For us anglers in southern Manitoba, the month of April signals the end of ice fishing season and brings eager anticipation of opening day in May. This transition period where frozen bodies of water give way to fast flowing spring runoff is also a time marked on the calendar by many who partake in an annual tradition in this province. A short timeframe window in the spring, known locally as the ‘sucker run’, is when hundreds of people take advantage by pulling out their dip nets (saloks) and head to their favourite spots to catch a few (or dozens) of these fish.
There are several species of suckers here in Manitoba. The most common one that is readily caught during the spring spawning run are of the white sucker variety. In other parts of the province a good run of redhorse suckers can be found as well. The ones that spawn can range in size from 15 inches to a whopping beyond Master Angler 20 inches plus in length.
Suckers are regarded as ‘rough fish’ and are commonly looked down upon as by-catch by most sport anglers. To those in the know however, they are quite tasty and can be prepared several different ways including canned, smoked, breaded/battered, and the ever popular Filipino-style fish ball. Prepared properly the cooked meat resembles that of a lake whitefish. For many others, the main reason for dip netting these fish is to accumulate a supply of cut bait for later in the open water season. Cut chunks of sucker are a go-to bait for many channel catfish enthusiasts in the spring while sucker belly strips make fantastic bait for those who target lake trout.
Places to salok some suckers are along the shorelines of small rivers and creeks. You can watch as huge schools of them swim diligently along the water’s edge. They spook very easy though and netters have to be creative and apply some skill to be able to get a few in the scoop. The best place to get them by far however are flooded roadside ditches that flow into any lakes or rivers that have suckers in them. These relatively narrow strips of water can surprisingly carry hundreds if not thousands of these fish at times kilometres away from the source waterbody. Culverts and neckdowns are natural places that people and suckers alike congregate to.
I ventured out recently with my daughters to catch a few. We explored several areas checking ditches and creeks with no luck but eventually came upon a spot that had good numbers swimming along the length of it. I placed my girls with a big catfish net at a narrow spot while I went upstream a ways and herded a bunch of fish their way until some would end up in the net. We were able to get lots of pictures and we filmed a video which you can watch on the Kickerfish channel on YouTube.
Things to be aware of if you plan on heading out sometime these next few weeks to try: An angling licence is required which is the same one that you would have from this past ice season or last summer. Practice safety as many waterways can have fast flowing water at this time of year and small creeks and ditches are deceptively deep in the middle. In addition to any sucker species, carp, burbot, tullibee, and other small baitfish can be taken. Any game fish such as pike, walleye, perch, etc. that you may catch in your net must be released immediately. Always refer to the current Manitoba Angling Guide for full explanations on the regulations.