Gigging Suckers: A Missouri treat
By John Phillips

- "Get that sucker," "Don't let that sucker get away from you," "Stick that sucker," "I can't believe I missed that sucker," are just a few of the phrases you'll hear when you go sucker-gigging on the Current River in Missouri.

After doing some research, I also learned that you can gig suckers in Alabama with Blount County mentioned as the hotbed of the state's sucker gigging. After my trip to Missouri, I may head up to Blount County this fall for some serious sucker gigging.

I'd never gigged suckers before I went to Missouri, nor had I ever had a reason to want to gig suckers. However, gigging suckers on the Current River has a long and illustrious history.

Donald Black of Van Buren, Mo., explains that, "No one can remember a time when people haven't gigged suckers on the Current. In the early days, giggers used lighted pine knots to see the suckers on the bottom at night."

When sucker-gigging season begins in September, the Current River resembles the Las Vegas Strip because of the large number of giggers in what's known as "sucker boats," with their bright halogen lights.

"On opening weekend, the Current River generally will have 1,500 or more sucker boats on it," Black says.

The crystal-clear Current River is home to a great population of smallmouth bass besides suckers. Although you can gig suckers in the daytime, you actually can see the fish better at night. The well-camouflaged suckers stay on the bottom, and you only can see them when they move.

You use a 10- to 15-foot-long gig with a gig head on it for suckers. A quality sucker gig, usually handmade and hand-forged by an area blacksmith, will cost $60 to $100.

"A good gig is made of high-tempered, hammered steel, and it won't bend or break when you hit the rocky bottom of the Current River with it," Black says. "The faster you run the boat into the current, the less likely you are to spook the suckers. Once you spot a sucker, put your gig in the water, try and hold it about 6 inches above the sucker, lead like you'll lead a quail, and then jab the gig as hard as you can to stick the sucker."

Most giggers prize the hog suckers and the yellow suckers. Although people often don't eat suckers, you'll find the fish delicious - if prepared properly. On Friday nights near Birch Tree and Van Buren, Mo., a sucker fry on the riverbank is a fun social event. That's when the men in the area go gigging for suckers in their sucker boats.

After about 11/2 hours of gigging, the fishermen bring the suckers back to the bank where other anglers already have prepared a kettle of boiling grease. Then the anglers scale, fillet and score the suckers.

"The scoring of the fish is the critical ingredient for eating a sucker," Black explains. "Score the fish all the way down to the skin, cutting the bones as well as the meat. Then you fry the suckers after battering them with cornmeal. The bones will dissolve, and you'll have a tender piece of delicious-tasting fish."

If you've never gigged suckers before or eaten a mess of suckers, don't turn your nose up at the idea. These Missouri outdoorsmen have discovered a great sport and a delicious-eating fish that the rest of us have overlooked completely.






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