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23 February 2021
Let’s face it, the sucker has had a bad rep.
This fish has been associated with dirty water, having unclean diets, and are even “removed” by some anglers to “improve” the ecosystem. Unfortunately, the sucker is misunderstood, as it plays an extremely vital role in any aquatic system.
The white sucker is a tough fish, known for its ability to thrive in savage water conditions. It’s not particularly attractive with its dark back, silver sides, black stripe on its side, and of course, its iconic downward-pointing vacuum-like fleshy mouth.
One way the white sucker is essential is that it creates a source of food for game fish such as trout, walleye, or smallmouth bass. When the white sucker spawns, fish will congregate nearby, feeding off the eggs and the minnow-like juveniles. This feeding frenzy during the spawning season can create a great fly fishing experience for any angler.
The white sucker is widespread in North America, ranging from Canada to Florida. It will travel to streams to spawn when the temperatures are at 50oF (10oC). For this reason, most anglers see the presence of this fish as the official start of spring. It’s one of the first signs of life to emerge after winter and its arrival in riffles signals the beginning of its spawning season, which can begin as early as March and can last until June.
This fish will migrate en masse to search or return to its preferred spawning site. It can number in the thousands, swimming toward shallow streams with gravel bottoms. Since it usually returns to the same spawning area, if you are lucky enough to find it, you should take note of it. Witnessing a spawning event is rare and all about timing.
Up to 50,000 eggs can be discharged by a single female during spawning and once fertilized, will hatch in a few weeks. The adults will migrate back to their main habitat, while the young will remain in the spawning site for about a month.
If there are spawning suckers, there are sure to be trout somewhere nearby, usually downstream feeding on the eggs. Trout are known to actively seek sucker spawning sites and can be particularly excited when they find it, so keep your line and leader in full control the moment you cast your fly and hit the water, maintaining as little slack as possible.
One of the popular flies that anglers like to use during this season is the Sucker Spawn, which is a hand-tied fly made to look like the egg cluster of a sucker.
Anglers nymphing during the late winter and early spring have attested to this egg fly’s effectiveness since trout are quick to gobble up this stationary prey. The Sucker Spawn is essentially made by looping bright colored yarn onto a hook shank to resemble the egg cluster of a suckerfish.
There are three main parts to a Sucker Spawn - yarn, thread, and hook.
The most vital part of the Sucker Spawn is the yarn. This will be the visible part of the fly, and it’s what will attract the trout to bite. Since white sucker eggs are a semi-transparent golden-yellow color, it’s only natural to match the yarn with a similar kind of shade. You are, of course, free to experiment with different colors, and if purchasing a Sucker Spawn off the shelf, you’ll find a variety to choose from.
An effective yarn doesn’t end with the color. The thread count or weave matters as well. Anglers attest that when the small fibers of the yarn disentangle from the main thread, it glistens in the water. This sparkling effect adds to Sucker Spawn’s realism and attractiveness to the trout. The two best choices to emulate this effect would be acrylic or polyester yarn, as they are the most resistant and have the right consistency.
Any kind of thread will do, as its primary function is to keep your yarn on the hook. Matching the color of the thread to the yarn will give it a seamless natural presentation. This, in turn, will make it more inviting to the trout. However, some anglers like to create some contrast by choosing either orange or red. You can try dipping both the thread and yarn into a glass of water and observe how they react when submerged.
The debate about using a scud hook versus a regular hook is for another time. For the Sucker Spawn, scud hooks are a good choice for trout and are specially designed for tying flies for egg patterns. Size 12-14 hooks are a great range to work with.
Since you are aiming for realism with your Sucker Spawn, it’s best to not use sinkers. White sucker egg clusters do not readily sink to the bottom, but hover near the surface and naturally drift with the currents.
To make the Sucker Spawn, start by anchoring your thread between the hook’s shank and bend. Next, create a ribbon loop on the bend of the hook, making sure it radiates outward. To secure the loop, wrap the thread around it several times. Create two more loops in this fashion toward the barb, and secure it with thread until you almost reach the hook’s point.
While the white sucker is not prized game fish, it plays a crucial role and assists anglers to have a better fly fishing experience. Instead of seeing the white sucker as a nuisance in your area, you can view it as an omen of good things to come in the spring.
Looking toward the future, the white sucker has great potential value. Scientists today are observing this species as an indicator for an aquatic system’s health. The white sucker is also vital as a foraging species for predatory fish, ensuring the survival and diversity of other species in an ecosystem. Its long life span and spawning rates help its populations to remain consistent and plentiful.
Lastly, the white sucker could be an important source of food for humans in the future. This overlooked species is known for its high tolerance for aquatic ecosystems with low oxygen levels and high pollutants. Should the earth’s waters find itself in danger from these threats, the white sucker could potentially be introduced to bodies of water to revive an ecosystem. It could also be a food source for remote and extreme locations in waters that are inhabitable to other fish. For all we know, maybe the white sucker might even be our source of protein when we travel to another planet.
Thank you, sucker!