Spring suckers always a prize catch for Bob Archibald
By Joe Moskowitz
Bob Archibald chops firewood, does stonework, plumbing, likes to hunt and really loves to go fishing. He said he planned to go fishing today to catch a couple of trout for dinner, but his back was bothering him and he had some bullheads in the freezer, so bad back and all, he stayed home and unloaded some logs to be split for firewood. Besides, it isn’t time yet for his favorite fishing.
That time is when the “suckers” run.
Suckers are common bottom-feeding fish in area streams. Their mouths are on the bottom of their heads and they have large round lips. They eat like vacuum cleaners, sucking their food off the bottom of streams. Suckers are not prized by most fishermen for either sport or eating. But Archibald said that during a three-week spring season when they head up small streams to spawn, when smoked, they are far superior in taste and texture to trout or any other local fish. He compares sucker to crab meat and said that there is a group of four or five fishermen who descend on the Tremperskill near Andes in each spring to gather as many suckers running up out of the Pepacton Reservoir as they care to.
Archibald said that one year he caught 160 in one day and that it was so much trouble to clean and smoke them that he now limits himself to about 50 at a time. Suckers are considered trash fish by the state and there is no daily or season bag limit on how many can be caught and kept. Archibald said after their spawning run their flesh becomes soft and few people would care to eat them. He did say that when the water gets cold again in the fall, they become more palatable.
A winter fish
Archibald said that suckers are very good eating in the winter. Many years ago ice fishermen used to hook them through holes in the ice and sell them out of the backs of pickup trucks at what is now the Freshtown parking lot on Bridge Street in Margaretville. Archibald said housewives would come every week and buy their fish. Before refrigeration, suckers were one of the only sources of fresh meat in the winter and references to them in old issues of the Catskill Mountain News refer to them as “Delaware River pork.” Hooking suckers in the winter is still practiced on the West Branch of the Delaware north of Delhi where a dedicated group of mostly-older sportsmen practice the art when the river freezes.
Archibald says there was a small market for summertime suckers. A few women would use them to make Gefilte fish, a staple in Jewish kitchens.
Archibald is a lifelong Margaretville resident and prides himself on being a self-sufficient, hard worker. He lives in a house on Cemetery Road that cost him $150 when he bought it in 1959. The house used to be located in Pine Hill. It was in the way when Route 28 was being rebuilt. He bought the house, dismantled it, and rebuilt it in Margaretville. He did put in another $1,700 for materials for a foundation and an addition and, of course, did all of the work himself.
Bob never buys meat at a store. In addition to fishing, he hunts and buys livestock, which he slaughters and butchers himself.
At 80 years old, Archibald cuts, splits, and sells about 50 cords of firewood a year. He makes walls and sidewalks out of blue stone and he paints houses. Bob says he stays busy so that “I don’t have to hang out on the street corner chasing girls.”