Largescale Suckers on the Fly, Montana, January

The lucky SOBs highly skilled anglers over at False Casts and Flat Tires got a surprise gift from the Bitterroot River recently, and I’m jealous: a bunch of 20″ largescale suckers (Catostomus macrocheilus) and some trout to keep them busy while waiting for another sucker to bite. I can’t go home to Montana and catch fish like these now, so I’m grateful they chose to post excellent photos (and give me permission to post them here). I wonder how many fishing bloggers catch and photograph suckers and other cool fish but don’t bother to post them.

Click these to see them a little larger, but for full effect follow the links below and view them in much higher quality.

Their report: http://falsecastsflattires.com/2012/01/15/fly-fishing-is-for-suckers/

The follow-up with more sucker shots: http://falsecastsflattires.com/2012/01/19/as-requested.

There’s also a video of the day’s fishing, with a little sucker action, at Yukon Goes Fishing: http://www.yukongoesfishing.com/2012/01/cutties-are-for-suckers.html

Jealous. So jealous…

More on C. macrocheilus at fishbase and the Montana Field Guide.

Cowardly pike, sportless walleye, evil gar, holy trout & virtuous whitefish

Looking for Insults

I tend to get pretty angry when I find anti-sucker (and other roughfish) sentiment on the web or in current publications. By now, shouldn’t everyone know better? In older sources, however, I make a point of looking for insults, dismissals, diatribes and condemnations of the fish I like. It’s fun to read. While I wouldn’t expect old books aimed at a popular audience (how-to-fish manuals, fishing guidebooks, memoirs of fishermen) to cover fishing for suckers, the problem is that very few of them ever mention suckers at all, even in passing. (See this post on suckers as vermin for one exception.)

In addition to suckers, I always look to see what—if anything—these authors had to say about some of my other favorites, such as gar and bowfin. As toothy predators from the time before trout, gar and bowfin are easy targets for insults. Like suckers, they are almost never mentioned at all—except in scientific books. I think I’ve found mention of bowfin in only one or two old collections of fishing stories, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen any mention of gar in any old book about fishing.

The scientific books are more fertile ground. Any half decent scientific work of any age that covers the fishes of North America has to include the undesirables I’m looking for, if only briefly, and they usually do it without much entertainment value. The most entertaining prose, unsurprisingly, tends to be in the non-scientific works (see below).

When an author—popular or scientific—feels the need to go beyond simply ridiculing a fish for not being a trout or bass, the usual course is to blame them for harming other, more desirable, species (and it doesn’t matter whether the accusations have merit). Suckers are maligned as mud-eaters lacking esthetic or commercial value, but are also be blamed for eating the eggs of trout and walleye. Gar, bowfin and other predatory fish (other than trout) are blamed for gorging on whatever species are most profitable in a given body of water, be it trout or walleye.

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The Boy’s Own Guide to (sucker) Fishing (1894)

Here’s a first: A book that doesn’t malign suckers and doesn’t just mention them in passing or as bait but

  • has an entire chapter about sucker fishing
  • gives suckers pride of place with the first chapter
  • recommends fishing for suckers
  • recommends eating suckers and says they’re as good as trout
  • instructs the reader on proper methods of worm cleaning

There are some slights against suckers, but nothing major and far outweighed by the positives.

Plus, it teaches the proper method of fishing with an unbent sewing needle.

Less important chapters include: Pickerel Trolling in Spring • Bait-fishing for Trout • Fishing for the Sun-fish and other “Boys’ Fishes” • Fly-fishing for Trout and Fly-making • Fly-fishing for Bass, Perch, Sun-fish, etc. • Minnow-fishing for Trout • Bass Fishing with the Minnow, etc. • Fishing through the Ice • Breeding Trout, etc., in Winter

The boy's own guide to fishing, tackle-making and fish-breeding (cover)

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Suckers, eels and other vermin

From page 217 of The Book of Fish and Fishing by Louis Rhead, 1917:

For big trout, lying low in deep pools, more particularly the brown trout, the worm should be sunk to the bottom; it is sure to be taken quick, if the worm is actively alive. Of course, suckers, eels, and other vermin are liable to take it, if left in one position for any length of time. To prevent such annoyance, keep it moving, a yard or so every few seconds, not so violently as to scare the fish.

Later (p. 300) he accuses suckers and other disreputable fish of interfering with the stocking of trout:

Fry, unless bred in enormous quantities, are very little use in rivers which already contain feeders on fish, like eels, catfish, suckers, carp, pickerel, and perch.

Le moxôstome doré

I’ve been working on several posts for the moxostoma blog, but none seemed worthy of being the first. This old sucker is just the thing to break that barrier.

1897 color plate of le moxostome dore

From Les poissons d’eau douce du Canada (1897) by A. N. Montpetit. More to come from this book.

(This image is in the public domain because it is too old to be under copyright.)