Into The Outdoors 2-11-14 Issue

Well, as we all know, we have had a brutal winter, and, as of this writing, it is still going on.  Those of us of the fishing persuasion can only look forward to sucker fishing, as soon as the ice goes out on the Allegheny.  As a realist, I know that there is probably a lot more to come.  But, since I am fishing minded, I hope that at least some kind of fishing comes along soon.
This week, let’s look a bit at an early opportunity to wet a line.  
Of all the fish that swim in the Allegheny and its tributaries, none probably gets less respect than the sucker.  He’s a poor fighter, very poor table fare, and, on top of all of that, he’s ugly.  He’s a lot better than nothing, though, and the early ice-out may very well afford us the opportunity to go after him earlier this year.  There was a time when, in my youthful exuberance, I would go sucker fishing in pouring rain and bitter cold.  Those days are long past, but sucker fishing is still a rite of spring to which I eagerly look forward.
The two most common suckers in the Allegheny are the white sucker and the hog sucker.  Due to its larger average size, the white sucker is the primary quarry of anglers.  A few other species of sucker are found in the river, but they are rather scarce.  In the spring, shortly after ice-out, large numbers of suckers gather at the mouths of tributary streams in preparation for spawning.  A particular hotspot is the area near the mouth of Sugar Creek near the East Brady bridge.  When the suckers start to hit, area anglers grab their gear and head for the banks.  Just about anyplace where a tributary empties in can provide angling action.  
Outfitting yourself for sucker fishing is easy and inexpensive.  Any reel that will allow you to cast a short distance will do quite well.  The rod must be stout enough to handle rather heavy sinkers, but that’s about the only requirement.  
Suckers are more or less exclusively bottom feeders.  They use their small, downturned mouths like vacuum cleaners to gather food.  Therefore, it is vital that you keep your bait on the bottom at all times.  A fairly heavy sinker is required.  I normally place a splitshot between the heavy sinker and the hook, while allowing the line to pass freely through the eye of the heavy sinker.  That way, a biting sucker will not feel any resistance from the weight.
Live baits are about the only way to go when sucker fishing.  Lures are basically ineffective.  Redworms are my favorite baits, followed by pieces of nightcrawlers.  Maggots and other small larvae will also sometimes produce.  Sucker fishing technique is really ultra-simple and laid back.  You just toss out your bait, prop the rod in a forked stick or on a rock, then sit back and relax.  When the rod tip starts to jump, set your hook and reel in your catch.  This easygoing pace is one of the best things about fishing for suckers.  After a long winter, it is really relaxing.  
Once you haul in some suckers, you must decide what to do with them.  The flesh is very bony, and I’ve never succeeded at any of the sure-fire methods for dealing with the bones.  Therefore, I usually simply return the suckers to the water unharmed.  Sometimes, I’ll keep one or two for the smoker.  Smoked suckers, while bony, are rather tasty.  Some folks use suckers for fertilizer or for trapping bait.  Whatever you do, don’t leave them on the bank to rot.  For one thing, this is a senseless waste, and, for another, it won’t make for much of a friendship with the landowner.
Despite his shortcomings, the sucker offers you the chance to fish when you might not otherwise have the chance.  You have to love him for that.  I hope you enjoyed this little early look at some fishing to come.

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