Sucker Fishing

When the creeks and rivers thaw at the end of winter and then rise with the spring rain, many anglers feel the irresistible urge to get out on the water. There is a species of fish often overlooked by anglers after walleye season ends for a month up at Lake of the Woods. Suckers are native fish that have coexisted with other species for a very long time. They feed primarily on aquatic insects and snails, and form a part of the natural food chain. When caught as bycatch, suckers are viewed by many anglers as a “trash” fish. Suckers navigate up the tributaries on their journey to reproduce.

The two common species of suckers found in Lake of the Woods waters are the White Sucker and the Redhorse Sucker. Both can be easily identified by their inferior mouths and fleshy, protruding lips. This mouth shape allows them to feed off the bottom of rivers and streams, unfairly giving them a reputation of being a dirty or undesirable fish. In truth, suckers are an indicator of the overall health of a waterbody as they are intolerant of poor water quality. If suckers are present in the river, that is a sign that the ecosystem is doing well.

Willing biters, suckers will take a variety of common and simple presentations such as dew worms or pinched night crawlers, corn, dough baits, small plastic worms and even trout flies. Very simple gear is all that is needed for sucker fishing; a hook, line, split shot and a light action rod and reel will catch and land any sucker. Some anglers use this time of the year to catch enough suckers to use for bait for other types of fishing, such as fishing for pike. There are many varying opinions on the quality of sucker for table fare. Regional tastes seem to differ, with some areas pickle or can. In the southern U.S. states, people will deep fry the fish, scoring the flesh to ensure the many bones cook through and become soft. The meat also is ground up and used to make fish cakes and patties.

There are many tributaries off of the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods for the suckers to run and spawn. One main local area is the Clementson Rapids which feeds into the Rainy River from the Rapid River.

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