White Suckers Swimming Upstream to Spawn in Rattray Marsh Creek, Mississauga

We’ve often seen the sign at the creek in the Rattray Marsh about White Suckers spawning, but until the spring of 2012, we never actually saw the fish in the flesh.

The winter of 2011-2012 was one of the odder ones around Mississauga, and other places. There was virtually no snow and temperatures rose early. On March 22, we went for an amble along the pathways in the Rattray. We stopped on the bridge over Sheridan Creek to watch a blue jay pretending to be a belted kingfisher.

Looking down, to see what was splashing up a storm, we saw a large school of white suckers. In fact, there were several groups of the fish, struggling slightly to cross shoals of loose rocks. Many were taking a breather in the deeper pools, before continuing to swim upstream away from Lake Ontario.

Photo of White Suckers in Sheridan Creek

The fish, though plump, were fairly long and slender and more attractive than I’d expected. As a child, I had seen gigantic carp thrashing towards their spawning grounds, so I’d been prepared for something uglier. These suckers, with their bold light and dark stripe, seemed sportier and well suited to the shallow water.

A biologist at the Ministry of Natural Resources says that, “The males have the stripes and the females are about 1.5 times larger than the males. They spawn in the spring in local streams and can be observed from late April to early June.”

Female and male white suckers Rattray Marsh

According to the signage, these suckers can reach 20 inches (50 cm) and 4 lbs (1.8 kg.) I’m not convinced the ones we saw were that large, but they made it up in numbers.

For a minute, I thought about being an early settler to the area. Imagine, after a long winter of starvation-level rations, seeing fish in such numbers and so easily reached. A good number of fish must have been caught in those times and eagerly eaten. It was a tiny bit tempting to try to catch one by hand, just to see if it could be done, but of course we didn’t try.

Somewhat surprisingly, the white suckers are a native fish, not an alien. Nice to know some of our Canadian fish are thriving.

The sign also said that they are often seen in April and May. Since this was only March 22, it was another sign of the early spring. I’m not sure how long the fish are on the move. There was no sign of them on April 9th, but I imagine they come and go even on a single day.

We’ll be keeping an eye out for them in the spring of 2013. But something tells me that we may not have to go early because of a warm, mild winter, unfortunately!

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