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Tahoe Sucker still dwell in local waters

A few weeks ago an angler inquired about a fish that he caught in Summit Creek, which is a tributary to Donner Lake. He described it as a sucker-like fish that had a red stripe.

I thought of a Tahoe Sucker (Catostomus tahoensis), which is indigenous to the Lake Tahoe and Lahontan Basin of California and Nevada. However, the only samples of the Tahoe Sucker that I had seen was while netting Martis Lake in the fall with retired California of Department of Fish and Game Biologist Russ Wickwire in the 1980s. These specimens had dark backs with white to yellow bellies.

Another person thought it may be a Lahontan Redside minnow (Richardsonius eregius) because of the red stripe. We discounted this because the angler was adamant that the fish had a sucker-like mouth, which the Lahontan Redside does not possess.



We were puzzled. The angler offered to e-mail me the picture, so I gave him my e-mail address. About a week and a half later I was checking my e-mail and there it was.

The picture confirmed that it was most definitely a sucker. Mouths on suckers are pretty distinct, being that they are on the underside of the head.



So what was it?

Judging by the picture, it looked very much like the suckers that Russ and I had caught in the gill nets at Martis Lake many years ago, but without the red stripe.

I checked my “Freshwater Fishes” book by Samuel Eddy, but without the actual specimen, it is impossible to definitively identify the fish. The book is designed for use in a laboratory setting.

The Internet being a wonderful tool, I decided to type in “Tahoe Sucker picture” to do a search on Google. It popped up a number of sites, including one from the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. I clicked on that site and immediately a photo by Peter Rissler appeared of a Tahoe Sucker. The Tahoe Sucker in the picture was a carbon copy of the picture that the angler had sent to me.

Mystery solved.

Why the red stripe? During the spring, smaller size Tahoe Suckers, generally less than 10 inches, will move into tributaries to spawn. When these fish are spawning, the males, like many other species of fish, take on a brighter coloration, which includes the prominent red stripe.

Larger lake-dwelling Tahoe Suckers will generally spawn in lakes over gravely or rocky areas when the water temperatures are between 53 to 73 degrees.

Stream suckers move upstream to riffles at night when water temperatures are within a range of 51 to 57 degrees. The spawning season for Tahoe Suckers ranges from March to August.

Tahoe Suckers can grow to more than 23 inches in length. Suckers larger than 23 inches have been caught during gill net sampling such as those in Martis Lake. When they get this large, there are no predators that are going to be eating them, which means that you usually have an issue with Tahoe Suckers taking over a lake and a failing sport fishery.

I now know a little more about one of our native fish, the Tahoe Sucker. The next time that you see one of these in the wild, you will be able to identify it as well.


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