Monday, May 16, 2011

White Suckers Can't Jump

Beth pretty pleased with her sucker (no, not me).
…but redhorse sure do! I am sure that a lot of folks have seen that I am chasing suckers with a fly rod a lot. More than a few of you are probably asking yourself why?  Well let me tell you my reasons:

1)    They are a native fish! White suckers and redhorse suckers (more properly just redhorse) are native to the Champlain Valley. As a matter of fact the white sucker is the most widely distributed fish in Vermont. The fish reproduce naturally and have very stable populations. While I do enjoy fishing trout there is one undeniable fact- brown trout and rainbow trout are non-native fish (a side note- it irks me to hear of people saying that there are “native” browns- can’t happen- they are European!). I much prefer catching wild fish to stocked ones and I can promise you that there aren’t any stocked suckers in Vermont.
that's a big fish- the new state record actually!

2)    They get big. Really big sometimes. My biggest white sucker so far was that big female I got that tipped the scale at 6 lb 5.44oz. Last year I submitted 3 white suckers for the Master Angler Program- none under 20 inches. This year I have submitted 6- all from 19.5 to 25.25 inches. These are big fish. I have caught numerous smaller fish in the 15 to 18 inch range too.  Then there are the redhorse which get considerably larger. I have caught redhorse well over 10 pounds. I will use the more commonly fished for trout as a comparison- big trout are caught, but not in those numbers.
Rejoice over the fight a fish like this gave you!

3)    They fight hard. A big sucker will definitely put a bend in your rod and put a smile on your face. I am sure a few of you have hooked into a big sucker when you are trout fishing and thought you had a trophy brown, but yet were disappointed when you landed a big sucker. No disappointment here!  I am always pleased with the fight of these things. They will run and pull line off your reel. Redhorse jump too. Up in the air a few feet- yes I said a few feet. They are about as acrobatic as a rainbow at times.
I like dead drifted nymphs right on the bottom- R. Horse

4)    Challenging. Big suckers can be a challenge to get to take a fly. It isn’t that simple to get them to take. I know that if I am targeting suckers of any kind that I am in for some tough fishing. The fly needs to be right on the bottom and it needs to be absolutely dead drifted or they won’t be interested. They will change their forage habits too and there are times that you have to match the hatch to get them to take. I have run into big caddis egg laying events where the redhorse would only take a soft hackle fly that was similar to the drowned adults. Remember this- they feed on the exact same stuff that trout do.
If that isn't pretty, you have bad taste.

5)    They are handsome fish. Alright, someone is going to stop dead in their tracks and argue with me on this one, but hear me out first. I will admit that their faces are sometimes not the prettiest  ( but they are perfectly designed to do what they do- feed on the bottom)(and they are good kissers). The coloration on suckers can be downright gorgeous though. Male white suckers get a racing stripe down their sides when they are in spawning mode. Look at close details of sucker scales. The intricate patterns are very eye pleasing. Then there are the redhorse. The color of these fish is like aged bronze. And the fins. Oh the fins! Outside of tropical fish I can’t think of many freshwater fish that have such vibrant red coloration to them- especially in the fins.
That is a cool looking fish!

I love to fish for suckers. They are good looking native fish that get big, fight hard and can be tough to catch. What more could a guy like me ask for?  Oh yea, they are all over the place and not that many other people fish for them. That helps too.
Scale detail of Catastomus commersoni


  1. lookforward to catching a few of those , i had a big one sit on my foot while wet wading on champlain i bet they go like rockets

  2. Them suckers ain't easy to catch. Nice job. I nyphed for Redhorse about a month ago when they were spawning on an Iowa small stream. Was on a school of them and couldn't hook up. At other times they've been more willing. Awesome fish!

  3. great post drew suckers on the fly are fun and they do bend a rod well.....Nice job to Beth as well!!!

  4. "bugle trout" are an awesome target for fly and spinning fishers alike. Can't understand why most turn up their noses at a worthy quarry just because it's not popular.

  5. Thanks everyone! These are totally worthy fish to target and are very challenging (although there are times when it seems like anything you throw will work). Hopefully they don't get too popular though!

  6. Suckers are pretty cool. Nice work!

  7. I was fishing for bluegills last week when I spotted a few fish feeding some riffles. Thought they were walleyes but they turned out to be golden redhorse suckers. You're right...they're a blast to catch and provide a great aerial display.

    I've also started targeting carp fly fishing world is undergoing change.