A Michigan angler got busted last week for hiding lead weights in his fish during the Omer Suckerfest, an annual 10-day sucker fishing competition held along the shores of the Rifle River.
“Omer is self-proclaimed Michigan's Smallest City, but for a few weeks in April, it's a busy strip of shoreline,” Lance Tenwalde told MeatEater. Tenwalde grew up participating in the Suckerfest, and he still holds fond memories of the event. “Thousands of anglers travel from around the state and beyond to take part in the spawning migration of the white suckers coming upriver from Lake Huron.”
Along with naming a Sucker King and Queen, prizes go to participants with the heaviest fish, and each participant is allowed to submit three fish for consideration. The top prize this year tipped the scales at $1,000, according to competition organizers.
One of the participants noticed that a fish submitted by another angler seemed to weigh more than it should. That participant notified the tournament director, Deric Rogers, who decided to dissect the belly of the 4.89-pound white sucker. He didn’t find anything in the belly, but he did discover lead weights that had been stuffed into the meat of the fish’s head, directly behind the gills.
“Anytime a cash prize is involved, there's reason to worry about cheating, but with all the recent news of last year's walleye tourney cheaters, I can't imagine the size of the gonads on a guy that tried that same play this soon after all that happened,” Tenwalde said.
The Suckerfest took place less than seven months after what is likely the most famous walleye cheating scandal ever in which two participants weighted their catch with several pounds worth of lead sinkers. That event went down about 200 miles south along the shore of Lake Erie.
Tournament officials have not named the cheater, but Outdoor News reports that the person admitted to stuffing his suckers. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said that no fishing laws were broken, and Rogers said he does not plan to press the matter further.
“I won’t put up with cheating,” he said. “The fact that we caught it and called him out on it will be shame enough. My focus is on the hundreds of families that come out to enjoy the tournament and the memories that the kids take with them forever.”
Tournament organizers explained that they didn’t release the cheater’s name because “he was young, and we believe that he was influenced by those around him.” He has been banned from the tournament for five years.
With the cheater’s disqualification, the two second place finishers tied for first, one of whom was a 12-year old named Liliana of Gladwin, MI. Her fish weighed 4.91 pounds and measured 22.25 inches, which earned her the name the Sucker Slayer, according to a Facebook post from the tournament.
“I am happy they caught him and the young 12-year-old girl tied for the first place prize,” Tenwalde said. “As a father of two young daughters, this story both frustrates me and makes me happy for the outcome. But in the end, just don't be a loser and cheat.”
White suckers and long-nosed suckers can be found in virtually all the state's rivers, including most trout streams, according to the Michigan DNR. They spawn upriver in the spring, often before the ice melts from inland lakes. The Suckerfest occurs every year during this spawning season, and anglers target them in the deep holes below riffles with earthworms.
“Suckers are an underutilized and underappreciated fish that can give anglers an opportunity to put a bend in their rod when other species are less available,” MeatEater contributor Kubie Brown said in a 2022 article. “Though they’re not the prettiest of fish, they will put up a similar fight to your average-sized trout when hooked, and if you’re willing to pick around the bones, make for better eating.”
Feature image via USGS.