Most of the seasons on hunting will end some time this month, but some
species of fish--notably the "S" species --offer interesting days in the
open, not to mention great table fare.
The "S" species are, of course, are suckers and sauger, both of which
like moving water, although they also will be found in larger lakes--especially
those that are fed by streams of consequence.
If you spend your late-winter angling hours on such big rivers as the
Ohio, Wabash or lower reaches of White River's main stem, you may be familiar
with the sauger, which looks very much like a walleye, but isn't.
On smaller rivers--even streams--of the state the sucker may be the
more familiar species, even though it also will be found on the aforementioned
Generally, however, Hoosier anglers are more familiar with the sucker
although neither species gets it fair share of interest.
Still, those who quest for either suckers or sauger smile a lot when
they put their feet under the dinner table. The word "quest" here
is more apropos than "fish" because those who go for suckers try their
luck in many ways other than the conventional hook, line and sinker. This,
of course, gives the sucker a decided edge in popularity over the sauger
in the minds of most Hoosier outdoors folks.
Credit basic behavior for the fact that both suckers and sauger offer
good action at this time of year. When the sun starts its northward journey
after the winter solstice (about Dec. 21) most species of fish start thinking
of nesting. But with sauger and suckers this built-in urge comes much earlier
(ordinarily when water temperatures are below 50 degrees). This accounts
for the earlier feeding activity, which is what fishing is all about.
The sauger is a big-water species. And while this species tends to thrive
in moving water, it still will be found in larger lakes--especially the
Generally, however, the best sauger fishing available to Hoosiers will
be found below one of the four navigational dams on the Indiana stretch
of the Ohio River.
I hear more sauger success stories from anglers who fish below the Markland
Dam upstream from Madison. It probably is not as crowded as the others.
But sauger are taken from the river below McAlpine Dam at Louisville, Cannelton
Dam at the Hoosier town of the same name (upstream from Tell City), and
Newburg Dam (upstream from Evansville).
Sauger are taken by bank fishermen, but the best fishing requires a
boat. The best fishing, naturally, is the water immediately below the dams
and this can be dangerous for many reasons. As a result, the Army Corps
of Engineers often imposes strict regulations.
Best bait for sauger is the night crawler, but this species may be taken
on small live minnows, and artificial lures (jigging-type spoons are a
good bet). Those who fish artificials often are handicapped by murky water.
Except for the fact that the flesh of sauger is not quite as firm as
that of the walleye, qualities as food, and procedures for preparing them
for the table, are much the same.
I have saved the suckers for last in this discussion because methods
of taking the sucker species are so varied for the two species--white sucker
(Catostomus commersoni), and redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum).
Old-time Hoosier anglers speak of white and black suckers, but the scientific
community maintains that the species called black suckers is our white
sucker, and that the redhorse is the other member of that family.
The pattern of scales is the best physical feature to use in differentiating
between the two. The white sucker will have smaller scales toward the tail,
larger scales toward the head. Scales on the redhorse will be the same
size over the length of the fish. Fins and tail of the redhorse may range
from gray, to yellowish or even red.
Indiana regulations provide that the suckers can be taken in several
ways--everything from conventional hook and line with live bait (garden
worms are best) to spear, pitchfork, or bow with fish arrow. Crossbows
are not legal.
When I was a kid in Southern Indiana, the magic words for late-winter
outdoor activity were "suckers are on the riffle." This meant the spawning
Suckers are free-spawners. They do not fan out nests in the bottom like
bass and members of the panfish family. Instead, females spew out their
eggs over gravel and sand bars in swift, shallow water. The eggs, fertilized
by males, adhere to rocks and pebbles to hatch.
Suckers, like other species of fish, feed heavily before spawning to
insure a hefty sack of eggs, and when they feed they are vulnerable to
hook-and-line anglers--even those who use set lines.
Old Puckermouth, as suckers are known to many followers, does not have
a big mouth and it tends to point downward to make rooting around the bottom
for food easier.
With this pattern in mind, it is well to put your offering on or very
close to the bottom. Sand or gravel bottom is a good place to find suckers
feeding, especially if the water is fairly deep and there is some current.
Suckers are extremely wary--I have known several sucker anglers who
thought it an absolute necessity to keep their shadows off the water. These
anglers also lived by the creed that a stealthy approach to the water (and
little movement on the bank while fishing) could spell success or failure.
Although suckers are taken on conventional bait and spincast tackle,
the dedicated anglers I knew as a youth used eight to 10-foot poles without
reel, and a line about the same length as the pole. Hooks were small--most
used a short-shanked hook with gap only slightly more than ¼ (one-fourth
inch). The short shank was deemed necessary because it best to hide the
hook entirely in gobs of bait. Garden worms hooked many times hide the
hook better than larger worms like night crawlers, and they tend to get
the hook point into the mouth of the fish.
Suckers are very light biters, and this makes tight-line (straight up-and-down)
fishing the preferred method. Once the water depth is determined, the line
should be wrapped around the end of the pole until there is enough line
beyond the pole tip to reach bottom, plus some extra to keep the tip of
the pole out of the water. Poles should be hand-held to detect the light
action when a sucker takes the bait.
I like a dark braided line with a foot or two of monofilament line between
the hook and the braid. Thin strips or lead (.22 caliber lead rifle bullets
will work when flattened with a hammer on a hard surface and trimmed with
Wrap-on strips make it possible to use just enough weight to take the
bait to the bottom and keep it there. A heavier weight could spook suckers.
Although suckers may be mouthing the bait without the angler's knowledge,
feeling, a steady pressure on the pole tip will indicate there is action
in the offing. Movement of the line upstream at the point where it enters
the water is another good indicator.
It is best to set the hook with a sharp-but-short upward movement of
the pole tip. When a fish is hooked it should be banked as quickly as possible
to avoid spooking other fish.
Another exciting method of taking suckers when they are "on the riffle"
is with a gig (spear head) on a long pole.
This activity is heavily regulated by the Division of Fish and Wildlife
(DFW), but gigging suckers is within the law day or night on some stretches
of rivers with a flow of 1,500 cubic feet of water per second. There are
eight of these listed in the DFW's annual "Indiana Fishing Guide (available
free at most bait and hunting gear shops), or by writing the fish/wildlife
agency (402 West Washington Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204.
On other streams and rivers, those with flows of less than 1,500 cubic
feet per second, suckers may be taken with pitchfork or bow and arrow from
sunrise to sunset throughout the year.
Regulations on tributaries of Lake Michigan are much more stringent.
Suckers, as many say, are very bony fish, but the bones can be eliminated
with cleaning and cooking techniques, all of which has been covered on
other pages of this website. To learn more of these procedures do searches
on "Cleaning Suckers," and
The bones of suckers can also be eliminated by pressure canning (search