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Some people might be a bit squeamish if they saw a fish as long as them swimming directly under where they were floating. Chris Cantrell of Berryville, Arkansas, swam toward such a beast and managed to land it using spearfishing tackle early Saturday morning at Beaver Lake. Cantrell shot a 90-pound, 12-ounce paddlefish and wrestled it to the surface, possibly breaking the spearfishing world-record mark for the species.
“It was a trip to remember,” Cantrell said. “I was on my third and final dive of the day when I saw it.”
Cantrell was diving with his friend Andy Jeffries and brother-in-law Kalvin Cackler near the dam in search of striped bass when the shot presented itself.
I was maybe 15 to 20 feet underwater when I saw the large shape,” Cackler said. I thought it was a gar at first, but then I was able to get close enough to see what it was and take the shot.”
Cantrell’s setup consists of a speargun with a line tethered to a barbed metal spear. Another tether is tied to a float on the surface to help fight larger fish.
“I dropped the gun after the shot because the fish made a strong dive when it was hit,” Cantrell said. “With a big fish, you drop the gun so that it doesn’t pull you down. The float line will keep it pinned. By the time I was back at the surface, the fish had already pulled the line from the gun and the 50 feet of float line. It was pulling against the float at the surface.”
Once topside, Cantrell engaged in a tug-of-war with a fish nearly his size.
“It probably took 10 to 15 minutes,” Cantrell said. “I had to let the float line work about four or five times during the fight when the fish made hard runs.”
After tiring the fish using the float line and his own arms, Cantrell was finally able to draw the fish close enough to dispatch it with his dive knife. However, now a new challenge was raised.
“It was a holiday weekend, so finding somewhere with certified scales that was open took a long time,” Cantrell said. “The AGFC office was closed, and certified scales are required for any record submissions. My sister actually suggested we try calling a UPS store. To my surprise, one agreed.”
Jon Stein, regional fisheries supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission confirmed the species, a requirement for record submission.
“They had actually already weighed it on certified scales at a UPS store,” Stein said. “It’s obviously a paddlefish, but organizations that keep records require biologists confirm species on any fish submitted.”
Stein says he’s not surprised the fish was caught, as larger paddlefish have made their presence known during the last decade at Beaver Lake. The current Arkansas hook-and-line state record for paddlefish is 118 pounds, 9 ounces, also caught in Beaver Lake, in 2020.
“A lot of local anglers know about the big paddlefish in Beaver Lake,” Stein said. “We get a sonar image or two every year from anglers showing what are obviously paddlefish that likely weigh between 80 and 120 pounds.”
According to Stein, these massive paddlefish actually are holdovers from stockings that took place from 1996 to 2000 to reserve a brood source in case populations in the rivers saw a downturn.
“Paddlefish are important as a commercial harvest for their roe, which is turned into caviar,” Stein said. “The fish in Beaver were placed there in case anything happened to the population to have native fish to supplement reproduction, but they have never had to be used. The fish don’t reproduce naturally in Beaver, so the fish being seen likely all date back to those stockings.”
Cantrell’s brother-in-law Kalvin Cackler, who runs the Beaver Lake Spearfishing Facebook group, said they are getting the paperwork together to submit the fish to the International Underwater Spearfishing Association and if all goes well, it should replace the current record of 71.8 pounds, held by Wesley Stewart, set in 2019.
“I couldn’t find exactly where Stewart’s paddlefish came from, but the pictures I saw look a lot like Beaver Lake,” Cackler said.
Cackler, who learned to spearfish in Hawaii and has chased saltwater fish in Puerto Rico, said the Facebook group was an effort to showcase some of the great spearfishing that has been overlooked right in The Natural State.
“Beaver Lake is actually one of the best freshwater lakes for spearfishing, and no one really knows that around here,” Cackler said. “We’re just trying to grow the sport of spearfishing.”
Cantrell, who’s only been spearfishing for a little more than two months, said he’s primarily gotten bluegill, carp, drum and striped bass, the latter of which is a primary target for him and his brother-in-law Cackler.
“My biggest fish before this was a 22-pound striped bass,” Cantrell said. “But I hope to give it another shot this weekend. We’ve been going at least once a week all summer.”
Cackler might have something to say about that as well.
“I think we need to put Chris on boat duty now that he has that record,” Cackler joked. “At least until the record is broken again.”
With the fish that apparently swim in Beaver Lake, Cantrell may not have to wait long.