My first meeting with the humble white sucker came under the railroad bridge spanning Queset Brook in the town of Easton. As a young boy my dad would take me there to watch the suckers spawn in the shallow riffles below the bridge.
When I first saw the suckers congregating in the narrow stream, I thought we had discovered a fishermanís Eden. Here were fifty fish, big and broad shouldered, milling about at my feet. I began jumping up and down with excitement, pulling at dads sleeve, we must hurry back to the truck for our fishing poles I exclaimed. Dad chuckled as he knelt down next to me. He went on to explain that suckers would seldom bite because of their small sucker like mouths. They use these tiny mouths for feeding on algae and other tiny foods much like the tropical catfish we had in our aquarium. He explained that the reason they were now here was to spawn in the fast-moving shallow water. They would remain here for a week or two when they would disappear as mysteriously as they had arrived.
Naturally at the seasoned age of five I was quite certain that I knew far more about the fine art of angling than dad, who after all had only been practicing it for thirty odd years. As I began to plead my case for the retrieval of the fishing poles, he gave me one of his, I know I am not going too win this one kind of looks and turned to the truck for the fishing gear.
When he returned, I eagerly grabbed my pole and shot a cast among the swarming fish. Several casts later, I looked back at dad who was sitting behind me whistling an annoying old Roger Miller tune. He stopped whistling for a moment and with a smirk asked " how many you catch." "None," I replied in frustration, reaching down to my fishing box for a different lure which was sure to prove him wrong.
After twenty minutes of constant casting and lure changing, dad stopped whistling again and with a sympathetic smirk said "guess theyíre just not biting today huh."
He then got up with his pole and flopped an old red and white daredevil spoon into the stream and let it settle to the bottom. When the first sucker passed over it, he pulled hooking the fish in the side, handing me the rod he said "hold on tight now." The fish raced down and across the stream, pulling the Dacron line from the old Phlueger Supreme casting reel. Other fish scattered as my fish frantically struggled to shake the hook. When the fight was over, we hauled him up and dad carefully unhooked him. As we released him back into the riffles dad said, "thatís the only way to catch them, but itís probably best to leave them alone and just watch them while theyíre spawning, donít ya think."
The bridge over Queset would become one of my favorite childhood haunts, it was a short walk from my cousinís house, from where I could sneak away to visit my new found friends, the white suckers. I could easily spend hours laying across the tracks looking down through the railroad ties into my own private aquarium. Unfortunately these visits were usually quite short lived, and lasted only as long as it took my mother to track me down. After my capture I would find myself unmercifully banished from the stream to serve a lengthy internment in my bedroom as punishment for my skulking ways.
One afternoon while sitting at the bridge watching the suckers, two men arrived with fishing poles in hand. They worked at the Steadfast Rubber Plant that was a short distance up the railroad tracks from the stream. Apparently the day before another plant worker had seen the fish here while having his lunch and had told these two would be anglers about my sucker friends.
They looked down into the stream at the fish debating what species they were, one said bass the other said trout I said suckers. Both looked at me curiously while they readied their tackle to begin fishing. Ignoring me now, they began casting feverishly into the groups of uninterested fish. Why the hell donít, they bite one man said of the other, the other shrugged and replied "donít know never saw trout or bass act like this before" as he continued casting at the fish.
Theyíre sucker fish they donít bite, you have to snag them I said, (advice that I would soon regret giving). Ya now something, I think the kids right, they are suckers one of the men replied, damn filthy suckers said the other. The two men then began snagging the suckers one after another and tossing them up onto the black dusty grit of the rail bed. I asked the men if they were taking the fish home to eat, to which they replied no. So why are you killing them, I pried.
Sitting to take a break one of the men explained to me that the suckers were just a trash fish. As he tossed his empty lunch bag and nip bottle into the stream, his co-worker added that they were a filthy fish that lived in filthy places where no other fishes could be found. He went on to tell me about a filthy polluted stream near his home where suckers lived, he said it was surprising to find them in a clean stream like mine.
At the sound of the plants whistle the two men tossed the rest of their trash into the stream and headed back down the tracks to the plant. After they left, I began gathering up my sucker friends and bringing them back down to the stream. One by one I washed the black coal dust off them and set them back in the riffles. With a splash of the tail and a twist each slowly swam off, joining the rest to resume their spawning dance in the riffles of Queset.