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Young angler lands rare fish from Allegheny River

| Monday, July 7, 2014, 10:21 p.m.

Ben Klaas is no stranger to fishing the Allegheny River, but one night recently provided something a little different.

Klaas, 18 and a recent Fox Chapel graduate, was fishing in the Harmarville area with a friend, Andy Casile. They were targeting walleyes, as is their norm.

On what was to be one of his last casts for the night, Klaas hooked into a paddlefish.

“After about a 10-minute fight on light tackle, I finally brought the fish in where Andy was able to get hold of it,” Klaas said. “It got hooked close to the base of the tail.”

Klaas' fish, which he released after snapping a few pictures, was about 38 inches long and weighed roughly 6 pounds.

That he caught it the way he did is not unusual. Paddlefish are plankton eaters and so don't hit lures or take normal baits.

The fact that the fish was there to be caught at all is special, though.

Paddlefish were once native to the Ohio River drainage — it's the eastern-most extent of their range — but pollution that fouled the rivers led to their demise. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission records show they disappeared from the region in 1919, when one last paddlefish was caught at the confluence of the Allegheny and Kiski rivers.

They didn't show up again until 1991, when the commission began stocking them in the Allegheny and Ohio rivers.

“Unfortunately, because of budgetary constraints, we discontinued the stocking program. Two thousand eleven was the last year we stocked paddlefish,” said Bob Ventorini, the commission's three rivers biologist.

Pool 2 on the Allegheny, just downstream near Aspinwall, got 6,021 paddlefish fingerlings that year, “which may explain the catch in Harmarville,” he said.

The commission has maintained a database of “reliable source reports” of paddlefish observed in the three rivers over the years, Ventorini said. It shows the fish do turn up on occasion.

Some of the fish get big, too.

Earlier this summer, a survey of the Allegheny, just downstream of Kinzua Dam, turned up a 38-pound paddlefish, Ventorini said.

Still, catching one is something special, as Klaas will long remember.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime catch for me since the paddlefish is not a predator,” Klaas said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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