MOORINGSPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – The Shreveport Aquarium teamed up with the Caddo Lake Institute to surround the trees of the largest cypress forest remaining in the world with one of the oldest fish species alive on planet earth.

There were games, laughter, and even a few splashes as a crowd gathered on the afternoon of March 4 to watch Shreveport Aquarium and Caddo Lake Institute release a 350-million-year-old fish species, that can grow larger than the average human, into Caddo Lake near Mooringsport’s historic drawbridge.

Polyodon spathula, or the paddlefish, is Laura-Ashley Overdyke’s pride and joy.

Overdyke is the Executive Director of the CLI, and you can hear the excitement in her voice about the occassion.

Laura-Ashley Overdyke is the Executive Director of the Caddo Lake Institute. Image by KTAL’s Jaclyn Tripp

“Paddlefish are 350 million years old, which makes them 50 million years older than the dinosaurs,” Overdyke says.

As Overdyke talks about fish, children run back and forth from the shoreline to brightly-colored buckets where they stare down at ancient fish that move their long bodies awkwardly in shallow water.

The children are too young to understand the more complicated fish facts, but the grown-ups are curious about Polyodon spathula, and Overdyke is willing to teach.

It turns out the ancient species does not have bones or scales instead they have cartilage more like sharks than fish.

Ancient fish in a modern bucket. Image by Jaclyn Tripp, KTAL NBC 6 News.

“Their eyes are tiny because they can’t see in the dark water. Oh, and when you touch them they feel like sharks,” Overdyke says.

Part of Overdyke’s job is to teach others about a fish that existed before man, and her passion is obvious.

The paddlefish in the buckets are only a year old. It’s hard to imagine this species was in Caddo naturally because it doesn’t look familiar to those who grew up here. But Overdyke promises it is a native fish and was here until a dam went upstream and changed the species’ habitat.

As the paddlefish are released into the lake, the kids get more excited, and an even bigger picture is emerging.

We’re learning that thousands of paddlefish are added to Caddo Lake every year. Overdyke says it’s too soon to tell if the paddlefish released in previous years, mainly those first released on the Texas side of the lake, can sustain their populations.

But Overdyke says that question will be answered sooner rather than later.

A 350-million-year-old species meets the next generation of humanity. Image by KTAL’s Jaclyn Tripp

“This spring, there’s a couple of gravel beds to look at and monitor, and hopefully, they’ll start having babies,” Overdyke said. “None of the paddlefish in the lake now were born here. They were born in fish hatcheries.”

Paddlefish are a threatened species in Texas, and Caddo Lake is the only place you can find them. Louisiana has them in the Red River and Caddo Lake, so they have different statuses in the Bayou state. Even so, Overdyke urges fishing enthusiasts that if they randomly catch a paddlefish from Caddo Lake, throw it right back into the water because Caddo Lake borders Louisiana and Texas.

You would only catch a paddlefish randomly, according to Overdyke, because they aren’t an easy fish species to get caught on your line.

“They won’t take a hook,” Overdyke said.

And when paddlefish are grown, they are difficult to pull into the boat or drag onto shore because paddlefish can reach up to 7 feet long and weigh 200 lbs. That’s larger than the height and weight of the average human.