Tuesday, April 30, 2019

How to Score a Sucker and Where to Grab One

Spring suckers provide fine sport and good eating.

          Usually the yellow suckers run up the streams of the Ozarks earlier than this, but there is no strict timetable. Depending on water conditions, weather, and other factors you can find suckers shoaling in April and May if you look for them. Some friends of mine make a trip each year to the tributaries of Norfork Lake to grab suckers, and they have it down to a fine art, with perfect gear for grabbing, and grab hooks that are built with one large hook and a weight beneath it that makes the single hook sit up on the bottom.  That type of grabbing is sort of blind grabbing, like the paddlefish grabbers do.

          But when I was young, we found the suckers on clear shoals in the spring, preparing to spawn, and we simply used a big treble hook with a white rag tied to the line about eighteen inches in front of the hook.  When a sucker swam up to that white rag you gave a mighty jerk and if you were lucky, the fight was on.  Because you had to use a fairly stiff rod to jerk those hooks, the fight might not be the kind you expected from hooking a bass on a spinning rod.

In the old days, sucker grabbing in the spring allowed for a church or community fish fry.

         But the idea was to get a string of suckers to eat, and I am here to tell you, those spring ‘yaller suckers’ were delicious.  Of course you had to know about suckers to be able to eat them.  You removed the scales with a spoon, removed the head, entrails and tail, and then you had a big chunk of fish full of fine bones.  Fry it that way and you couldn’t eat it for the bones.  But Ozark sucker grabbers knew that you could eliminate the bone problem by ‘scoring’ the fish.  That meant you took a sharp thin-bladed knife and sliced through the meat on each side of the fish all the way to the backbone, making cuts from top to bottom every quarter inch or so.  That way, the bones were indiscernible.
there are lots of ways to grab yellow suckers in the spring    

         A few years back I was floating a stream in north Arkansas the first week in May and I came across a couple of fellows who had sucker grabbing fever.  They were sitting up over a shallow eddy below a shoal perched on sycamore limbs, grabbing suckers swimming below them.  The strung the fish they grabbed on a long stringer hanging into the water behind them.  I was catching smallmouth and releasing them, but I couldn’t help but want to join them.  They loaned me a treble-hook and I sat in my johnboat just below them and grabbed a half-dozen suckers to eat for super.

not many modern fishermen grab buffalo, or know how to prepare them to eat.

         A couple of springs back, I was floating another tributary to an Ozark lake trying to catch a walleye or two and some white bass, when I came onto a flowing tail waters below a shallow shoal that was teeming with spawning black buffalo.  I found the biggest lure in my tackle box and removed the treble hook and started whipping it through that water in an attempt to grab one of those fish, some as large as ten or twelve pounds.  It took awhile to get those small trebles to hook and hold, but when I finally hooked a six or seven pound buffalo I had a fight on that medium casting rod that was a real tussle.  It took an hour or so, but I had three in the boat before I laid into one of those 12 pounders and it broke my line.  While few fishermen know enough about the black buffalo to know how good they are to eat, I have learned a thing or two from old-time rivermen. When they use to talk about a feast on buffalo ribs in the springtime, they weren’t talking about the plains animals the mountain men ate.

What an odd spring it has been for us mushroom hunters who always eat too many of them and then wonder why they spent so much time hunting them.  I usually find a hundred or so morels in April and sometimes many more… enough to where I give away quite a few to some elderly folks who can’t get out and hunt them.  This year on two three-hour jaunts I found only about 60 or so in my area.  While in past years I have found morels in many habitats, including thickets, gravel bars and even cedar glades, this year I found not one morel that was more than a few feet from fairly large ash trees.

          The fascinating thing about nature is, nothing is ever the same, from one year to another.  I will find some more morels I think, this week up on Truman Lake, which, it seems, always has a good crop in late April or early May.  In northwest Ontario, which I will visit about the end of May, there will be some morels to be found as late as early June.  Those in Canada are twice the size of the average morel found in the Ozarks, but they taste the same.

         To contact me, write to P.O. Box 22 Bolivar, Mo 65613 or email lightninridge47@gmail.com  If I am not somewhere else, I am usually here in my office and can talk with you via phone, 417 777 5227.  That is the number to use to order one of my magazines or one of my books.

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