Sucker fishing has gained popularity in recent years as more anglers have become familiar with these specialized fish. Suckers, carpsuckers, redhorses, quillbacks, buffalo, and other fish are members of one of North America’s most common family of freshwater fish. The various species differ somewhat in size and appearance, ranging from a few inches in length to large fish that can weigh several pounds. As a group, they share common feeding behaviors and other traits.
Suckers and their relatives have specialized mouths that are well suited for scouring the bottoms of streams, rivers, and lakes. Suckers are often associated moderate to fast moving currents and areas where stones, pebbles, or gravel make up the bottom structure. In these habitats, suckers grub along the bottom in search of aquatic creatures as well as plant material.
Feeding suckers sometimes exhibit an unusual behavior involving other species of fish. As suckers feed among stones and other objects, small fish, crayfish, and other prey are stirred up, some of which escape from the suckers. Species such as smallmouth bass, rock bass, and longear sunfish sometimes follow along behind suckers as they feed, gorging on any prey that escapes. It is not clear whether the sucker reaps any benefit from the presence of its companion fish.
Many species of suckers can be caught using live or cut baits. When fishing for suckers, anglers face a variety of challenges. In streams and small creeks, currents can present considerable obstacles for anglers. To lessen the chance of becoming snagged, specialized hooks, leaders, and rigs may be necessary. These include Carolina rigs or other rigs that offer some resistance to snagging.
In addition to conventional angling techniques, suckers are sometimes taken using alternative fishing methods such as bowfishing, spearing, or other techniques. In general, suckers are not widely recognized as a food fish. A few species have firm, white, light-tasting meat and are harvested for the table.