Sucker, Sonora Surfraider

Sucker, Sonora
Lower Salt River
Date Caught: 
Sunday, February 19, 2012


TonyS's picture

Awesome!  I'd love to get one of those!

That looks to be a desert sucker.  A big one, and a nice specimen.  The best way to tell them apart is by the lips. The desert sucker has firm, wide, horseshoe shaped upper lip, with a hard and straight cartilagenous ridges just inside the lips, while the sonora has fleshy lips that are fairly protrusable. Its hard to tell from this photo, but looks more like a wider non-fleshy lip.  But you can also tell it is a desert because of the scale size and pattern, that the scales sort of bulge out a little on the back and upper sides, and the yellow eye, which are good features to use for a quick identification in large individuals like this.  Not so with smaller fish less than a foot long.  Still a very nice catch.  Congrats.  The deserts are harder to catch than the Sonora suckers. 

Your probably right... This was one of the first suckers I caught from the Salt and it got me to go after other roughfish. At the time I didn't know the mouth differences. But even after I found it out Ikept is as a Sonoran because it seemed to have the portruding lips that are common on the Sonoran and similiar to pics I took of other Sonoran from this angle. I'll take this photo down and put one that is more clearly identifiable.

IvanTortuga's picture

Any tips for a relatively new river fisher? I've been trying to catch one of these and the carp down in the canals in phoenix and I'll tell you what I'm apparently an idiot when it comes to these guys. Any angling tips would be awesome.

drawer.bli's picture

Actually, I dunno if it's a desert sucker...

This is a desert vs sonora sucker mouth (respectively).

And this is a sonora sucker's eyes (which are yellow).


And here is a desert sucker of similar size to the one Surfraider caught. 


So I'm pretty sure this one's a sonora...

To clear the confusion, I changed the photo. The second photo you have was my original Sonoran picture. Which is actually a desert sucker. 

Ivantortuga, I've not fished the canals in Phx, but nightcrawlers are the basic bait of choice to catch suckers in Arizona.  I'd recommend a smallish nub of crawler, or small red wiggler, when fishing for desert suckers. They like to feed on boulders and bedrock, scaping algae and attached invertebrates off with the cartilageous scrapers in their mouth.  The photo above of the 2 suckers side by side (desert on left and Sonora on right) is a classic shot of the mouth/lips difference, and the scrapers can be seen in the mouth of the desert. So, in those concrete canals, I'd probably try to place your bait sort of on the side wall as it angles down toward the bottom, maybe high enough along the wall where it grows more algae.  Do you ever see suckers feeding along the canal walls.  If you do, just place your bait in front of them. I've caught them in mostly clear streams and sight fish for them.  They usually feed/travel in groups. And keep your bait relatively small.  For the Sonora suckers, they tend to be on the very bottom of the deepest pool, but sometimes will come into the shallows or riffles to feed.  They will take bigger baits and I've caught them on whole large nightcrawlers.  I've had very good luck catching Sonora suckers in April in deep pools in the Salt River (the first deep pool just upstream of Blue Point Bridge has been a good producer of Sonora suckers for me, and its close to the city).  In a canal, I'd soak a nightcrawler on the very bottom and be patient. Good tactic for carp also. 

Flyfishermen do well catching suckers in the Salt, swinging any basic nymph downstream in mild riffle areas, don't pick up the line until it is straight downstream of you when wading.  A big Sonora would be a blast on a light flyrod.  I've not caught them on a fly myself, but there are plenty that have.

FYI, the bluehead sucker and Little Colorado sucker in the Little Colorado River system in AZ have the same mouth shapes as the desert and Sonora, with the bluehead having the scrapers and the LC sucker having the more fleshy lips without scrapers.  The 2 pairs do not overlap in range, which helps a ton with identification.

Gotta love the suckers.  I've learned a lot about them by snorkeling the streams and rivers, watching their habits.  It can be very boring when they are not feeding, but way cool when they are on the move and feeding.  Don't try swimming/snorkeling the canals though, that's dangerous (swift current and tough to get out). If you live in Phx, I'm sure you've seen the headlines of people drowning in the canals.

Anyway, mostly be observant, look for suckers feeding and sight fish them, or just keep trying different things until you find something that works.