Two lovers find a quiet, out-of-the-way spot. They rub up against each other behind a rock in a lustful dance, surging hormones making their bodies quiver. Just as the act approaches a climax, WHAM! A five-pointed spear bursts through the male’s throat and he is lifted straight up, leaving his mate shocked and sprinting for safety.
We are guilty of playing the role of Jason in this real-life slasher flick entitled “Friday the 13: The Spawning.” Instead of a summer camp full of nubile teenagers, though, we are at Mills Falls Market Place in Meredith, and the stream flowing through the open air is full of spawning white suckers, Catostomus commersonii, number 11 in our quest to catch and eat every species of freshwater fish in New Hampshire.
White suckers are New Hampshire natives and can be found in almost every large body of water in the state. They are prolific spawners and are eaten by many other game species. They are called suckers because their mouths protrude downward, forming a tube beneath their snouts. They suck up food, such as small insects, off the bottom.
Every spring, just before the leaves pop on the trees and the water temperature reaches 40 degrees, suckers from the depths of every lake in New Hampshire gather in the shallows and swim up rivers to begin their annual spawn. Big fish weighing around three pounds swim upstream to find the swift clean shallow waters that are perfect for their eggs’ development. This time of year, it is easy to tell the difference between the sexes. Females are a bland brown, but males develop a red and black stripe down their side and grow bumps on their fins.
We came to the Mill Falls stream to spear these suckers. We are allowed to inflict such violence on these fish because they are the only freshwater fish that is legal to spear in the state. They can also be shot with a bow and arrow, but we will save that for another sequel. Our fish spear was actually a barbed frog gig attached to the handle of an old broom. Jason would have approved.
The spawning fish can easily be seen and skewered from shore. Clay took first crack at the role of a spear-wielding maniac. Through the surging current he saw the shadow of a sucker behind a rock. Without hesitation, he plunged the spear in the water and pinned the fish to the bottom. He could feel its vibrations in the throes of death.
Probably the toughest thing about spearing suckers is stopping at just one. We didn’t want to kill any fish that we were not going to eat, but we also got the taste of the bloodlust that fuels a murdering psychopath. Reason won out, however, and we successfully fought off the urge to commit mass sucker murder. This day, only one sucker lost its life.
We ended up with a male white sucker in full spawning colors. This particular fish reminded us of an awkward teenager who put on a really nice tux for prom. Poor sucker.
Generally, people don’t eat this fish (this doesn’t scare us anymore), but it is commonly cut into bait strips for lake trout fishing. Our rules dictate that we must eat the first legal example of each fish we catch, so this sucker would be our lunch. We took some pictures, made sure it was dead, and then began cleaning the fish. It was easy to fillet and the meat looked excellent.
We were really curious about the flavor, so we kept the recipe very simple. We sautéed the sucker fillet in hot butter and added a lot of salt, pepper and Season All. The flavor was really nice, but the texture was soft and mushy.
We imagined that this fish might be better prepared in a chowder. We cooked near the boat ramp at Meredith Bay and encouraged spectators to join us. All declined, claiming they were no suckers.
All in all, we recommend that everyone try this unique fishing method and marvel at the spawning run of these otherwise difficult-to-see fish. If you are a committed “catch and release” angler, you may want to try a plunger instead of a spear. Just pretend you are a pacifist version of Jason and are just out to scare the bejesus out of fish in love.
Follow the latest adventures of Dave and Clay at www.catch-m-all.com.