Post date: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - 00:29
Updated date: 12/9/21
White Sucker Catostomus commersoni closeup image


The white sucker is the most common species of sucker in North America.  Although scorned by many anglers, it is not only a fun and spunky game fish, but an ecologically important species as well.  In recent years, more and more open-minded anglers have been giving this common, hard-fighting, and delicious species the recognition it deserves.


Other Names:  Sucker, Common Sucker, Eastern Sucker, Mullet, Brook Sucker, Gray Sucker, Mud Sucker, Slender Sucker, Mullet, Whitehorse.  The Ojibwe name is Namebin.  The phrase "Namebinikaa" means "There are many white suckers" in Ojibwe.  That's a phrase that good roughfishers should keep handy!



White suckers have a long slender body and a dark back with silvery colored sides and a white belly. The dark coloration on the fish can vary - the most common color is yellowish-brown, but bright yellow, golden, and greenish variations exist. The mouth points down, allowing the fish to pick up food from the bottom. The head is rounded between the eyes.

In the spring, adult male white suckers develop a very distinctive black horizontal stripe.  The coloration above and below the stripe lightens, and they develop hard bumps called tubercules on the tail and anal fin.


Eli Breeding Male White Sucker


White Suckers average about a pound but fish of up to 7 pounds have been caught.  Extremely large white suckers can be confused with common carp - but the white sucker has smaller scales, no barbels, and a slimmer profile.


Aaron Bye mammoth nighttime white sucker


Juvenile white suckers show a more mottled coloration.  They are often sold in bait shops as bait for northern pike and flathead catfish.


Juvenile White Sucker





White suckers are present in many habitats, from large windswept lakes to tiny, shallow streams. In small streams, white suckers are usually found in slower, deeper sections of the stream, though actively feeding fish often can be seen finning in the main channel. All good trout streams have healthy populations of white suckers - the young of which provide food for the largest trout in the stream. In larger rivers, white suckers roam the rocky flats or congregate in eddies and current breaks. In lakes, suckers often spend most of the year roaming the bottom in deep water. In the springtime, they migrate into streams connected to the lake to find spawning gravel. Suckers spawn in shallow riffles. In some lakes, all the suckers in the lake may spawn on a single patch of sandy gravel where a trickle of water flows out.




White suckers can be caught on just about any tackle. The most effective method is light or ultralight spinning tackle. Four to six pound test monofilament should be used, along with small, sharp hooks. Worms or live aquatic nymphs are the best baits for suckers. Fish directly on the bottom, either with a stationary rig with a sliding sinker, or with a drifting rig that moves along the bottom with the current.  White suckers can be light biters, so a sensitive rod and light line is a good choice.  Using a bankstick helps detect the lightest bites.


Fly Fishing for White Sucker

Clarence Geving Flyfishing for White Suckers


White suckers eat mostly insect larvae, just like trout do, so a wide variety of trout flies will work very well for white suckers. White Suckers use their keen eyesight to hunt down free-floating prey to a greater extent than most species of suckers.  But while trout sometimes feed on insects anywhere in the water column, white suckers concentrate on insects that are on, or very close to, the bottom. So let’s say you’ve found yourself a fine pod of large white suckers in a nice section of water, or a good pool that looks like it should hold some. What’s next? In my opinion, any rig that gets the fly down to the fish and moves it along drag-free will work. For many people, this is a shot-and-indicator rig. Others forego the indicator and fish by feel. Both methods will work, as long as the fly is traveling right along the bottom at the same speed as the current. My favorite tactic is to fish an indicator rig directly upstream or slightly across, allowing the offering to drift down through the school of suckers. The take of a white sucker is very subtle. If using an indicator, watch it closely. The indicator will either pause or dip for a fraction of a second before the fish spits out the fly. Suckers have an amazing sense of taste and will reject a fake insect almost instantly. If not using an indicator, you’ll need to develop a sixth sense to detect strikes. Wait for a slight hesitation in drift, a slight increase or decrease in tension, or a small tap on the line. In either case, you must strike quickly, but softly, to avoid breaking your tippet.


Fly Fishing for White Suckers, Mike in Yellowknife


White suckers are tremendous fighters.  The average sucker weighs several pounds, so be ready for battle if you tangle with one on a stream! The fight of a sucker is usually a series of strong, determined runs, but occasionally they will surprise you by jumping and even tailwalking when hooked. The rubbery lips of the sucker hold hooks well, so be sure to bring a forceps along to disgorge hooks. And congrats, catching white suckers on flies is a challenge that few anglers pursue.


White Sucker Flies

Weighted versions of the Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear, the Pheasant Tail, Scud patterns, San Juan Worms, and Caddis Pupae are all good choices for pursuing suckers. Nymphs sized from 16 to 12 are perfect for suckers, but sometimes slightly bigger or smaller flies may take more fish.

White Sucker FlyMuncher fly

Winter White Suckers

White Sucker Fiddlefish


Winter is a great time to go after white suckers, with either spin, fly, or ice-fishing tackle.  They are usually podded up and although VERY light-biting at this time, you can often make some good catches.  In streams and rivers, concentrate on slow, deep holes.  In lakes, find a stream inlet where suckers will migrate into for their spring spawning run.  Worms and larvae are good baits - keep your presentation light and subtle.


White Sucker for the Table

White Suckers are highly underrated as a food fish.  In the past, white suckers were passed over for other fish because of their many small, free-floating bones.  But their flesh is firm and flaky, and their flavor sweet and delicious.  There are several methods for getting around those bones, including grinding, canning, pickling, and scoring.  Check the recipes section for more info on eating suckers.

Fried White Sucker Fish Balls



Range Map

Photo Credits:

Illustrations by Joshua Knuth ( Photo Credits: Corey Geving, Fiddlefish, Joshua Knuth, Outdoors4Life, Eli, MikeB, Dr. Flathead, Guiga10

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