Sucker fishing in Michigan

I have heard people refer to suckers as the poor man's walleye.  This is a good description for the hard fighting fish.  Fishing for suckers is simple and cheap.  To fish for them, an angler doesn't need fancy equipment or a boat.  They don't taste as good as walleye (not much does) but if smoked or canned, suckers can be a nice treat.

Suckers can be speared or caught with a hook.  If you are interested in spearing, make sure to check out the regulations on the water you are thinking about.  If the water is designated as a trout steam, no spearing is allowed.  In the spring, most rivers that lead from bigger bodies of water will hold suckers.  The suckers run the rivers to go and spawn.  A general rule of thumb for the sucker run is to wait until the first good rain after ice out to start targeting them.  The suckers will start running slow, but by April first, the heavy action should be on.  Depending on the year, the hot action will last for a week or two.

Some rivers hold more suckers than others.  I have experienced good sucker fishing on the Clinton River in Metro Detroit, the Manistee river in Brethren, MI and also the Rifle river in Omer, MI.  The Rifle river being the most popular of the three.  Sucker fishing is such an event in Omer, the town used to hold an annual sucker fest.  

Once you find a river that you think will hold suckers, all you need is a simple rod and reel set-up.  Any rod and reel has the potential to catch suckers but I prefer a medium light pole over 6 feet long and a spinning reel.  Fishing for suckers on ultra-light tackle can be a blast.  The sucker will feel like a hard charging salmon on an ultra light rod.  When it comes to line choice, six or eight pound monofilament will be perfect for sucker fishing.

The majority of suckers find their way into an anglers bucket one way.  A good ole fashioned hook and worm.  When targeting suckers, an angler doesn't have to play around with lure color or fancy plastics.  He/she doesn't even have to worry about where the suckers are holding in the water column.  Suckers prefer a glob of worms a couple inches from the bottom of the river and that is about it.

There are a couple popular methods for anglers to present the hook and worm to a sucker.  The first method is to take a egg sinker with a hole in its center and thread it on your line.  Make sure to use enough weight to get the offering to the bottom of the river.  After this is done, tie a medium sized hook to the end of the line.  The egg sinker will move along your line allowing the hook and worm to always be in the sucker's line of sight no matter the depth.

If you are experiencing a lot of snags, instead of tying the hook directly, tie a barrel swivel to the end of the line.  After the barrel swivel, tie a three to four inch leader out of lighter pound test followed by the hook.  When snagged, the hook and leader will be the only thing that breaks off.

The second method, is to tie a three way swivel to your line.  Once the swivel is in place, tie a dropper line with a weight to the bottom swivel and a four to five inch leader to the other one.  Tie your hook to the end of the leader and you are ready to fish.  Throw the offering out into the river and let it drift along the bottom.  When tying the leader, make sure it is longer than three inches.  In Michigan, it is illegal to fish with anything shorter.  If experiencing snags, apply the method from the above technique.

If the outing is on the right day, anglers have the potential to come home with buckets of fish.  In Michigan, there is not a limit on how many suckers an angler can take.  However, if you do find yourself lucky enough to get into a big run of suckers.  Please do not take any more than you can clean and eat.  We need to make sure this resource is around for the next generation to enjoy.

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