By Chris Henderson
This week, we are going to look at sucker fishing. I know what you’re probably thinking. What’s wrong with him? It’s still February. When you think about it, though, the weather has been mostly mild this winter. The river isn’t frozen. While, as this is being written, there are a couple of cold days in the forecast, the long term outlook is pretty mild. Besides, it’s almost March.
Of all the fish that swim in the Allegheny and its tributaries, none gets less respect than the sucker. He’s ugly. He doesn’t put up a good fight when hooked, and his flesh is ultra-bony. The latter will be dealt with later. The two most common species of sucker in the Allegheny are the white sucker and the hog sucker, also often referred to as the mudsucker. Of the two, the white sucker reaches the larger size. Another sucker, the red horse, is found occasionally in the river. It is, however, not common. In fact, in a lifetime of fishing in the river, I have only ever seen one red horse caught, and it was caught by a guy fishing with me. It was also rather small. Supposedly, they are better eating than other suckers, but I don’t know.
In the spring, large numbers of suckers gather at the mouths of tributary streams in preparation for spawning. A good hotspot is the area near the mouth of Sugar Creek, near the East Brady bridge. When the suckers start to hit, area anglers grab their gear and head for the river banks.
Outfitting yourself for sucker fishing is easy and inexpensive. You don’t need expensive, high-tech equipment. In fact, you wouldn’t really want to use it, as water, mud and sand can often get into the gears of a reel and cause major damage. Any reel that will allow you to cast well, such as a Zebco 202, will work just fine. With one of these, if the reel gets ruined, it’s no big deal. The rod must be stout enough to be used with heavy sinkers, but that’s about the only requirement.
Suckers are more or less exclusively bottom feeders. They use their small, down-turned mouths like vacuum cleaners to gather food. Therefore, it is vital that you keep your bait on the bottom at all times. A fairly heavy sinker is required. I normally place a splitshot between the heavy sinker and the hook, while allowing the line to pass freely through the eye of the heavy sinker. That way, a biting sucker will not feel any resistance from the weight.
Live baits are about the only way to go when sucker fishing. Lures are basically ineffective. Redworms are my favorite baits, followed by pieces of nightcrawlers. Various insect larvae will work well, too. If the suckers are biting, though, they’ll always hit redworms.
Sucker fishing technique is really quite simple and laid back. You toss out your bait, prop up your rod and wait for the rod tip to start to jump. Then, set your hook and reel in your catch.
When it comes to table fare, many people automatically write the sucker off. I’ve tried to eat them more than once, but, regardless of what I’ve tried, the horrific number of bones in the meat have caused me to give up. I’ve read that, if you filet the suckers, skin the filets, then pressure can them, the bones will dissolve, and the fish can then be used just like canned salmon. When you think about it, it does make sense. Every year, I resolve to give it a try, but I never do. This year, I have an electric, digital pressure cooker/canner, so the job would be rather easy. Now, I suppose I won’t be able to catch any suckers.
On another front, the owl mating season is in full swing, so watch your pets, especially cats. Soon, we will take a look at owls, which are beautiful and fascinating birds.