What are Sucker Fish?

by John Lindell
What are Sucker Fish?

What are Sucker Fish?

Suckers are found over most of the eastern half of the United States. They are not highly thought of by fishermen but are capable of giving a great account of themselves when they are hooked. Suckers have a funny, almost comical face and get their names from it. Here is some more insight into suckers.


There are some 68 species of suckers in North American waters. The most prominent of these are the white sucker, the northern hog sucker, and the redhorse family of suckers. These fish get their name because of their fleshy mouth, with lips that are directed down. They suck up food from the bottom of the lakes and rivers they inhabit.


The white sucker ranges from northern Canada to Florida and westward to the Plains States. The northern hog sucker shares a similar range, found in lakes, rivers, and streams from Canada to Mexico and as far west as the Mississippi River system. The redhorse sucker family is found mainly in the southeastern section of the country, the Great Lakes, and the Mississippi basin.


Suckers can grow quite large. The white sucker can achieve a length of two feet and weigh five pounds while the northern hog sucker can make it to 22 inches and tip the scales at four pounds. The redhorse suckers are the biggest of the lot, with some growing as long as 30 inches. Very heavy suckers are not uncommon. The Pennsylvania state record for a white sucker for instance is almost 13 pounds.


Suckers have smooth scales everywhere on their body except their heads. These large scales can be many colors, helping the sucker blend in to the bottom of the body water where it lives. White suckers are so named because of their white belly, but they are brownish to yellowish on top. The northern hog sucker is darker in color, with various shades of brown helping to camouflage it. The redhorse suckers come in many hues but all have an orange to reddish tint to their fins. The sucker has no spines that are sharp in any of its fins and the lone fin on their back is soft. A sucker has no teeth in its mouth. Instead they are found in the throat and help it to digest the plant life, mollusks, and insects that they eat by sucking food from the bottom into its mouth.

Expert Insight

Suckers give a hard fight on a rod and reel. They can be caught on worms and nightcrawlers by casting the bait out into the water and letting it sit there. Once hooked the sucker will fight hard until it tires and can be reeled in. Suckers have sweet flesh and are marketed as "mullet" in some areas, used to make soups, chowders, or grilled and eaten. White sucker young are sold for pike bait in bait shops throughout the eastern United States.

About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.

Photo Credits

  • www.twp.lancaster.pa.us