Redhorse on the Fly

by | Jul 27, 2023 | fly fishing for redhorse suckers | 4 comments

overnight-floatJuly 26 & 27, 2023 

I like getting on the water early.  I’m a fan because first light is excellent for smallmouth bass.  We also beat the canoe crowds.  But launching the Blue Bathtub yesterday was different.  It was day one of our first overnight float trip since we moved to Wisconsin and we started at 10, right in there with about 20 canoe loads of kids.


GrannyThe delayed departure was due to the extra preparation involved for an overnight.  A Yeti packed with food and beer is mandatory.  We also had to dig out the stoves, tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads and more.  All of which hadn’t been unpacked since our move.  But once we hit the water – it was a dream come true.  And by then, the forward-paddling kids were far downstream.


fly-fishingThis float wasn’t an ordinary adventure.  No doubt a few smallmouth bass were in store.  But this two day float was dedicated to targeting redhorse suckers on the fly – a new species for me.  Along for this challenging adventure were friends Josh Hulbert and Brandon Judy.


RedhorseI have some suckers on my species list.  If you nymph a lot, you’ll luck into one on rare occasions.  However when you specifically target them, they are difficult.  They don’t make fast moves for baitfish or anything for that matter.  They slowly vacuum the bottom with their sucker mouth for algae, nymphs and crustaceans.


redhorse-flyI’m serious about the challenge.  You may remember the difficulty I had getting my Sonora Sucker a few years back.  You need a fly that gets their attention and you need that fly to stop on the bottom inches from their face. Sounds easier than it is.  I went with this bright and heavy nymph size 12.


Brandon-JudyThe way the trip started is shocking now that I’m looking back.  We went downstream a 100 yards from the launch.  Both boats found a school of redhorse.  I went to work and in the other boat Brandon also.  Within minutes, I had a small redhorse engulf my fly.  At the same time Brandon hooked up.  I lost mine first run.  Brandon landed his.  Wow!  This will be easy we thought!


flyfishingBelieve it or not, Brandon’s redhorse was our first and last yesterday despite fishing them hard all day long.  I have an old saying, “Never catch a fish in sight of the boat ramp”.  Its because doing so has proven to me to be bad luck!


smallmouth-bassIt was a wonderful day however.  We didn’t know were weren’t going to touch another redhorse and fishing hard for them with high hopes was a blast.  It was a nice tune-up for my sight nymphing skills which should come in handy for the World’s in September.  We also caught a few smallies as well.


WisconsinFurthermore, we’re in our hottest stretch of weather of the year.  It was a scorching 92°.  In such conditions there’s no place better to be than on a river where you can cool off anytime.  Granny and I were in the water at least once every single hour.


WIMany of the rivers in northern Wisconsin have first come first serve campsites.  I’m sure that on weekends they get busy but we rowed into a beauty around 6 PM.  We set up the tents.  Shared a few beers and stories.  Then Granny cooked up some burgers and we went to sleep to the sounds of nightlife ranging from tree frogs to barred owls.  In the wee hours I also heard the repetitive singing of a distant whippoorwill.


Slide Rite Drift BoatMorning came early with a rumble of thunder at 4 AM.  Normally I’d get up and go fishing but the rain followed and the last thing you want to do is climb from a tent out into the rain.  Instead, the sound of rain hitting the tent put most of us in a deep sleep and Granny and I picked up three extra hours.  At 7 AM, the sun was up and the rain long gone.  Perfect!


fly-fishingAfter everyone went to bed last night I stayed up another hour.  I watched the play by play of the end of a fantastic Cubs game.  I also thought long and hard about yesterday’s failure to catch a redhorse.  I came to one conclusion.  My nymph was the right one, but it was drifting by the redhorse too fast.  Today I had to slow it down and I did this by adding a very heavy dropper nymph about 15” above.  This would do the trick!


My adjusted rig still took some time to master.  Granny and I took turns on several different pods of suckers during the first couple hours.  Then I spotted two decent ones feeding over sand.  The current was slow so I knew I could feed these redhorse.


Jeff-CurrierOn my very first presentation I was able to stop my fly in the sand about 10” in front of a steady feeder.  I could see it in his eyes, he loved what was coming his way.  So much so that he did the unthinkable for a sucker.  He charged it like bass and devoured my fly.  Game on!


Jeff-CurrierThe one thing I can tell you about every sucker I’ve caught on fly is that they fight hard.  Many times I was nymphing for trout and thought I had the biggest brown of my life only for it to turn into a sucker.  The may not jump, but they will tear line off your reel heading down stream with the best of them.


This fish didn’t disappoint.  Granny stood with the net for several minutes while I eased him in.  The river is full of logs and weeds.  Yesterday the weeds helped separate me from my first redhorse.  Today I was having none of that.  After an excellent battle Granny slipped the net under him.  A new species for me on the fly!


silver-redhorseThe cool thing up here in the Northwoods of WI, is that we actually have six different species of redhorse – meaning I can add some new species over the years right here in my backyard.  It’s like in Idaho we had the Utah, bluehead and the mountain suckers to name a few.  Although I’ll double check with an expert, I believe this one with its massive convex, almost grayling-like dorsal, is the silver redhorse (Moxostoma anisurum).  If you know – please Contact me.


Granny-CurrierThis catch wasn’t lucky like yesterdays hook up.  My new rig and the way my dropper was helping me keep my nymph on the bottom was indeed a good technique.  Although it still doesn’t make redhorse fishing easy, in our next spot I landed two and Granny got her first.  I think this one Granny is holding is the same species but it will also require research.  What a day!


CurrierWe caught a few more smallies.  We had a cool encounter with a musky that swam to the boat to have a look at us.  But what we did most was swim.  Today it was another thermometer buster.  At one time Granny and I sat in the water and drank a beer using the shade from our boat.  A celebratory beer I might add!


flyfishingIt was a magnificent and super fun float with the guys.  It’s funny, all four of us found great pleasure in targeting a fish most anglers don’t give a hoot about.  A trash fish in the eyes of most.  Why is that?  Think about this a minute.  The first redhorse Brandon caught and I caught were close to 20” and they kicked our butt.  Weird.  But it’s the way it is.


redhorseAnd one more redhorse thought, it was so hot today that a deliberate pursuit for some of our favorite quarry wouldn’t have been a good.  This kind of heat would definitely jeopardize the safe release of a musky.  Hopefully, and I think they are, redhorse have the unique ability to handle most hardships including heat – much like carp.  This would explain the huge populations we see in every river here in WI.  Hmm, another great reason to fish for them!


Chicago-CubsWe got blown off the river early.  A serious thunderstorm pelted us with strong wind and some of the heaviest rain I’ve seen in years.  We had the boats on the trailers by 4 and home safely just in time for a wet sunset and the Chicago Cubs!


Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing


  1. Jim C

    My first “big” fish was a redhorse.It was actually reddish colored.Caught off a dock on Lake Wisconsin.That was 50 years ago and I still can see that fish .I love ALL fish.I try to have a few flies on me for those fish I am not targeting that day.Warmwater fly-fishing is a blast.

  2. Jeff

    Great comment Jim – love it – thank you! Amazing how the fish is still in your mind, clearly by the sounds, 50 years later.

  3. Tyler W

    Thanks for bringing attention to these amazing fish.

  4. Jeff

    Pleasure Tyler. Its what I do!

Welcome to the Blog of Jeff Currier!

Contact Jeff

I started fly fishing at age 7 in the lakes and ponds of New England cutting my teeth on various sunfish, bass, crappie and stocked trout. I went to Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, where I graduated with a Naturalist Degree while I discovered new fishing opportunities for pike, muskellunge, walleyes and various salmonids found in Lake Superior and its tributaries.

From there I headed west to work a few years in the Yellowstone region to simply work as much as most people fish and fish as much as most people work. I did just that, only it lasted over 20 years working at the Jack Dennis Fly Shop in Jackson, WY where I departed in 2009. Now it’s time to work for "The Man", working for myself that is.

I pursue my love to paint fish, lecture on every aspect of fly fishing you can imagine and host a few trips to some of the most exotic places you can think of. My ultimate goal is to catch as many species of fish on fly possible from freshwater to saltwater, throughout the world. I presently have taken over 440 species from over 60 countries!