Valentine's Day 2018 will go down in the books for a Grand Lake man.
But instead of landing a sweetheart, Rober Rider of Eucha reeled in a Grand Lake and state record for his paddlefish.
The fish, which is now the biggest caught on Grand Lake, and the second largest caught in Oklahoma, weighed 121 pounds. In all it had a 43 inch girth, and was 52-1/2 inches from eye to fork of its tail.
In all, Rider said, the 5 foot, 10-1/2-inch long fish was so big, his friends had to place it in his lap for the quintessential "I caught this" fisherman photo.
How it happened
Initially, Rider, who moved to Grand Lake full time in October, planned to serve as a guide for a group of friends from Minnesota.
Rider, who has been coming to snag on Grand Lake at least three times a year, said he loves to share the sport with his friends and family.
From paddlefish to blue catfish, Rider loves to spend time on Grand Lake on the deck of a boat with a fishing pole in hand.
The fact he can fish almost year-round in northeast Oklahoma sealed the deal for the 62-year-old bachelor.
So on Valentine's Day, Rider and three friends set out for a snagging adventure. Two of the men were novices, while the third had spent time snagging five years ago.
Typically, Rider said, he spends this part of the year snagging in a six to eight mile area between Shangri-La and Sail Boat Bridge.
For this trip, the men were snagging just north of Patricia Island, in a mile-long, 60-foot deep trench in the area of Weed Island.
By 4:30 p.m., each angler caught and tagged paddlefish of various sizes. It was then, Rider decided to make one more pass through the area to take his own shot.
Less than two minutes later, Rider had hooked his record-setting paddlefish, right in the tail - just one inch within the "meat, as far back as you can get."
It took 25 minutes of fighting, which included at least two "passes" and more than 348 feet of line, Rider pulled his trophy - with the help of a friend - into his boat.
"It ran at the boat twice, and we got slack linen - most of the time if you get slack line, the hook comes out," Rider said. "But we were able to pull it in.
"It had a lot of power. I was really gripping the line. Every time we started the boat's motor it would dive back under. He went down about four times before I saw him."
At first, Rider suspected his catch weighed at least 100 pounds - his goal weight for the perfect catch this year, but then, the doubts started to come.
Rider put the paddlefish in the stock tank on his boat, and headed in land. He eventually ended up at Honey Creek Outdoors, where the fish's weight "bottomed out" the store's scales.
So Rider said he was put into contact with Brandon Brown, Paddlefish Research Supervisor with the Paddlefish Research Center.
While the center officially opens for the spring season on Thursday, March 1, Brown met Rider and his friends at the center located near Twin Bridges area on Grand Lake.
Brown weighed the catch on the center's certified scale, and the weight was officially recorded as 121 pounds.
Like a dream
"I still wake up and can hardly believe it," Rider said. "I was truly lucky. I feel unbelievably blessed. I never dreamed this. It still feels unreal."
Rider jokes he challenged long-time paddlefish guide Rusty Pritchard to "get people out there, to make the next "grand" Grand Lake become the state record.
After certifying his catch, Rider brought the paddlefish home. He processed the meat for several upcoming meals.
"It's very delicious," Rider said. "I like to grill it, or deep fry it. But my favorite is to cut it up into chunks and smoke it.
"Smoking a lot of it, it tends ot taste like smoked ham."
Rider said he typically uses a mixture of mosquito, cherry and apple in his pellet grill to get the right flavor.
He also uses a mixture of salt, brown sugar, liquid smoke and garlic as his "brine" for pre-smoking flavor.
He believes his catch was a non-reproducing female, because no eggs were present when he cut into the fish, which he estimated to be at least 20 years old.
Rider said he plans to keep on snagging this year, in fact he's set a goal to be on the water at least 300 days this year, fishing pole in hand.
He'll keep using the Dipsy Diver, a technique he credits Pritchard for developing, to keep snagging paddlefish.
"I never thought I'd have a record [catch]," Rider said. "The next step is to get out there and keep going for a higher mark."
Rider has at least two more groups of friends who plan to come snagging in the coming weeks.
"I love to take them out and show off this resource," Rider said. "it's an awesome area, to be able to fish year round without ice."
His catch of the day stories are not limited to paddlefish, later in the week Rider and his three friends went out searching the jug lines for blue catfish.
The crew brought in eight blue cats, ranging in weight from 18 to 28 and half pounds.
"The resources of [Grand] lake are just amazing," Rider said.
Did You Know?
The Paddlefish Research Center is located at 61091 East 120 Road, Miami, near the Twin Bridges area.
The center, which officially opens for the spring season for the season this week, will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday and Saturday and Sunday, beginning Thursday, March 1. Officials will also have boats on the water, beginning Thursday, to help weigh fish not being kept.
The facility is closed on Mondays and Fridays, because those days are strictly catch and release days.
For more information, persons interested may call the center at 918-542-9422 or Brandon Brown, paddlefish research supervisor, at 918-686-3673.