Suckers

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In April and May, the white suckers swim up stream to spawn. You can see them in large numbers in shallow water, and around here people flock to the streams with nets and even their bare hands to catch these harbingers of spring. For some it's the excitement of an easy catch and release, but others smoke or boil the fish before canning it. 

"I boil it with ketchup and salt then can it. It tastes just like salmon," an older man told me as I looked down skeptically at his 10-gallon bucket of squirming suckers. He said that for my next story at the newspaper I should hide out and try to catch non-handicap people parking in handicap spots.

"It's a disgrace," he fumed, before switching directions completely and directing me to take a picture of the trash he had collected in a pile. I obliged. 

We stood watching a group of suckers swimming near the edge of the stream. "They don't seem to be making much progress," I commented. 

"What's the hurry?" he replied. Good point. 

After an up close look at a sucker with its fleshy, downward-facing lips designed to scrounge food off the bottom of lakes and streams, I decided there was no way I would be eating it, but I still brought Charlie back to the stream later that day for the thrill of the catch. We crept slowly along the side of the shallow stream, careful not to startle the clusters of fish swimming in place against the rush of the current. Daisy trotted alongside us, unaware of what was going on just below the surface of the water. 

I borrowed my friend's GoPro and became fixated with capturing underwater footage of the suckers. Sometimes the fish would see us coming and dart quickly upstream, which made me wonder why they wouldn't just do that in the first place and get to the calmer waters of the lake just ahead. After a few failed attempts, Charlie finally scooped one up.

Its lips pursed the air as it flailed in the net. We let Daisy give it a sniff or two before quickly returning it to the water. Another Red Lake right of passage.