redhorse sucker

"World Record" Redhorse Sucker Turns Out to Be Something Different Altogether

A Missouri angler caught what everyone thought was a new world record black redhorse sucker. But a biological exam showed something else altogether.

Missouri angler Jay Heselton was fly fishing the James River in the southern part of the state when he hooked what he assumed was a smallmouth bass. But when the fish jumped, Heselton could see that he didn't have a smallmouth at the end of his line. Instead he had hooked a large redhorse sucker.

"This guy, when he felt the hook he jumped out of the water like a bass, but I recognized it as a sucker, like the one I caught before," Heselton recalled. "It took off on a run that left a rooster tail from my line."

Heselton, who hails from Nixa, Missouri, was told by another angler at the boat ramp that the fish was a redhorse sucker. The Missouri state record redhorse is 5 pounds, 10 ounces. Heselton's sucker weighed 5 pounds, 15 ounces. So, he took the fish to Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery in Branson, where a friend told him that he thought it was a black redhorse sucker.

Heselton was shocked to discover the state record for black redhorse sucker. "When I learned the current black redhorse record is 1 pound, 8 ounces, it about blew me away!" he said. His fish would also shatter the current black redhorse sucker world record, a 2 pound, 4 ounce fish caught in Pennsylvania in 1998.

A closer look reverses the original assessment

Heselton and the Missouri Department of Conservation began to prepare the paperwork for the new state and world records. Unfortunately for Heselton, biologists at the MDC took a closer look at his redhorse in the intervening weeks of the confirmation process.

They examined the back scales and the pharyngeal teeth in the fish's gills. Ultimately they determined that Heselton's fish wasn't a black redhorse sucker after all. Instead it was a river redhorse sucker.

"We want to be fair to him and to our current record holders, so that's why we work to ensure the identity of a potentially record fish," said Andrew Branson, fisheries program specialist with the MDC. "There are several different types of suckers in Missouri, and some can look real similar. There can even be some hybrids. Some you have to get down to real fine details to confirm what it is."

The current Missouri record for river redhorse sucker is 10 pounds, 3 ounces. That fish was caught caught in January of this year January by 11-year-old angler Maverick Yoakum. Yoakum's river redhorse sucker (read about his catch here) not only set the Missouri state record, but is also the new IGFA world record.

So, Heselton will have to be satisfied with a great fish story and a photograph of the fish to remind him of his unusual catch.

"I fish for smallmouth bass, goggle-eye and bluegills," he said. "It's pretty weird to catch a sucker on a fly rod."

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