Late April can only mean one thing in northern Minnesota’s creeks and rivers. Suckers.
This past Friday, two of my good friends and I decided to take advantage of the relatively warm, sunny weather and spend the afternoon on the banks of the Mississippi River fishing for a greatly under-appreciated (and kind of goofy-looking) fish – the white sucker.
One of the most common fish species in Minnesota, and especially in the cool, clear waters of northern lakes, white suckers are unique in that they have large “sucker” mouths, no teeth, and soft fins. Many are familiar with using smaller suckers as bait for large predatory gamefish like northern pike, muskie, and walleyes.
White suckers, which often grow up to 20 inches and sometimes longer, migrate up rivers and creeks from lakes to spawn in shallow, warmer water. At peak spawn, thousands of fish can congregate in a small area, making it easier for fisherman catch these hard-fishing fish.
It was my first time targeting suckers, but I was excited at the prospect of dusting off my open-water fishing gear and catching my first fish since the end of ice fishing season. After driving out to the river and wading across a shallow stretch of backwater wetland, the three of us set up on a small island overlooking an area in which fast-moving, shallow water butted up against a stretch of slower, deeper water — prime sucker habitat.
It didn’t take long for us to start catching fish, and within the first hour we had all managed to reel one in. As the only one in the group to have never caught one, I was excited to add this healthy 19″ white sucker to my species list.
While it sounds cliche, our success on the water that day depending mostly on our ability to sit and wait for a bite. We were using a typical bottom rig – a common setup that is used to catch a wide variety of fish in quick moving rivers. A 1/2 ounce weight tied about a foot or so above a juicy nightcrawler-laden hook was the ticket that day. Simply cast out, let the weight sink to the bottom, reel in any slack line, and wait for your rod tip to dance back and forth.
The waiting game paid off for me shortly after when I was lucky to reel in this solid 24 incher. After doing a little research, it sounds like they don’t get much bigger than this in Minnesota, so I’m pretty happy that I had the opportunity to catch such a beautiful fish.
The three of us managed to reel in nearly twenty in a four-hour stretch. I’m told that while this is a respectable number for this early in spring, the fishing will likely only get better in the next week or so as temperatures rise and more fish travel upstream in search of spawning ground.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to fish for these hard-fighting fish and would like to break out your open-water fishing equipment before the May 14th fishing opener, consider checking the white sucker run in the Bemidji area…you never know if you’ll latch into a sucker of a lifetime!
Thanks for reading!