Blue Sucker

Blue Sucker, photo courtesy of Konrad P. Schmidt, copyright Konrad P. Schmidt


A slender, dark-colored sucker with a small head and a long, sickle-shaped dorsal fin. Blue-black or dark olive back and sides with brassy reflections and a white belly. Breeding males are very dark and have small tubercles over most of its head, body and fins. Small eyes are closer to the rear margin of the gill cover than to the tip of the snout. Its mouth is small, horizontal, and distinctly overhung by the snout. Lips are covered with numerous wart-like papillae. Lateral line is complete, with 55 to 58 scales. Body length is about four to five times greater than body depth. Fins dusky or black, dorsal fin with 28 to 33 rays.


Blue Sucker Distribution

The Blue Sucker is rarely found in fish collections in Iowa, but is widespread in the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and the lower reaches of their larger tributaries. It has never been documented in the upper reaches of our interior streams. Abundance has declined since the early 1900's, but the species remains unprotected.


Aquatic insects and their larvae, crustaceans and plant material including algae, which they glean from the bottom in the typical vacuum-like manner.

State Record

15 lbs. 6 oz.; 33.25 in. - Iowa River, Johnson County, 4/11/2011 - Steven Jones, Iowa City

Expert Tip

These fish are mostly likely found at the lower end of tributaries to the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.


Blue Suckers prefer the deep, large rivers and are usually in the narrow chutes and swift channels where the current is moderate to swift over a bottom of gravel, sand and rocks. They are tolerant of high turbidity. Past records show this species made important spring runs up the Cedar River to the dam at Palisades State Park near Cedar Rapids, but they have nearly disappeared from this river stretch.

The Blue Sucker is most widely distributed in the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and can occasionally be found in the lower reaches of their tributaries. There is no record of Blue Suckers ever being caught in the upper reaches of Iowa’s interior streams. Because it is virtually invulnerable to normal collecting most of the year, the Blue Sucker is likely more abundant and widespread than is reported.

The Blue Sucker prefers the swift waters of big rivers overlying firm substrates such as sand, gravel or rock. Researchers have found that it also lives in the channels of deep lakes. It prefers clear channels and pools with moderate current. As a migratory species, the Blue Sucker has declined in abundance since 1900 as dam construction increased. Dams have also limited its habitat by decreasing current velocity and increasing siltation. Due to its sensitivity to heavy pollution and siltation, the Blue Sucker can serve as a guide to judge water quality.

Little is known about the Blue Sucker life history in Iowa. Fisheries literature reveals that an upstream spawning migration into riffle areas takes place in late April to early May at water temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees. They are gregarious spawners broadcasting the semi-adhesive eggs over gravel and rubble bottoms directly in the current. Sexual maturity occurs at ages 2 and 3. How long eggs ares incubated and how many eggs are produced is unknown.

Growth of this species has been documented in the Cedar River in Wisconsin. Twelve fish in the study that ranged from 4 to 11 years averaged 3.5, 8.9, 14.8, 19.2, 21.1, 22.6, 24.0, 25.2, 26.2, 27.2, and 28.6 inches at the end of each year of life. 

Like the other sucker species in Iowa, these fish have minimal importance to anglers. It is viewed as vulnerable according to the Iowa Wildlife Action Plan, but it not on the threatened or endangered species lists in Iowa (571 IAC 77.2(2) (2015)).

Recent stream sampling information is available from Iowa DNR's biological monitoring and assessment program.


Harlan, J.R., E.B. Speaker, and J. Mayhew. 1987. Iowa fish and fishing. Iowa Conservation Commission, Des Moines, Iowa. 323pp.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Wildlife Action Plan

Loan-Wilsey, A. K., C. L. Pierce, K. L. Kane, P. D. Brown and R. L. McNeely. 2005. The Iowa Aquatic Gap Analysis Project Final Report. Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Iowa State University, Ames

Pflieger, W.L. 1997. The fishes of Missouri. Missouri Department of Conservation, Jefferson City, Missouri. 372 pp.

Photo Credit: photo courtesy of Konrad P. Schmidt, copyright Konrad P. Schmidt

Present in these Iowa water bodies:
Lake/Stream County Location Acres/Length
Pool 18, Mississippi River Louisa Amenities listed are for the Toolsboro Ramp. The ramp at Toolsboro is paved but the road to the ramp is gravel. There is some shore fishing along the parking area and at the outlet of Lake Odessa. Amenities vary by location in pool 18 13300.00
Cedar River (Nashua to La Porte City) Black Hawk North Cedar Park located on the north side of Highway 188 east of Plainfield is an excellent hard surface boat launch. 77.00
Missouri River (Sioux City to Little Sioux) Harrison Chris Larsen Park: 1280 Larsen Park Road/Sioux City, IA. Located on the Sioux City riverfront along the Missouri River. Larsen Park offers 110 acres on the Sioux City Riverfront. Managed by the City of Sioux City. 64.00
Missouri River (Council Bluffs to state line) Fremont Lake Manawa State Park: 1100 South Shore Drive/Council Bluffs, IA 51501 phone: 712-366-0220. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Lake Manawa State Park has boat ramps on the Missouri River within the park. 61.00
Cedar River (La Porte City to Cedar Rapids) Linn This stretch is located in Benton and Linn County. A popular river access is in the Dudgeon Lake Wildlife Area right of Hwy 150 on the North side of Vinton. 56.00
Cedar River (Cedar Rapids to Moscow) Cedar This stretch is found in Linn and Cedar County. A popular access is found in Palisades State Park which is on Hwy 30 between Cedar Rapids and Mount Vernon. 55.00
Missouri River (Little Sioux to Council Bluffs) Pottawattamie Wilson Island State Recreation Area: 32801 Campground Lane/Missouri Valley, IA 51555 phone-712-642-2069. Managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Wilson Island Recreation Area has 544 acres along the Missouri River near Missouri Valley Iowa. 53.00
Des Moines River (Farmington to Keokuk) Lee Redwing Access : 3941 Valley Road just west of Keokuk. 35.00
Iowa River (Columbus Junction to Mississippi R) Louisa Cappy Russell Access : West of Oakville 6444 County Road X-71, Oakville, IA 52646 30.00
Iowa River (Coralville Lake to River Junction) Johnson This stretch is located in Johnson County. A popular access is the Tailwater East Ramp located right below the Coralville Lake Dam, East of North Liberty and Coralville. 29.00
Iowa River (River Junction to Columbus Junction) Louisa River Forks Access : 1001 Main Street, Fredonia, IA 52738 24.00