It's The Season For The Dinosaur Fish

Judy Kramer
County Reporter
Paddlefish season opened on March 15, and brothers, Ray and Murl Stull of Warsaw, were out early on opening day for their 38th season of snagging. Ray, 90 years old, and Murl, 97 years old, said that they have been snagging since 1982, soon after both retired from careers with General Motors (GM) in Kansas City. Ray’s son, Doug Stull, who more recently retired from GM takes them out now and snags along with them. Murl’s son, Corey, also goes out snagging with them when he can. Doug Stull said that they used to go out five days a week in snow, sleet, rain and even in a hail storm when they had to seek cover at the docks.
Warsaw is known as the Paddlefish Capital of the World, and the Stulls say that opening day of the season is crowded with snaggers.  Since paddlefish will not take bait or lures, snaggers usually use a stiff, strong, six to nine-foot pole with a heavy-duty reel and line. A sinker weight is attached near the end of the line, and a hook or cluster of hooks is attached to the end of the line. Snaggers cast their lines so the sinkers hit the bottom of the water, then they sweep the pole back and forth so the line moves through the water. This sweeping motion jerks the hooks through the water, allowing the hooks to “snag” paddlefish.
“We use to stay out on the water for about eight hours a day, only stopping for lunch, but we don’t last as long as that now,” said Murl. “The biggest fish I remember catching was in 2014. It was over 100 pounds, and taller than me. Getting fish from the treble hooks is more luck than anything else.”
Missouri Department of Conversation reports that the paddlefish is the official state aquatic animal, and is an ancient species. It is valued for its size, for one thing, and Murl’s hundred plus pounder was not rare. They can be up to seven feet long and weigh 160 pounds or more.
“When we were out on the water, a conservation agent would come to us to see if we were still fishing,” said Ray. “He would sometimes bring someone with him to meet us. When we started snagging, we had a friend in the Missouri Highway Patrol go with us.”
The men love to eat paddlefish, but don’t care for the eggs that are sometimes used for caviar. Ray likes to fish for and eat crappie and catfish too, and Murl likes catfish.
When asked about times they remembered most while out snagging or fishing, Murl and Ray said that each of them, at different times, had fallen out of their boats. They also remembered being out no matter what the weather was like.
“Dad (Murl) has two fish fries a year for his family of five children, and he cleans and cooks all the fish that he catches,” said Murl’s daughter, Paula, who lives in Stockton, Missouri.
In addition to having a lot of fun snagging and fishing, Murl and Ray put in gardens at their Warsaw homes every year.
Murl and Ray Stull grew up on a farm in Fairfield, Missouri, that is now underwater because of the construction of Truman Dam. They came from a family of ten children, five boys and five girls. Ray said that he and Murl have fished since they were kids. 
Murl served in World War II in the U.S. Marine Corps as a young man. He was stationed in the South Pacific where he landed on a lot of islands including the Marshall and Mariana Islands and Guam. Ray said that when Pearl Harbor was bombed, he went down to Springfield to enlist in the Army and served until the duration of the Korean War. Both men have their names inside the Benton County Courthouse and on the sidewalk outside the courthouse with other local veterans.
The elder Stull men said that when they worked for GM they did a lot of heavy physical work.
“I started out at $1.35 an hour and was hanging doors that were probably heavier than I was,” said Murl.
“I often picked up boxes of screws that weighed about 200 pounds,” said Ray. 
They both said that they kept in good shape over the years, and it looks like they are being rewarded with the ability to carry on their favorite sporting activity well into their 90s and hopefully beyond!