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Ozarks Life: The history of Nixa’s Sucker Days

The annual event celebrating the bottom feeder started in 1957
Updated: May. 21, 2021 at 7:44 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Nixa is changing.

The town is so big the 20,000-plus residents, mostly transplants from somewhere else now need a five lane road to get across town.

As they pass through they see a banner for an annual event. Many admit they don’t know why their city celebrates a bottom feeding fish.

“It was something else,” lifelong Nixa resident Bill Haworth said. “Oh, I wish I could do them again. But those days are passed.”

Bill says sucker grabbin’, or fishing for sucker fish, was the past time.

“Just about everyone in Nixa was involved,” Bill says.

In 1957, when Chevrolet’s had fins Nixa started an event with fins.

Sucker Day was the dream of barber Finis Gold who reeled in the residents to feast on the fish.

“(Gold) got all the merchants to close,” Bill said, “he got the schools to close, and even got the post office to close that day. It was a big ordeal.”

All 300 Nixa residents at the time were hooked on Sucker Day.

“You had to get in line,” Bill said. “You’re allowed 20-fish. So you waited until this guy got his 20, he’d move, you’d go up in line and take his spot. It was something else.”

And when all the grabbin’ was done the residents would have a feast on the bottom feeders.

“The grabbers would bring in fish to feed the whole country,” Bill said who helped out for many years. “Clean them, score them, and meal them.”

Bill admits he was mediocre at sucker grabbin’. Rex Harp was the sucker grabber everyone in southwest Missouri angled to be.

“I wouldn’t trade the sucker grabbin’ for any sport because its just full of action,” Harp said in an interview in 1992.

Sucker grabbin’ sounds easy and cheap. You don’t need bait and you’re not switching between colorful lures.

All you need is a rod and reel, a treble hook or two, and maybe a ladder to look down to see where the suckers are spawning.

“After you get used to grabbin’ you can spot the fish,” Harp said in ‘92. “They run in schools. You cast the other side of them, jerk your hooks into them, and the fight is on.”

“You’d find a hole and 300 or 400 suckers,” Bill said, “and you’d cast out and catch one every time.”

The grabbers would grab suckers throughout the non game-fish seasons. Then every May, they’d would bring their year’s catch to Nixa’s Main Street and fry it up for the hundreds in attendance.

But a bottom feeder can’t taste that good, right?

“I’ve heard that remark many times,” Bill said.

What did you think about that,” Chad Plein asked.

“After they eat them, they come back for seconds.”

The 63rd Nixa Sucker Days is Friday and Saturday, May 21 and 22, on Main Street in Nixa. Click here for more information from the Nixa Chamber of Commerce.

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