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Sucker spearing season starts soon

Suckers have a uniquely designed mouth that allows them to vacuum up food from the bottom of our lakes and rivers. This juvenile white sucker will be used as bait once the northern pike season opens, but adults can weigh several pounds. (Jason Durham / For the Enterprise)

On a walk along the shoreline, two boys stood outlined by the setting sun.

"Cast here, they're all over," one exclaimed.

The young fellows were so excited they were shaking; hundreds of fish moving about, larger than they were used to seeing.

"What are you guys trying to catch," I asked.

"I think they're walleyes," one stated.

A quick look told me otherwise. Though the fish were similar in size compared to a walleye or bass, these were rough fish.


Everyone who gazes at a spring lakefront has probably felt exhilaration as numerous big fish swarm about. Two to four-pounds is common and with so many suckers around, you'd have to get a bite, right?

Suckers are bottom feeders, with a unique body style. Their lips are positioned on the bottom of their jaws and the species works like a vacuum, sucking up insects, crustaceans and other edible creatures from the bottom.

Catching suckers with corn or worms is definitely a possibility, but this doesn't happen very frequently. Suckers inhabiting streams or rivers seem to bite more readily than suckers in natural lakes.

As water temperatures warm, suckers will begin to move into shallow water and clear spawning nests by kicking up sediment with their fins. Several males and females may spawn in a single nest simultaneously, the females depositing up to 100,000 eggs. Since suckers typically spawn in water less than 2 feet deep, the water often "boils" and it's not uncommon to see tails and scales splashing about.

Some people enjoy spearing suckers so they can smoke the meat; a culinary treat. It's definitely not very tasty to fillet and fry this rough fish.

Many people anticipate the annual "sucker run" and the fish can be harvested using nets, spears or by bow-fishing.

However, with such an early spring for 2012, we might miss out on a portion of the spearing season. That's right, suckers, though a rough fish, have a spearing season too.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources handbook, the season for suckers begins May 1. Furthermore, it is illegal to possess a spear, harpoon, bow or dipnet while on a body of water between March 1 and April 30 of this year.

Keep in mind it is illegal to harvest a sucker by any means and leave it on the shoreline.

Unlike most freshwater fish caught by private parties, suckers can be bought and sold.

The DNR takes eggs from suckers on various bodies of water each spring, not to stock the species in lakes, but as a food source for muskies that are raised in captivity. Muskie fry feed on the eggs, then after maturing to fingerling size, feed upon the newly hatched suckers. The fishery personnel carefully regulate the water temperature so the suckers hatch a few weeks after the muskies.

Though the muskie fry are small in the beginning, often about ½-inch in length, the newly hatched sucker provides sustenance for the tiny, but soon to be large, predators.