Earlier this week, I noticed another dead sucker on the west side of Upper Klamath Lake, not far from the Highway 140 boat ramp.
It was the 13th dead sucker I’d seen in the six weeks since the fishing picked up in the Lake, and it really bothered me. A few of them probably died from the stresses of spawning, but many were several feet up in the rocks, well away from the water — clearly thrown there by anglers.
That bothered me.
I wrote an article suggesting anglers target suckers in an effort to refocus local opinion on these unique fish as a viable game fish rather than a trash fish.
It turns out, that despite the best of intentions, I was urging people to break the law.
An ODFW representative contacted me and pointed out that on page 15 of the General (Statewide) Regulations, Item 25 states: “Unless authorized by a specific take permit issued by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, no person may angle for or possess any of the following species of fish:
- Jenny Creek sucker/ Klamath smallscale sucker
- Lost River sucker
- Shortnose sucker (Klamath Co.).”
I was mortified.
I knew suckers had to be released unharmed if captured. I knew Lost River and shortnose suckers were endangered and that they carried significance for the local Tribes.
I did not know angling for them was illegal, and I apologize for my lack of information. Ignorance of the law is no excuse.
My intent was to improve public opinion on sucker fish, so I wouldn’t find dead ones illegally strewn along the rocky banks of the lake, but I fear I just furthered misinformation about the fish.
Needle in a haystack
When I said I “targeted” suckers, that’s kind of a joke. I’ve captured more than 9000 fish — most of which came from Basin waters — and just a few have been suckers: one Klamath smallscale, one Klamath largescale and a handful of Lost River suckers.
That’s in stark contrast to nearly 2000 redband trout from the same waters, using many of the same lures and baits that could also catch a sucker.
Even if you wanted to, you couldn’t really “target” suckers in the Basin due to their limited numbers across the daunting volume of water in our Basin and that’s why in more than 20 years of fishing, I never caught one.
If you use worms, marabou jigs or fly fish, you may catch a sucker, but it is still unlikely.
That said, if you do incidentally catch a sucker as I did with my first two Catostomidae, handle it with the utmost care. Unhook it quickly, trying to keep it wet while doing so, and return it to the water as quickly as possible.
If you notice another angler catch one and mishandle it, try to instruct them on the correct way to treat the fish. Inform them of anything they’re doing wrong.
Just as my own article proved, there is a lot of misinformation and lack of education out there. When you witness someone break the law, call them on it. Educate them. If they are knowingly breaking the law, that’s when you call the police.