White sucker fish

White sucker fish

On cold winter nights, while others sit in the warmth of their homes watching their favorite TV shows, a winter fishing tradition continues on streams and rivers across the Ozarks. Sucker gigging has been passed down from generation to generation for more than 200 years.

Men, women and kids dressed warm for a cold winter night stand around campfires on the gravel bars. They wait, they talk, and they laugh. They don’t need TV to entertain them. Some are busy slicing potatoes and onions; others are getting fish cookers ready. 

Out on the water, fish giggers in their aluminum johnboats rigged with bright lights search for sucker fish. In their hands are long wood or fiberglass poles with metal gigs. When the bottom hugging sucker is seen, the anglers spear the fish and throw it in the boat. 

As soon as they have enough suckers for a fish fry, they head into the gravel bar to join the others. The fish are quickly scaled, scored with a sharp knife about an eighth of an inch apart to break up the tiny bones, covered in cornmeal, and fried to a golden brown. These fish may be ugly, but they sure are delicious. Being an old Nixa boy, I have eaten a lot of suckers in my life.

Sucker gigging is about people getting together to gig for fish because they really love being outdoors, it’s about socializing with one another and eating fish on the river bank, it’s about continuing an Ozarks winter tradition.

Strange but true

The lipstick used by women of the Elizabethan era was made from a mixture of ground cochineal insects, which produces a vibrant red color, and egg whites. The insects were first used by the Mayans and Aztecs for dyeing fabrics before they were exported to Europe. In fact, the carmine acid from these insects produces such a good dye that it is still used today in lipsticks, candy, yogurt, fruit juices and ice cream. YUCK!

Filling the bill

Our feathered backyard friends have ways of staying warm during cold days. They shiver to increase their metabolic rate, fluff their feathers to provide some insulation and look for cover from both the cold wind and predators. 

For the entertainment they provide us, we in return should consider providing them food for energy and warmth. The best bird feed is high energy black oil sunflower seed.  Another versatile feed is suet. Both will help "fill the bill" and keep the birds warm. 

Only in America

The flintlock rifle may have helped open the American frontier and the six gun may have helped win the West, but the hickory tree also played an important part in building our nation.

In most cases, hickory wood was the first choice of frontiersmen, mountain men, railroad men and settlers when they fashioned handles for axes, hammers and picks. They knew that hickory was the only hardwood that offers all the prerequisites for striking tools — strength, flexibility, shock absorbency, workability, durability and stability.

Hickory trees were also a favorite place to nest and gather nuts for one of early Americans’ favorite foods — the squirrel. In addition, hickory trees are purely homegrown. They grow in abundance right here in the Ozarks and they grow nowhere else in the world but America.

Something to think about

“Poking at a campfire with a stick is one of life’s great satisfactions.”

 -Patrick McManus

Larry Whiteley was born and raised in Nixa. He was inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in honor of his more than 40 years of communicating the great outdoors all over the world through his outdoor articles and radio shows.

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