You don’t hear many people talking about sucker fishing. I am not sure why. These fish are abundant across most of the United States. They are sleek little fish with streamlined bodies like trout. They will take bait and artificials, and they will put a bend in your rod. Fishing for suckers can be a lot of fun. Sight fishing for suckers can be both fun and effective.
While I don’t often keep them, suckers can actually make a decent meal. There is a bit of work involved in preparing them but that is true of much in life. In any case suckers are fun to catch and they can put up a good fight on light tackle. Spotting them first then trying to get a perfect presentation is a great angling challenge.
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Sight fishing for suckers can be a lot like sight fishing for carp. But there are some differences and intricacies. A major thing is that you are much more likely to spot suckers in moving waters like creeks, streams and small rivers than you are to see them in lakes or ponds. Suckers can also be a little more difficult to catch in a lot of situations.
Keep in mind there are many different species of suckers too. Not to mention all the other fish ranging from redhorse to buffalo that are often thrown in with suckers or “trash fish” more generally. All of these fish can be a lot of fun to catch with some more difficult to hook than others. Though now I am focusing on the actual sucker fish such as the common white sucker and its cousin the longnose sucker.
Suckers are easiest to find in spring and summer. Though they seem to feed a lot more eagerly early in the season. In some places the suckers will do large spawning runs and the stream bottom will be black with these fish. That is probably the best time to locate them. But you can also spot suckers by simply walking a stream in the summer with a pair of polarized glasses on. Just remember that these can be wary fish. Don’t stomp around or make a lot of movement that can spook the fish.
Suckers mainly feed on small insects. Some of the food they eat is microscopic or at least too small to replicate with general fishing tackle. Still you catch suckers on all sorts of things like red wigglers, sweet corn, maggots and aquatic insects on a size 12 to 14 hook. Speaking of the latter, you can also catch suckers on artificial lures like small pheasant tail nymph flies and Rat Finkee.
It is very unlikely that you will catch suckers on the surface or even midcurrent. So you want to get your presentation down on the bottom. Most times you don’t even want a natural dead drift along the bottom like you might use for trout or even whitefish.
In the case of sucker fishing you basically want to pin your hook down so that the suckers can swim up over it and feed. You can do that by varying the amount of weight on your line. Just be careful. Too much weight can sink your hook into mud or even get it hung up on the rocks. You want the bait to lay there naturally. That is easier to do in slower water where you can feather your hook down. In faster water things can get a lot trickier.
Once you spot suckers you’re half way there. The next thing is to get the bait down in front of them without chasing them off. If they’re moving slowly along the bottom it is likely they are feeding. Follow their grazing pattern and try to guess where they will go next. Throw your bait up in front of where you want it to sink and let the current and weight carry it down into place. Then let the bait lay their motionless (except in the case of a fly or artificial that you want to slightly wiggle without dislocating). When the sucker gets up over the bait it will either take it or ignore. Just watch out for the bite. Suckers are light biters and you don’t want the fish to swallow your bait. Use barbless hooks if you plan to catch and release. Have fun!