In the Cumberland Mountains region of Eastern Kentucky, the creeks and rivers teem with sucker fish. They make the diminutive Bluegill look like large mouth bass.
They are tiny, roughly 2″ long, and are absolutely delicious; one of the top 5 most tasty of the 242 fish species that call Kentucky home.
A good eater can easily power through 3 dozen at one sitting. I fished seven days a week for years when I was a child. We had multiple ponds and creeks on our farm that were filled with all sorts of fish, primarily bass and bluegill, but suckers were not unknown to our cast iron cooking pans.
Japanese beetles make excellent fish bait. Since 1937, Kentucky fisherman have made good use of these marauding pests via their treble hooks and Zebco fishing reels.
My papa made sure I had my own Zebco fishing rig before I started first grade.
But you can leave the Zebco on the pegboard in the garage when you set out for a fat haul of suckerfish. A sein is much more effective.
A sein is little more than a net with one end weighted down with a mud line so it will sink to the bottom of the body of water you’re fishing in. The opposite side of the weighted end of the sein has floats affixed to it.
Seining is a two man operation. When the suckers are running, you and your fishing partner clamber out into the stream and stretch the net across the water, allowing the mud line to sink to the bottom. Now walk along for a few yards corralling the fish as you go. After a bit, grab the mud line and pull it up to the surface effectively creating a big net bucket. Methodically pull the sein out of the water. Now net the fish into your holding well.
Figure on roughly three dozen sucker fish for each eater. Catching this many fish can take as little as five minutes or as long as an hour. It depends on how hard the fish are running.
Once you get back to the house you’re going to need to clean the fish. My dad is a masterful fish cleaner; scaling and fileting runs deep in his blood. Suckers are tiny, and have hundreds of hair-like bones so the method is a bit different. Simply scale the fish, then, with a very sharp knife make a series of X marks on each side of the fish.
Fry the fish in extremely hot peanut oil til crisp. Serve with hand cut french fried potatoes and tartar sauce. Sucker fish, along with blue gill are my all time favorite eating fish
Kentucky features over 90,000 miles of streams and has the second most miles of navigable water in the US behind only Alaska. In the eastern part of the state there are hundreds of creeks, streams and rivers with countless fishing opportunities.