Every year, September 15th marks the opening day of Missouri’s archery deer and turkey season. The opening day of archery season is enough to get excited about, but there is something else that is often anticipated that occurs once the sun sets on that same day. September 15th also marks the opening of gigging season. Once darkness ascends on the river, folks get in their flat bottom aluminum boats. These boats are equipped with a rail on the front that hosts multiple halogen lights powered by a generator that is placed in the bottom of the boat. Giggers will motor up and down the river slowly, while one to two people gig fish called Hogsuckers or Yellow Suckers from the front of the boat with a metal gig that is attached to either a wooden or fiberglass pole that is usually 16 feet in length. Even though gigging is one of the most enjoyable activities to do during the fall, it is what happens a few minutes after the gigging has ended for the night that I enjoy the most. That is the enjoyable task of cooking on the riverbank the bounty of fish that has just been gigged.
What is a Hogsucker or Yellow Sucker?
A non-game fish or “other fish” according to the Wildlife Code of Missouri are the only fish species that may be taken when gigging. The most common fish are the northern hogsucker and species of redhorse commonly referred to as “yellow suckers.” It is not necessary to differentiate between the different types of yellow suckers, but it is important to be able to tell a sucker from a sport fish like smallmouth bass and walleye which are illegal to gig.
Preparing and Cooking Suckers
“Suckers” are not the most popular fish. They are, however, my favorite fish to eat, especially on the river bank a few minutes after gigging. Veteran giggers will say that suckers do not taste as good once they are frozen. The meat seems to become mush, and it takes on a stronger fishy taste that is not as good as when fresh.
Start by removing all of the scales from both sides of the fish.
Follow by taking a sharp fillet knife and removing the meat from below the head all of the way to end of the tail. Since suckers are a non-game fish, they do have a lot of small bones which is why filleting is the best option.
Once both fillets are removed, take a knife or a scoring machine and score the fillets approximately every half inch. This will allow for all of the fine bones to cook up to nothing. Once all of the fish fillets have been scored, it is time to cook.
The ideal way of cooking these fish is by deep frying them using a cast iron pot on a fish cooker. Heat vegetable oil to 300 degrees and proceed to roll the fillets in a mixture of cornmeal, salt and pepper. Cook for approximately 5 to 7 minutes until golden brown or the fish is cooked completely through.
Along with fried suckers, cook sliced potatoes separately from the fish with some sliced onions. This not only provides a complete meal, but the potatoes help to keep the oil clean which prevents burning.
On a cool fall night, after an hour or two of gigging, there is nothing more enjoyable than pulling the boat to the bank, cleaning fish and then cooking that fish on the river bank. This can be one of the most enjoyable meals that Mother Nature provides for outdoors folks.