In the central part of northern Saskatchewan,
early June is much like early March farther south.
Mornings are cool and odds are even with regard to
rain or snow. However, after eight months of winter,
weather was of little concern as we made our way down
a portage trail to the Churchill river.
When we reach Otter Rapids, Kevin waded knee-deep into
the current where a swirling back eddy curved upstream.
His first two casts went unheeded. Repositioning himself,
he laid his Bead Head Nymph gently beside the rock face,
then let it sink and drift for a few seconds in the eddy.
As he began a very slow hand-twist retrieve, his sink-tip
line suddenly snapped taut, took a hard right and
accelerated into the rapids, all of it, plus a large
portion of backing as well.
It was glorious battle. Before the fish succumbed, my
partner had suffered two icy dunkings while clambering
up and down the river bank, dunkings which I thought
served him right for getting the first hook-up. Finally,
there in the eddy's backwater lay one of the
finest-fighting fish, pound for pound, that a fly
fisher has ever seen - Catostomus
catostomus - the longnose sucker.
Honest folks, I'm serious.
Bear with me as I introduce you to a species that
will test your tackle to the utmost and turn
otherwise unsuccessful days into memorable ones.
Two main prerequisites we seek in game fish are
that they take a fly and fight well. Aesthetics
shouldn't factor into this formula, but let's face
it, suckers are, well, homely. Cylindrical body,
bulbous head, a large, rubbery-lipped mouth devoid
of teeth (hmm...sounds like me). However, Mother
Nature did endow them with a reserve of sheer
strength, so once hooked they take the shortest
route to fast water, and there's not much an angler
can do about it. That's power! If this fish could
jump, they would probably become an endangered species.
No, suckers are not pretty, but think back to those
days then pike were considered little more than
garbage fish. They were unworthy of our attention - until
we discovered that they willingly take flies. Amazing
how quickly out attitude changed, wasn't it?
Longnose suckers are circumpolar, and in Canada are
actually more prevalent than lake trout and pike.
They are not found in Newfoundland, Prince Edward
Island, the Arctic Islands, or any offshore islands
along the West Coast. Although white suckers
(Castostomus commersoni) are confined
to North America, they are found in many of the same
Although whites are abundant in warmwater lakes,
both species thrive in cold, fast-flowing rivers
like the Churchill.
The spring spawning period is best for locating large
concentrations of suckers. They spawn mostly in streams
and rivers, but shallow areas of lakes also suffice.
Longnose suckers enter the streams once water
temperatures exceed 41° (5° C), usually
mid-April to mid-May. Thousands may ascend, with
up to 500 passing a given point in 5 minutes. Their
runs peak several days before white suckers enter the
stream when temperatures reach 50° F (10° C).
While spawning periods offer the largest concentrations,
relatively large numbers occur almost anywhere there
is clear, cold water.
Fishing pressure is light, which may explain their
forgiveness of splashy approaches and poor presentations.
However, a shadow cast over a pool will cause them to
scatter. Their diet consists mainly of invertebrates
found along the bottom, predominately scuds, caddis,
chironomid larvae and pupae, and may flies. Although
once considered predators of trout and char eggs, this
theory has since been dismissed.
For lake fishing, a 5-7 weight rod will suffice, with
line choice depending on the situation. I use a
weight-forward floating line with a 10' tapered leader
and a 5X tippet. Patterns I find successful are No.
18-12 Hare's Ear Nymph, Zug Bug, Pheasant Tail Nymph,
Caddis Pupa and Gary LeFontaine's Deep Sparkle Pupa
series. Some days they rise readily to dry flies.
In rivers I prefer an 8-weight rod with a Teeny 200 or
300 line. Their combination of a 24' sink-tip with
sink rates of 5.5 ips and 6.5 ips respectfully are
just the ticket for cutting through fast currents
and reaching the bottom. Shorter, heavier leaders
work best. I favor 1 ½ - 2' 2X or 3X leaders as
they fish may weight up to 7 lb (3.2 kg).
Whichever retrieve you use, think "slow." Allow enough
time for your fly to sink to the bottom, then use a slow
hand-twist retrieve. The take is not particularly
gentle, but the fight is awesome. Two quick
suggestions: Once a sucker takes your fly, be
patient - it's going to be a long fight. Don't
touch the reel - the handles will be a blur at
this point and will hurt your "fingies." As your
fly line streaks out through the rod guides, remember
the words of John Davies of Herford, who in 1616
penned those immortal words: "Beauty's but skin deep."
~ Dave Smallwood
Credits: Excerpt from Fly Fishing
Canada written by Outdoor Writers of Canada,
edited by Robert H. Jones, Published by Johnson
Gorman Publishers. Used with permission.