What is Fish Gigging?
Gigging consists of spearing fish rather than catching them with a hook and line. It is primarily a nighttime activity and is most effective in shallow, clear water. Fish harvested by gigging are known generally as “suckers.” They are collected in this manner because traditional angling methods are not effective for catching these species.
Giggers usually stand at the bow of a flat-bottomed boat outfitted with a bright light and a rail to lean upon. They hold their fork-tipped spears over the surface of the rushing water, scanning for fish. Once they spot a sucker, they try to gig it with their spears. It sounds straightforward, but it is challenging. The boat is moving, daylight is gone, it’s cold outside, and the fish are quick.
Gigging takes practice and patience. Those who have been doing it for years can gig a swimming sucker by throwing the gig like a spear.
Fish Gigging Basics
What to Gig
Fish described as “Other Fish” in the Wildlife Code of Missouri are the only fish species that may be taken when gigging. The most common targets are the northern hogsucker and species of redhorse commonly referred to as “yellow suckers.” It is not necessary to differentiate between the different types of yellow suckers, but it is important to be able to tell a sucker from sport fish like smallmouth bass and walleye. Common gigs used by giggers throughout the Ozarks. A good gig is an invaluable piece of equipment to own.
Where to Gig
The most popular places for fish gigging are medium-sized rivers in the Ozarks that offer clear water and can be navigated with a flat-bottomed johnboat. Some of the most popular waters to gig are the Current, Eleven Point, Meramec, Gasconade, and James rivers. Once on the water, the boat driver roams the river searching for suckers. Stream shallows offer the best opportunity for gigging success.
Gigging season on Ozark streams and rivers runs from Sept. 15 through Jan. 31. The daily limit is 20 fish in the aggregate, and on the Current River from Cedar Grove to the Arkansas line no more than five hogsuckers can be included in the daily limit. Contact your local conservation office for more information. Game fish cannot be harvested by gigging. Giggers should verify fish clearly prior to gigging so that game fish are not gigged illegally.
Sign up for a free gigging workshop hosted by the Department of Conservation. These workshops are held throughout the gigging season. They consist of an introduction to gigging, a trip on the water, and a fish fry. Contact your local Department of Conservation office for details on upcoming workshops.
Gigging generally requires a boat, lighting, a gig, and a knowledgeable friend to drive the boat.
Most gigging boats are equipped with a jet motor and a rail on the bow. Jet motors don’t have a prop — they use an internal impeller that propels the boat by discharging water at a high velocity. The advent of the jet motor helped turn gigging into sport. They made the river more navigable, allowing people to travel up and downstream, even in shallow water.
Some use floodlights while others fashion reflective housings around bulbs to reflect light into the water. A gas generator usually powers these systems; however, more and more people are installing battery-powered systems that run LED lights. This is not surprising, since eliminating generator noise adds to the evening’s enjoyment.
Most gigs have three or four prongs, and the best ones have been forged and tempered by local blacksmiths. A strong gig will last for many years and is an important piece of the tradition. Many giggers have a host of stories that go along with the first gig that was given to them.
Preparing Your Catch
Cooking and eating suckers is just as enjoyable as catching them. Cleaning a sucker requires scaling the fish, filleting off the meat, and scoring the fillet. The fillet is then breaded and deep-fried. A sucker fillet has bones within the meat. Scoring and frying the meat dissolves the bones and makes for a delicious meal. A simple and delicious recipe for cooking suckers is:
cornmeal (or flour)
vegetable or peanut oil
Season cornmeal with salt and pepper (add any other spices you like).
Score fillet (make a series of cuts a quarter-inch apart that are half the thickness of the fillet).
Roll fillets in cornmeal mix.
Fry in oil until light brown.
Ingredient substitution: Nadine Barton, of the Eleven Point River Anglers Association, suggests substituting home-rendered hog lard in place of the oil. Her recipe has been perfected through four generations of giggers.