Published on March 28th, 2020 | by The Iceman0
How to catch suckers through the ice
Suckers are an underappreciated native fish that actively feed in the winter. Some people deride suckers and write them off as trash fish, but they are wrong. Suckers are a good ice fishing species as they can provide a lot of fun on a rod and reel. They can also be found in good numbers all over the United States and other parts of the world. So you don’t have to travel far to find them.
I like fishing for suckers. They grow to good sizes, they put up a decent fight and they actually taste great too. In my part of the world we most catch white suckers. We have a lot of redhorse too, but they are more common in the rivers and streams. Of course I only ice fish on ponds, lakes and reservoirs, mainly for the safety aspect. Ice fishing on moving water is a bad idea.
Finding suckers under the ice
A lot of people catch suckers while ice fishing. But is usually accidental. They are fishing for something else or nothing in particular and they just happen to hook up with a sucker. That is certainly fine, but if you want to specifically target suckers than you have to put in a little work.
In some ways, ice fishing for suckers is like ice fishing for catfish. The first thing you have to do is locate the fish. Catfish slow down quite a bit in cold water. Suckers are slightly more active, but they do slow down too. So if you really want to catch suckers you have to make sure you are presenting the bait where the fish actually are.
I often find suckers in the deepest part of man made ponds and lakes of moderate size. If you are fishing giant reservoirs and natural lakes that might not be the case. But on smaller impediments look for deep flats back from the dam. It seems like the suckers prowl those areas in schools. It is almost like they are grazing those flats which would allow them to suck up a lot of food with minimal effort.
The other place to find suckers is near channels and inlets. They haunt those areas picking up on new food that drifts in front of them. They can just wait for the food to show up in the way a trout sits in a stream waiting for nymphs to float by. Of course moving water is dangerous, and you want to stay away from ice where streams and springs flow. The water temperature is different so the ice is often thin and unsafe. But water moves even in lakes, and you can still set up over channels where there is enough flow to interest the fish.
Ice fishing for suckers
Finding suckers is the biggest part of the battle. But you still have to get them to bite. Suckers mainly suck up things like algae, blood worms and small nymphs from the bottom. Hence the name. But they will also readily take bait ranging from maggots to red worms and even corn! I wouldn’t use corn in the cold water. I actually seem to have the best success fishing a plain gold Clam drop jig tipped with either maggots or wax worms. I jig is very softly near the bottom or dead stick it right in front of the fish. The tungsten material that sinks fast and the small sharp is what makes the jig work so well. So a similar lure would probably catch just as many fish.
If you know you are fishing over a pod of suckers be patient. Some times the bite will be hot and heavy. But other times it will be slow and methodical. Suckers can be light biters even in the summer. When the water is cold they slow town and may only slightly tap your line. It is like looking for . A spring bobber can help you detect sucker bites. But I just use the HT Enterprises Ultra Light Rod. It’s a super sensitive stick with a bright orange tip. You can’t help but see when a fish hits your bait.
Once you hook a sucker you might be surprised by how solid they are. They can put on a real fight on light line. The good thing is that they don’t have any teeth around their soft fleshy lips. So you don’t have to worry much about breaking the line unless you horse the fish or your line cuts against the ice or something.
Once you get the fish on the ice you might wonder what to do with them. If you’re just out fishing for fun, the obvious next step would be to release them and quickly and easily as possible so they can continue their lives. If you catch smaller suckers you could consider using them for pike bait too, if that is legal where you are. Pike really love suckers, and they fish well under a tip up.
Finally, you could keep a couple of suckers to eat. They are filled with small bones but they have a surprisingly tender and fresh flesh that tastes delicious when prepared correctly. The most common way to prepare suckers is to chunk the meat then grind it and make fish patties. That is easier than it sounds and even people who don’t like fish that much usually enjoy fish cakes. The next best option is to pickle the suckers and enjoy them later on. They taste good either way.