SIDNEY, Mont. — Paddlefishing has been surprisingly slow on the Montana side, especially considering North Dakota broke two records, one for size and one for speed of harvest just before Montana’s season started.
However, another surprise to the season came when Justin Fisketjon of Sidney set a new state and world record for a paddlefish caught with a bow at 85 pounds.
Montana anglers can use a bow during the regular snagging season on the Lower Yellowstone River on catch and keep days.
Even before his catch this year was certified as a record breaker, it was memorable.
“This one definitely fought more than the rest of the paddlefish I’ve caught,” Fisketjon said, adding that he was nearly pulled into the water a couple of times.
The bow enthusiast works at High Caliber Sports in Sidney. While those who haven’t tried it might think otherwise, bowfishing is definitely not for anyone hoping for an easy catch.
“It’s kind of crazy in that you wait for part of a fish to come up then draw back fast and put an arrow into the water,” he said. “You’re just kind of guessing where the fish is going, and it’s pretty exciting.”
Fisketjon says he misses far more paddlefish than he ever catches, but adds that once an angler hooks into a big fish this way, there’s nothing quite like it. Once the slack was gone from the reel on his bow, it took him both hands to pull the fish in from the fast-moving current, and he definitely had to stand his ground to stay out of the water.
Even so, he couldn’t be sure how big the fish was.
“You can’t tell if it’s 20 or 120 pounds until you get it up on shore,” he said. “You don’t know where you hit ‘em and there’s a lot of current, too. They only come to the top for a split second,. It’s such a short time period, you don’t have time to really see them.”
Once he had the fish on shore, it measured 69 inches from the tip of its nose to its tail. He and his fishing buddy Steve Harris Jr. thought the fish had a shot at being a state record buster based on that. To confirm it, however, they had to find a certified scale to weigh the fish on.
“Triple T Meat in Glendive was the only place willing to help us with that,” Fisketjon said. “They were really nice to us and helpful.”
As they were weighing the fish, hoping it would beat a state record, they had no idea just how big this fish really was. When it came back as 85 pounds, it slowly dawned on them that they had also just broken a world record, too.
While paddlefish are too oily to mount, Fisketjon has a plan to preserve his trophy catch. He has sent the head and paddle off to be “beetled,” a process in which live beetles eat the bone and cartilage clean. It creates a dramatic, unique presentation for a trophy
He’s also sending weight and measurements of his fish along with photos to a company that does replicas of fish that cannot be mounted directly. The finished work will look exactly like the fish he caught at the Sidney Access bridge.
Meanwhile, he’s figuring out how he wants to eat his trophy dinner.
“From what I can tell, most people chunk it, batter it, and fry it. That’s probably the route I’m gonna go,” he said. “But I do have some friends on Facebook who say they smoke it, and that’s good, too.”