A thousand miles for a blue sucker

On the morning of thursday April 19th my brother sends me a text message with a photo titled "WTF is this???" sure enough he had a blue sucker in the net.

After I explain the signifigance of his catch (and call him several things involving four letter words, and others I just made up) he decides to fish for them the rest of the day and post pics on facebook labeled "na-na na-na boo-boo, stick your head in doo-doo, I caught a blue sucker before you" some if his pics below.

So after taking a couple days off work and schmoozing my wife into letting me go cross country on such short notice, I'm driving to central Kansas later that evening.  I drove all through the night stopping once in Brookings, SD to gas up.  I arrived in Junction City around 9 am and met up with my brother at a local bait shop to get the feeling back in my legs and buy a non-res KS fishing liscense.  we headed a few miles down the road to the spillway of the Republican river below Milford resevoir, which has been at high releases for the last week (2,000 cfs).  we walk to the edge of the churning water and instantly my brother yells "look there's some" and sure enough I see 3 dark images beating the rapids slowly moving up stream and fading back out into the river.  we rig up with 2oz bottom bouncers and a simple small hook with an inch or two of worm.  A few minutes later my brother has one, and I lay eyes on my first real live blue.  They feel like rubber sandpaper, their fins are thick and rubbery and there is almost no slime on them.  Their nose is like a rubber bumper pad for running into rocks.  A quick couple pics, a little more oogling and I get my line in and finally (10 minutes into the trip) hook into my first blue, and then another, and another, and another......They are amazingly stronger than you'd expect and like to jump within the first few seconds of being hooked.

The males averaged around 4 to 5 lbs while the females were much bigger and were smoother and lighter in color.  we had a few females on our lines that were easily 20lbs but we just couldn't keep a fish that big and that strong with such a fleshy soft mouth on a tiny hook in current like that.  In all I imagine we caught approx 20 blues before we decided to head back to my brothers house and unpack my gear & clothes.


This was one of my favorite rigs that worked very well.  I use a planer board in the fast current to pull my bottom bounce and crawler out to the middle of the river and keep it in place until a fish hits.  As I reel in, I swing the planer over to my brother to de-board me and I continue to reel the fish in.

After unpacking and a quick bite to eat we decide to see what else we can catch.  Upon walking back down to the river I notice a big turquoise male eastern collared lizard bobbing his head at me from the highest rock in his territory.  I told my bro to make a noose with fishing line at the end of his pole and snare it....one successfull snaring turned into hours of lizard landfishing.

I enjoy collecting reptiles and field herping as much as I do fishing, and central Kansas is one of the best places to knock species off a lifelist.  I didn't find any lifers, but with the small amount of herping we did we found some red sided garters, plains skinks, collared lizards, northern water snakes, and prairie ringneck snakes.

We spent the rest of the afternoon desperately trying for a big longnose gar.  I hooked into 3 monsters that were between 4 and 5 feet long and several smaller ones, but their jaws are made of some material that rivals the durability and hardness of space shuttle heat shield tiles and we just couldn't land one.  I had to ditch the nightfishing Ideas since I hadn't slept yet and was starting to get delirious.

The next morning we hit a few of the farmers bass ponds that dotted the kansas country side.  Plenty of largemouth and bluegill, nothing huge and no lifers but still fun.

We then went back to the river for some more blues, but it seemed I was not a day too late.  we fished for 4 more hours and not a single blue, never even saw one cruising the shoreline for the rest of the weekend.  The high water flow, the temps, and possible photoperiod brought them up into that spillway for only a few days, maybe a week in concentrated numbers to spawn and then disperse overnight back into the river system.

Later that evening we hit the drainage ponds for the fish hatcher below Milford resevoir.  we caught several nice bluebill, tons of dinky channel cats, and a saugeye to my brothers surprise, he didn't know they were in there.

Then after dark this surprise came along

The next morning we went out to do some creek fishing and did fair.  I also netted a handfull of micros I'll have to post later for identification.  madtoms, shiners, darters and dace etc.

My brothers army buddy came with, and got a surprise while he was checking the liveliness of his minnow at the waters edge, a 3lb bass came out of nowhere and took the bait inches from his feet.

I spent the rest of the day trying for a longnose gar but it seemed like they followed the blue suckers back to whatever parrallel dimension they came from.  Later this summer maybe.


Species List: 
Sucker, Blue



Bubbajoe's picture


That's really all I can think of at the moment!


Other than I love the planer board idea!

Reekfish's picture

SO unbelievably awesome!!!!!!!!!!! Way to go!!! smiley

atenkley's picture

A great example of the factor of timing in the pursuit of these creatures.  Love the herp stuff too!  - Arlan

....visit  .....those other fish

TonyS's picture

Awesome fishing. awesome report. awesome pictures.


Now the technical questions:


-What was the water like?  depth? speed? bottom type?


-What size hook?  Other rigging tips?


-How did the planner board work?  Did you just feed it out and dragged the sinker out or did you cast and then rig the board?

the pyromaniac's picture

I'll be dreaming of Kansas when I sleep tonight...




Let there be fire!

Gunnar's picture

I'm putting Kansas on my 2013 calendar.

The pictures are fantastic in their own right, but especially when compared with the ones we usually see when walleye guys catch blues by accident.

I'm stunned by this whole report. Amazing fishing, awesome lizards, excellent effort.


Redhorse ID cheatsheets, gars, suckers: moxostoma.com

2019: 16 days fishing 25 species 7 lifers. 2018: 39/40/5 2017: 49/52/14

shorefisherman's picture

water was cloudy with about 15-20" visibility and was in the low to mid 60s.  very fast current 3-4 mph, rocky man made rip-rap bottom.  hook sizes varied from tiny to small (I don't know my size #) finger nail to pinky nail size.  we used super lines like fireline, but I suspect with some forgiving mono I may not have torn the hooks out of the realy big females mouths.


I did get to watch a group of 4 or 5 males come into shallow water with a big female and spawn, and of course forgot the underwater camera case for my video camera.  next year I'll get some spawning footage.


Thanks for all the awesome comments guys, and I do appologize for being the new guy that had to go out and be the first to catch the unicorn, then ride the unicorn, and take a whole bunch of clear pictures of a unicorn.  After I caught the 5th or 6th blue, I thought of a caption for a single pic as a teaser, "put this in yer lifelist pipe and smoke it" but I thought I'd come off as a big enough dink just by posting any pics of these at all.

TonyS's picture

I figure you earned the Blue, you were able to hit right - something the rest of us haven't figured out yet.  You caught the unicorn but there are quite a few guys here who catch impossible fish so we are getting used to it!


I'm still strugging to see the planer dragging a sinker out?  Do you cast first or does the board just drag it? 


Reading on teh intarwebs people apparently use boards from the bank with cranks for salmonids (something I didn't know).  Some feed them out and down on rivers - others (according GL forum posts) troll boards from the beach with 4-wheelers...

dj330's picture

speachless. i will be fishing here very soon. 

andy's picture

Wow, you da man shorefisher!  The whole story is great, getting a tip and driving 1000 miles to encounter blue suckers, then they are all gone tomorrow...wow.  Your efforts have given all of us important insight on how these rare fish behave, so thank you so much for sharing. 



shorefisherman's picture

The water was only 8-10 feet deep, I would hold my bottom bouncer in one hand while I positioned the planer in the current with my rod, then I'd toss the bouncer & the bait leader into the current and keep static or forward motion on the board so it didn't bury the weight in the rocks.


I use the planer boards from shore here on the missouri all the time.  Especially with cranks for salmon and walleyes.

Corey's picture

Just echoing what Andy said - we can learn a lot about this fish from your report!

  • They feed during spawning.  This is important and was previously unknown, because some fish do not.
  • They'll hit a crawler.  Most of us assumed this, but it's confirmed.
  • They start spawning in April - papers I've read about the blue sucker in the Kansas River say they stage in November for early spring spawning - this tends to confirm that.
  • They spawn and leave quickly.  We still don't know where exactly they go.  This confirms the reports of early pioneers and native Americans who said they appeared out of nowhere in good numbers and then disappeared just as quickly.

Congrats and thanks again for the awesome report! 

shorefisherman's picture

They were similar to most spawning fish, the males bit readily, the females not so much.  That big female I caught was hooked on the outside of the mouth and I caught her while I was reeling in to check my line, so I'm guessing she was fouled since they were so thick in there.  we couldn't get any of the ones we saw up shallow to bite.  it seemed like our baits had to be out in the deeper part of the faster moving water.  It seemed like the males would gang up on, and herd a female up into the shallows (a foot or two of water) to spawn for 10 to 20 seconds and then move back out.


I did notice the smaller the piece of crawler the more strikes we got.  half or whole crawlers never got touched.


What else do you guys think would work?  I just started with the obvious and never got a second chance to try anything else.

Jknuth's picture

Interesting about the smaller bait size.
The closest I ever came to a Blue was one I lost in the Wisconsin river. I was fishing below a dam in very fast water and in a rut that was bout 15-20 feet deep all rock and gravel bottom. I was useing two waxworms crammed on a small #10 hook. 
My fish also jumped right away. 
This would fall right into your smaller bait theory
Thier mouths are not as big as most suckers and redhorse in comparison to body mass. 

So we have

1. Smaller bait
2. Deeper water
3. Fast water
4. Concentrated fish
5. Water temps 60ish

I know of a few that were netted right next to shore a few weeks back when we had a warm spell. Water temps were near 58-60 at the time in that location. The guy said he scooped a few up right next to shore below the dam in a foot or so of water. He told me that every so often you would see some come up into shore. 
Sounds a lot like what you discribed.  

This is all crazy cool! 
Grats on being the first to document a blue!

Jason E.'s picture

That is an amazing story.  What a cool looking fish!  Northern hogsuckers might call me a traitor, but I'd say that's the neatest looking sucker/redhorse species I've seen.  It looks like they live in areas that are a pain in the butt to fish.  Rocky.  Fast current.  I never would have thought of the planer board concept.  Interesting.

Hengelaar's picture

Such glorious fish.

Look at those pectoral fins!

And their tiny mouths.

Look at everything!


A privilege to read this and see these photos.

Fishn sure is neat

Cast_and_Blast's picture

I'm dumbfounded.  I think I need a couple days to process this.  Congrats for sure.

roughfish29's picture

at last, someone did it. major congrats man! and it seriously seems like a roughfishing story, making a roadtrip on a dime, improvising, and kicking ass.


cool cool cool

Vern's picture

Wow! Really cool report & great pics.

I spent most of the day yesterday thinking about this report, it really blue my mind. Especially while I was fishing in some blue-ish water last night. By proving that they can be caught you have caused me to redouble my efforts at getting on from my home waters. 

The short and intense run has frustrated me so much. I have heard stories of  big blue fish, that wouldn't bite, and only stayed in a small river for one day. In your case, it looks like they stayed for two days.

How often does your brother fish the spot? I am wondering how long they spend "staging" for the spawn before the big event. The males must arrive at least a day before the females...

I was also wondering about the details of rigging the board and bouncer. I have never heard of such a thing before. How long of a leader did you use? Does the length of line between the board and bottom bouncer matter? How do you detect strikes?   

p.s. I apologize for the fish pun. 

Gary's picture


I think you just grabbed the Golden Fish Award and may never have to relinquish it to anyone else ever again...


Do not meddle in the affairs of BAGMAN, for thou art crunchy and good with Old Bay seasoning...


shorefisherman's picture

The good news is my brother fishes that spot almost every day, and now that he knows what to look for, he'll be on the horn immediately after any blue sucker activity is spotted.  He says he's caught them before and just never paid much attention until he vaguely thought he remembered me talking about blue suckers and texted me a photo last week.  He seemd to think they had been in there for about a week, since he was pretty sure he had been seeing them along shore while he was walleye fishing the days prior.


The fish that were visible had no interest in food.  the only bites came from the deeper water in the middle of the river.  I think the fish that were visible were using the shallow water to corner the females and get a piece, so I'm sure food was the last thing on their mind, until they moved back out into the river for a break.  the females didn't seem to bite.  the one I landed was hooked outside her mouth and the other 2 or 3 we had on hooked up as we were reeling in but quickly got off after a jump or a run so i couldn't tell exactly where they were hooked but I'm assuming it was foul.


you can run as much line behind a planer as you like.  in this case if the water was 12 feet deep I ran 12-14 feet of line between the 2oz bouncer and the board with a 3-4ft leader to the bait.  if I'm using crank baits I just cast and quickly clip on the board and get it into the current before my lure drifts back against the shore.

Fish_E_Hunter's picture

Congrats on catching this MAJESTIC species of Sucker. I would totally drive 1000 miles to catch one of those. Awesome!

shorefisherman's picture

Ha! anyone notice the glob of eggs on my shirt in the first pic.  I was scratching at that crusty spot on my shirt later that evening trying to figure out what the hell it was.


I should have squirted a bit in a bucket with some milt and brought them home to raise in one of my 100 gallon bait tanks.

J Dunfee's picture

Dude, that is hardcore, purely insane, and absolutely incredible. And I wish any of those descriptions even began to truly describe it. Coolest report in a long, long time.

Eli's picture

Dude, I was shaking a little bit as I read this!!

So awesome, and your timing was bang on as well! The tubercles on those males are insane looking also. I can only imagine how magnificent a 20lb female would look. Congrats! I'm going to live vicariously though this report for a while, I think.




Thanks for the detailed info on spawning behavior. The one thing I still wondered what the bottom was like. You mentioned the rip-rap, but I wasn't sure if that went all the way to the middle of the river? Or were they just spawning on the rip-rap bank? 

Also, the duration of the spawn is huge - one week. If they are looking for 60F - 65F water then the run hasn't quite happened here yet.  

Ok, I am so impressed with your results that I want to try emulating your techinique. Here is the stupid question: why a bottom bouncer? Do you find that the wire leg prevents snags?

And, do you have issues with strike detection? Or, do you count on the fish hooking themselves and pulling the board?  

Thanks for your help. I never would have thought of the planer board... 

shorefisherman's picture

I count on the wire leg of the bouncer to keep contact with the bottom without snagging.  the bottom is rip-rap and a sinker would just wedge between the rocks.  In heavy current like that it seems any kind of a strike jerks the board back hard enough to let me know. 

Carp Chaser's picture

Amazing accomplishment shorefisherman. It seems to get on these fish anywhere depends a lot on luck, since they show up one day and are gone not long after. Few people will be able to monitor a spot every other day for weeks and weeks... so you have to stumble on to it kind of. Surely part of the reason they are so hard to catch. 

"There's always a bigger fish"

Fins's picture

Unbelievable!  Thanks for a very informative report.


O Lord it's a big one. If you let me get em' in I promise I let em' go.

Thanks for the extra details. I am looking forward to trying this rig on my own blue water.

shorefisherman's picture

Outdoors4life's picture

I have a spot in mind that is similar to the one you fished and hope to check it out this weekend.

Could you post a pic of the rig?

What other species did you catch in that area?

Did you throw any other kinds of lures?


And congrats the BLUE is pretty cool.

It is all perspective!

Acer Home Inspections

shorefisherman's picture

It was just a bottom bouncer with a 3ft leader and a tiny hook (#10 maybe) with a piece of worm.  we caught lots of fish in that tailwater, wipers, bluegill, crappie, channel cats, blue cats, walleye, saugeye, and saw lots of longnose and spotted gar and gizzard shad


we used pearl x-raps, jigs & minnows, jigs & worms, lindys with minnows & worms, and shad, minnows, and worms drifted under slip bobbers.