Two friends were out to catch striped bass in Tennessee but ended up reeling in something “unexpected.”
The fishermen, Matt and Jason, were fly fishing on the Caney Fork River when a large, prehistoric fish latched onto their line and started pulling their boat, according to a Saturday Facebook post from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
The fish towed the boat for more than a half a mile.
But after battling it for more the 30 minutes, the fishermen reeled in the 5-foot long, 50-pound American paddlefish, the TWRA said.
“After a few quick pictures, the fish was released back into the river unharmed,” it said.
The agency shared the photos of the catch on Facebook, writing “is that a dinosaur?”
“The American paddlefish are prehistoric fish that can grow over 5 feet long, weigh as much as 200 pounds, and live beyond 30 years,” the agency said. “They can be found throughout the Mississippi River Drainage and generally inhabit large rivers like the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.”
The “primitive fish” have lived in North America for 65 million years — since the Cretaceous period, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
They’re native to the Mississippi River basin but can migrate more than 2,000 miles, USFWS says. They feed by “swimming through open water with their mouths open and allowing their close-set gill rakers to capture their microscopic food.”
Paddlefish are a “long-lived” species, USFWS says. There have been reports of some living up to 55 years.
But they’re considered endangered, threatened or a species of concern in several states.
They were once considered the “most important commercial species” in the Mississippi River valley, USFWS says, but populations started to decline around 1990, when commercial harvesting peaked.
Now, most states have banned the commercial harvesting of them.
“In recent years, U.S. paddlefish resources have experienced an exponential increase in harvest pressure resulting from the collapse of the Beluga sturgeon populations in Eastern Europe,” it says. “This recent pressure has resulted in the illegal poaching and harvest of paddleﬁsh because of the high prices that can be generated by the selling of their eggs.”
Because of this, the species was listed as a “species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora” and given “international protection.”