Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 00:22
Updated date: 3/28/18
Blue Sucker Cycleptus elongatus

12-pound Blue sucker captured by Corey Geving while electrofishing in the Mississippi River at the Minnehaha Creek Off-Leash Dog Park in downtown Minneapolis, MN. 2006


Other Names: blackhorse, bluefish, sweet sucker, suckerel, gourdseed sucker, Missouri sucker, razorback, slenderhead sucker, muskellunge, great blue sucker, muskelline, schooner



The blue sucker is a fish of legend. Once extremely common throughout the central United States, it has since declined due to the damming of the continent's major rivers. A mysterious wanderer of the deep, blues travel hundreds of miles to find their ancestral spawning sites.  Blue suckers are big fish - they can easily top ten pounds and a few up to 20 pounds have been taken in years past. To catch a blue sucker on hook and line is one of the greatest fishing accomplishments that any American Angler can hope to achieve.


It goes without saying that this fish should be protected and conserved wherever possible. In angling for this fish, please exercise restraint and prudence. However, on the whole, the establishment of the blue sucker as a sportfish of the highest order will do more for the species than any efforts at concealing its habits or protecting the individuals. Hence, I will do my best to tell you what I have found out over the years.



The Blue Sucker is an elongate, torpedo-shaped fish with a distinctly pointed snout, an underslung mouth, and a long dorsal fin. The pectoral finsare distinctly sickle-shaped. The overall color is a steely blue-gray; this can be variable in that murkier water produces lighter coloration, while fish from clearer waters tend to be darker. Overall, it's a striking and unique fish.


There are actually three species of blue suckers - the southeastern blue sucker (Cyceptus meridionalis), the Rio Grande blue sucker (Cycleptus sp. undesribed), and the "normal" blue sucker (Cycleptus elongatus). They all look and behave identically.





Blue suckers are the most migratory of the purely freshwater American fishes, often travelling hundreds of miles from their normal summer habitat to the spawning grounds in the spring. They are also amazingly attached to their home base, often returning to the exact spot they started in after swimming hundreds of miles up and downstream. Some blue suckers have been tracked swimming three hundred miles up and downriver every single year for a decade. Each summer, they returned to spend the summer under the same sunken log as they had year before. How the fish are able to do this is unknown, but it's something to keep in mind when looking for them.







Catching blue suckers is not particularly problematic - if you can find them. Because they can travel hundreds of miles, live in deep, fast water, and their migratory patterns are poorly understood, it is fiendishly difficult to determine when and where they will appear. For the majority of the year, they frequent fast, main-channel areas, preferably with hard bottoms - in particular, wingdam tips, rip-rap areas, and deep, fast runs. Unfortunately, this means they are usually going to be found in areas where barges travel, and where it's almost impossible to park a boat. Because of this, most anglers who pursue this fish resort to chasing after them during their spring spawning run. This is an endeavor which can be either spectacularly successful or dismally unsuccessful, depending on whether you hit the migration right.


Under whatever circumstances you find them, you'll need heavy weights and smallish hooks in the #6-#2 size - preferably circle hook. Some clever anglers have managed to use planer boards designed for open-water trolling as a method to get their rigs to stay in the strike zone. In any case, you'll be fishing the bait (probably a chunk of nightcrawler) directly on the bottom in fast, rocky water. Expect to lose a few sinkers.


The Blue Sucker Spawning Migration


Blues spawn in fast, rocky riffles over a substrate of cobble rock. This refers to rock that is bigger than gravel but smaller than boulders. Blues are very particular about their spawning grounds, and it's not readily apparent to humans what will make a good blue sucker spawning habitat. In general, you should look for fist to head-sized rocks, fast water at least two feet deep, a broken, riffly surface, and a long stretch of undammed major river connected to the riffle with no dams. Distance is not really a factor; in fact, the spawning riffle may be located in a river where blue suckers do not even live during the rest of the year. Spawning occurs from March through June, earlier in the south and later in the north. The average dates would be somewherre from mid-April to early May. Water temps around 53 degrees marks the beginning of the spawning process, with a few males beginning to appear at the spawning site. Spawning peaks at water temperatures around 62 degrees.  During the spawn, a small subset of the fish (10-15 at a time) will frequent the riffle crest, often with their backs and fins exposed, while the larger number of remaining fish will rest in the deeper water below. Individual fish remain only a short time (a few days at most) at the spawning grounds, but the spawning aggregation lasts for about two weeks, with a handful of males arriving a week early and another handful staying a week late.

Range Map

Photo Credits:

Photos courtesy of shorefisherman, blackbullhead, Corey Geving

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