Fishing for the Utah sucker

The Utah sucker (Catostomus ardens) is a species of sucker with a limited range in the western United States. Often caught incidentally or ignored by anglers completely, the Utah sucker is actually an eager biter and great fighter on light and even medium tackle. Utah suckers grow up to 26 inches (65 cm) in length.

According to the International Game Fish Association, the current world record Utah sucker weighing 2 pounds 8 ounces was caught in Sevenmile Creek, Utah in 2014. A 19″ Utah sucker caught in Idaho in 2018 holds the all tackle catch and release record at the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

Identification

Generally speaking, Utah suckers have a similar look to most other suckers. Otherwise they are a long and sleek fish with a mouth under the snout that is pointed downwards. They have the thick rubbery lips characteristic of suckers.

Utah suckers are usually darker on the top half of the body. The underside of the fish is typically white. The sides of the fish can have a rosy hue. The anal fin of the Utah sucker has seven rays. The dorsal fin has 13 rays. The anal fin is quite long on this species and situated far back on the fish’s body.

Range and habitat

As stated above, the range of the Utah sucker is somewhat limited. They can be found in parts of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and of course Utah. It may also be found in parts of Nevada. The Utah sucker is native to the upper Snake River drainage as well as those flowing through the basin that was once Lake Bonneville. The Utah sucker does not appear to have been introduced very far outside of its native range, if at all.

Utah suckers swim in the Snake River, Utah Lake, Cassia Creek, Toponce Creek, Blackfoot River, Lake Walcott, Jackson Lake, Bear River, Bear Lake, Fremont River, and the Colorado River system. We have also caught Utah suckers from the Portneuf River in Idaho. In clear waters these suckers can often be seen swimming and feeding voraciously.

Utah suckers can be found in a variety of habitats. Though they do seem to favor slower water flowing over sand and silt. They also utilize vegetation and rocks for cover and especially as an escape route from predators. Don’t overlook cover introduced by humans either. We’ve seen them swim through corrugated metal pipes and even tires in the water.

Fishing for Utah suckers

Utah suckers are opportunistic feeders that will take a range of baits and lures. They are even caught on flies from time to time, which makes sense. Naturally, these sucker hover up small aquatic creatures like nymphs, blood worms, and aquatic plants like algae from the bottom. If you want to target these fish specifically, you should do your best to match your presentation to what the fish encounter naturally.

Overall the most effective bait for Utah suckers is probably just plain old worms. You can use red worms or night crawlers. But the way you present the bait to the fish will matter. We’ve had a lot of success fishing red worms and night crawlers on size 6 octopus hooks using 4 pound test clear Berkley Trilene XL. Otherwise we haven’t added any weight or other gear to the rig. We simply cast the worms out to likely areas and let the worms either settle on the bottom or drift naturally with the current.

Utah suckers can grow quite large yet inhabit low clear waters and travel in pods of three or more fish. It is quite easy to target them by site fishing. The same rigging and approach mentioned above applies in that situation too. But you are more able to get the worm precisely where it needs to be when you can actually see the fish. Be sure to practice stealth as these fish can bolt or get lockjaw if they notice you on the bank.

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