Monday, November 1, 2010

Who's a Sucker?

A few weeks ago, while I was fishing in western Montana, I caught one of my target native fish species the largescale sucker. We have abundant and healthy populations of this chunky fish in our western rivers. The fish is actually native to almost all rivers in the Pacific drainage from the Skeena in B.C. to the Sixes in Oregon. The largescale is one of two suckers found in western Montana, the other species being the longnose. These fish are frequently found together in the same habitat and reportedly can even hybridize. They can get rather large (up to 23" and 6lbs) with the larger fish usually being about 8-11 years old.

Don't let the name sucker fool you into thinking that these fish are passive eaters. They can be aggressive, and as I experienced will even hit artificial lures. I had a large fish inhale the back end of a Rapala lure, and then take off for the next county. These fish are strong, energetic and a lot of fun to fish for. I am trying something new on this post, and am going to put up a short underwater video of a release. Nothing groundbreaking here, but you can get a sense of the power and quickness these fish.

Suckers are actually an intriguing family of fish. There are about 65 species (and counting) in North America, and suckers are found nowhere else in the world. Except for a few species in eastern Russia. Here in Montana, we have 9 native species of fish from this family. Suckers are clearly a victim of bad perception. Just the word "sucker" has a long legacy of negative connotation in our fact, I can't think of a situation where that word has been used in a positive manner. Don't let the name fool into thinking that they suck up garbage to eat, suckers can easily sort out the edible bits of food from the inedible parts. This also includes an ability to separate a worm from a hook. Suckers have an uncanny ability to detect hooks with their sensitive mouths and detecting a strike can sometimes be very challenging. Obviously, they get their name from how they feed on the bottom, but this behavior is in fact a great survival strategy. Because of this highly effective feeding strategy, suckers may just be one of the most productive in the country. They can create big populations of large fish (2-5lbs average) without even affecting other species.

What most people probably don't realize about suckers is that they really require clean, unpolluted water. The presence of a good population of suckers in a river is a great barometer of the water quality and river health. Suckers are highly adaptable fish, but cannot tolerate pollution or siltation...both of which are unfortunate consequences of modern development and industry.


  1. Nice work! That's one fish on my hit list for some day. I like all fish but suckers are among my favorite fish families.

    Are Longnose native to the westslope waters in MT?

  2. I love it. nice work on the largescale. they look much like their eastern cousin whitey...

  3. Trophy! I'm partial to white suckers smoked (better than whitefish), but feel a little guilty for killing them so don't usually.

  4. I miss catching suckers this year. I always enjoy tangling with them and maybe I still have a little bit of a shot here in November. Hopefully I can find on before 2010 is all used up!

    Looks like you are making some good progress on your list.