Nature Bulletin No. 412-A March 27, 1971
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation
The suckers are a-runnin' ! " That exciting news spread quickly over
the countryside back in the days before there were so many "don'ts" in
our fish laws. Suckers migrate upstream soon after the ice breaks up
and congregate on gravelly riffles to suck up food and lay their eggs.
Then you would see groups of men and boys, by day or at night with
lanterns, heading for some clear creek or river. It was one of the surest
signs of spring.
suckers seldom bite on a hook, these fishermen used dipnets,
snag lines rigged with treble hooks, wire snares, fish spears or
pitchforks. A generation or more ago, these methods were made illegal
in most states because anglers claimed that they also made inroads on
gamefish and panfish. Now it is known that suckers and their kin -- the
redhorses, buffalofish and quillbacks -- are competitors of those
preferred species. As a result, many states have made one or more of
the old-fashioned ways of sucker-fishing legal again.
The members of the sucker family, nearly a hundred species of them,
are the most numerous of the large fish in most of our streams and
lakes. With the exception of two or three kinds in Siberia and China, all
are found in the fresh waters of North America where they range from
coast to coast and from northern Canada to the Gulf States. In Illinois
there are about 20 species that vary in size from the little Chub Sucker,
of our headwater streams, up to the Bigmouth Buffalo and the Round
Buffalo that sometimes exceed 50 pounds.
The fish of this family get the name "Sucker" from their habit of
sucking up plant material, small animal life and sediment from the
bottom. Their downturned mouths with fleshy lips are well-suited for
probing mud, or among rocks and pebbles. Many kinds have a mouth
which, when extended, looks like a short elephant trunk or an
attachment for a vacuum cleaner. All have toothless jaws, fins without
spines, and bodies covered with scales. Most of our common kinds,
such as the White Sucker, Spotted Sucker and the several Redhorses,
are elongated fish with round bodies. The 3 or 4 kinds of Quillback, the
Smallmouth Buffalo, and the rare Blue Sucker, have deep and more or
less flattened bodies.
All lay large numbers of eggs -- hundreds of thousands by the buffaloes
-- which they scatter over the bottom or among water plants. None gives
the eggs or young any parental care. The young of all kinds are
important food for gamefish and, when the size of your finger or even
larger, make fine bait for bass, wall-eyed pike, northern pike,
muskellunge and large catfish.
carp and buffalo are about the same size and shape, many
people confuse them. The carp has barbels or "whiskers" at the corners
of its mouth, a bony saw-toothed spine in the back fin, and the lower
half of the tail is orange or red. The buffaloes have none of these
Commercial fishermen, using nets and seines in the large rivers of the
Middle West, catch and sell millions of pounds of buffalofish. Like the
carp, their flesh is rather coarse with large numbers of small wiry Y-
shaped or star-shaped bones. Suckers and redhorses are not marketed
on a large scale but when taken from cold clean streams their flesh is
firm and sweet-flavored.
Strangest of all these fish is the Hog Sucker, also called Stoneroller and
Hammerhead, well known to boys along small creeks. With its
monstrous square head, wing-like fins and long snout, it is one of
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Update: June 2012