A tale of two fishies

"It is the best of times and the worst of times” … to loosely paraphrase a certain classic book most of us were required to read in a school literature class.

Well, it is the best of times and that’s because it is now April and time for steel head trout to be running up big lake connected streams in West Michigan – or they’re supposed to be.

But the weather has made it the worst of times because a malingering cold wave moved in and pushed away the start of a warm-up of our waters just when it looked – and acted – like things were finally ready to cut loose on coastal steel head spawning streams.

Well, as slow a start as it has been, there are finally some anglers reporting more than ice on their line guides while hopes for a big surge of fresh fish remain for most old hand steel headers.

But this is a tale of two fish which show up about this time; while the other one may not have all the glamour of a big rainbow trout, it has its own legion of admirers who may a times outnumber the steel headers as they sit by a bank and wait for a clipped bell to ring on their fish rods as a rubber-lipped fish grabs their baited hook and tugs the bell into dinging. That fish is the white sucker – and sometimes one of its cousins like a red horse sucker; this fish will arrive in what is often a swarm of bottom feeding fish that sometimes jam into sandy holes in the river.

Some anglers consider the white sucker a “trash fish” – not worthy of their admiration. But not so for many more anglers who know that the runs of this fish provide a good reason to sit along some river bank, casting a baited line into some likely run as they sit back and welcome spring. Old sucker fishing friends may sit by a small bonfire, drink coffee and chat, sharing a few pleasant hours in what some has called an “outdoor coffee klatch,” as they wait for the bell to ring when a sucker is on the line.

Suckers may not win beauty contests when compared to the sleek, red-flanked, high energy steel head trout, but they look plenty good enough when a bucket begins to fill with a load of fresh-caught suckers – because sucker fishermen know that there’s a lot of food in that catch. Plus, there’s a more-then-liberal possession allowed – as in no size limit, no creel limit, and no closed season.

Out of the still-cold Great Lakes, white suckers are lean and sweet – if a bit on the boney side - and many a family mealtime will feature some type of sucker recipe, from fried sucker burgers to breaded filets, while a few sides like canned, pickled or smoked sucker will add to the variety of ways to present suckers d’jour.

Each spring, the City Park at Scottville is the site of the Annual Sucker Fest. That ought to tell you something about the popularity of this fish, since there is no matching Steel head Fest. Lake and Mason County folks know their suckers, respect them for the fun and food they provide, and so honor this sport by making a day of fun out of it.

So far, sucker anglers were doing better in creel success than steel headers as the lingering spell of hostile cold from Canada kept the usual steel head run from breaking loose as it usually does by the time of this writing. But suckers seem to take a reluctant spring in stride and sucker fishermen were being seen in fair numbers along the Pere Marquette and other Great Lakes connected waters.

With a cold wave hanging on well past its welcome, perhaps you might consider that other fish that is available at this time along the river – the white sucker. After all, it’s “The best of times and the worst of times” when it comes to river fishing. Right now, as this wretched cold wave hangs on, the “best of times” for fishermen may be sitting on a bank with a friend or two and listening for a bell to ring.

Pulling up your line and finding a rubber lipped fish at the other end may evoke this remark.

“Hi, y’sucker! Welcome back again!”