Sucker Showdown at Taneycomo

By William Anderson | January 2, 2000
From Missouri Conservationist: Jan 2000

Lake Taneycomo is well known for its rainbow and brown trout. It is not so well known for its white suckers. White suckers, a species native to the White River, have always lived in Lake Taneycomo, historically in moderate numbers.

In the late 1980s the numbers of white suckers increased dramatically and, at times, exceeded the number of rainbow and brown trout captured during population surveys conducted by the Conservation Department.

Fisheries biologists were concerned about this abrupt increase in the white sucker population. They believed that competition between white suckers and trout for invertebrate organisms that comprised the bulk of the trout diet might cause a decline in the trout fishery.

Biologists went so far as to remove white suckers from the lake in an attempt to reduce their numbers. Conservation Department staff captured thousands of the fish and removed them without a detectable effect on the population.

Further research indicated that while there was direct competition between white suckers and trout for food items, it was not as serious as first thought. White suckers, being indiscriminate bottom feeders, consumed a lot of filamentous algae and a number of smaller invertebrate organisms. Trout, being sight feeders, fed on larger, free swimming invertebrate organisms, primarily sow bugs and amphipods or freshwater shrimp. The numbers of white suckers in Lake Taneycomo have gradually declined in recent years and in population surveys, they are once again less abundant than trout and competition is less of a concern.

The majority of suckers harvested in Missouri are taken by snagging (or grabbing) and gigging. Both methods are time-honored Ozarks traditions. Sucker grabbing is at its best in the spring when these fish move into shallow gravel areas to spawn. It is not uncommon for hundreds of suckers to congregate in a relatively small area.

White suckers migrate up Roark and Bull creeks from Lake Taneycomo each spring. Because of their affinity for cold water, they make these runs earlier than other sucker species. Local residents take advantage of the early white sucker spawning run to harvest these fish prior to the later spawning migrations of the redhorse sucker species.

White suckers are still abundant in Lake Taneycomo. Knowledgeable anglers can take advantage of their early spawning run for some fast and furious sucker grabbing. During the balance of the year anglers can catch these fish by pole and line using natural or prepared baits. Either method of harvest is a lot of fun and provides excellent food when the fish are properly prepared.

How to Catch White Suckers

White suckers are omnivores that feed on both plant and animal material. Rockaway Beach resident and long-time Lake Taneycomo angler Don Reynolds has developed a method using whole-kernel corn for bait to catch white suckers.

Reynold's technique utilizes a popular bass fishing method, the Carolina rig. To assemble a Carolina rig, pass your fishing line through a slip sinker, tie on a barrel swivel and attach an 18-inch piece of monofilament leader to the swivel. Attach a #6 bait-holder hook to the end of the leader, and the Carolina rig is complete. Because of the clear water in Lake Taneycomo, Reynolds believes the key to catching white suckers is to use clear, two-pound test leader and the lightest sinker that water conditions will allow.

According to Reynolds, "White suckers are accomplished bait stealers." To compensate for their bait stealing ability, he recommends checking for the presence of a white sucker by frequently moving the bait a short distance. If any resistance is felt when the bait is moved, set the hook! Be prepared for a long and drawn-out fight--white suckers are determined fighters and will quickly break two-pound test line if not played carefully.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Assistant Editor - Charlotte Overby
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer