anglers applied for licenses.
But Palmer was picked, and he didn’t waste the opportunity. He spent 22 days in the month of May on the lake. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with friends and family joining him on his adventure. Everyone had a good time, but each of them quickly learned how unique an undertaking it is to go after the massive – and somewhat reclusive – paddlefish. Because they ingest nutrients through their gills, the only way to catch them is to snag them with a treble hook. Palmer’s knowledge of the river and lake paid off. He was able to hook a good number of fish, but it wasn’t until a special evening on the water that he made the catch of a lifetime.
As the season was winding down, Palmer went out on a dreary, overcast day with his brother. He was catching paddlefish left and right, but none were of note. Palmer’s brother couldn’t resist a playful jab. “You’re catching all the little ones, now you have to find the babysitter,” he said.
Undeterred, Palmer took the boat back down the same stretch of water that had proven fruitful earlier in the day. That’s when he snagged the babysitter. What turned out to be a 62-pound paddlefish wasn’t the largest catch Palmer made throughout the season, but it was definitely his favorite. The two men marveled at the huge fish in one of those special moments that fishermen grow to cherish. “It might not have been the largest paddlefish I caught that May, but it certainly was the prettiest. Being able to catch that fish with my brother on board meant so much to me, I couldn’t have asked for a better feeling.”