WILLISTON - A North Dakota version of "River Monsters" played out on the bank the Missouri River this past Sunday. Alex Mergen, a 16-year-old from Black Hawk, S.D., landed a monster of a paddlefish on the second day of the season. The whopper shattered the existing state record for the prehistoric fish.
Mergen's fish pulled down the scale until the reading reached 132 pounds. After subtracting the weight of the hook used to weigh the huge fish, the official weight was reduced to 130 pounds. The catch was verified by the North Dakota Game & Fish Department. The old state record was 120 pounds, set by Brian Johnson of Williston in 1993.
"When I first saw it in the water, I was thinking maybe 50 or 60 pounds," said David Mergen, Alex's father, who was accompanying him on the paddlefish excursion. "You know, the fight was really quite anti-climatic, no big battle. It only took about 10 minutes to get it in."
Submitted Photo •
Alex Mergen, 16, from Black Hawk, S.D., left, and his 18-year-old brother, Zach Mergen, show off the monster paddlefish landed by Alex on Sunday southwest of Williston. The official weight of the fish was 130 pounds, breaking the old state record by 10 pounds.
When David, Alex and his 18-year-old brother, Zach, finally landed the fish, it quickly became hot news among the paddlefishing fraternity that annually makes the trip to the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers to try their luck at hooking into the rare fish.
According to Alex Mergen, the digital scale first used to weigh his catch simply read "error." The fish, which was too big for the scale, was transported to the nearby NorthStar Caviar checkpoint where the official weight was verified by Fred Ryckman, Game & Fish's northwest district fisheries supervisor.
The official length of the record paddlefish was 74 inches with a girth of 46 inches, placing it among the largest ever verified as caught by legal means. The Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame, the governing agency for world and U.S. freshwater angling records, lists a 144-pound paddlefish as No. 1. That fish was caught by Clinton Boldridge, of Kansas, at Atchison Watershed Dam No. 7 on May 5, 2004. The length of the record holder is 75 inches, just one inch longer than the one caught by Mergen southwest of Williston.
Although this year marked Alex Mergen's third trip to North Dakota to take part in the paddlefishing season, this trip proved to be much different. He'd never caught a paddlefish prior to hooking into the new state record. After watching older brother Zach catch a 40-pound paddlefish the previous day, his third in three trips, it was Alex's turn for success and he certainly didn't waste any time.
"We only use one pole and rotate it among the three of us about every 20 minutes," explained David Mergen. "Alex hooked that thing on just his fourth cast."
According to David Mergen, he plans to have Alex's record fish mounted. Alex Mergen is a junior at Rapid City Central High School.