Rough Fish Removal

sucker_e1This was taken from an interview with “Sucker Veteran” Harold Korpela by Jeff Lovgren

Harold Korpela has been leading this Sportsmen’s Club activity for the last 25 years, but he couldn’t personally recall when it all began. “Before my time,” he says. Indeed it was. The first suckers were trapped in 1968 (read more about the history here). By now, it’s become a well-orchestrated spring ritual.

During April, Harold’s team sells suckers trapped during walleye egg-harvesting operations at the DNR’s Pike River Hatchery. The suckers are separated from the walleyes and placed in a 10-foot-by-10-foot holding pen formed by draping a large net over 4 floating timbers lashed together to form a square. The pen is moored at the shore a couple hundred feet from the main walleye egg-take operation.

Each morning at 8:00 a.m., two volunteers carefully walk out on the timbers to retrieve the far end of the net, which is then pulled toward shore to bring 1000 to 2000 lbs. of suckers within reach. A long-handled landing net transfers the suckers — many weighing 4 to 8 lbs — into 30-gallon trash barrels. When a barrel’s three-quarters full, it weighs about 100 pounds and is carried up the bank by two strong volunteers.

Harold says eager buyers generally begin lining up well before the 8:00 a.m. start. Those who arrive early sign-in on a clipboard to record their place in line. Each buyer is limited to one 100-lb tub until all have had their chance. Thirty minutes to 2 hours later, the pen is empty, the sale is over until the next morning, and another bunch of suckers are headed to the smoker.

A “sucker sale” sign at the County Rd 77 entrance to the hatchery indicates the sale is underway. Sportsmen’s Club members are welcome to stop by to observe. In a typical spring, 10,000 lbs. of suckers are removed from the lake.

Harold Korpela plans to “retire” as activity coordinator in 2008. But we suspect Harold will be there observing the operation and chatting with the buyers for many more years.

Volunteers Make It Happen

Twelve early-rising Sportsmen’s Club “sucker” volunteers continued this spring ritual each year. Thanks to all of them. If you’d like to help, please contact activity coordinator Tom Forconi at 218-428-7096 orĀ tom.forconi@gmail.com.