They say there’s a sucker born every minute. Well, in Nixa, Missouri, they’re counting on it.
Nixa’s Sucker Day (May 16 in 2015) got started way back in 1957, thanks to Finis Gold, a town barber and avid fisherman. Gold and some of his fishing buddies started the tradition by taking the day off to fish for suckers, also known as white suckers (although there are other varieties). They snagged so many that day, they decided to make it a party and fry it up for the rest of the town. Pretty soon, schools and several businesses started closing for one day each year to get in on the grabbin’ fun. Because in Missouri, you don’t just toss a line out and hope a sucker will nibble your bait. Here in Nixa, you grab ’em.
Yes, there’s more than one way to catch a sucker, but only one way is traditional. “Grabbin’” is a technique at the heart of every Ozark fisherman. It’s a time-honored tradition passed down through generations. It’s not always easy, but it isn’t complicated. Basically, you toss your line out with a heavy weight and a treble hook, and at the right moment jerk your line quickly to snag a sucker. Spring, spawning season, is the best time for grabbing, as the bottom-dwellers make their way to shallow water.
Nearly sixty years later, the fish are caught, frozen, and donated to the city to fry up on Sucker Day each May. Up to 3,500 fish have been donated in a single year to feed the hordes of people that flock to Nixa to take a bite of the tempting fried fare. And no sucker festival would be complete without the crowning of Miss Sucker Day, a pie pig-out, and even a bubblegum blowing contest.
While people come for the fried sucker and a chance to pay homage to the tasty bottom dweller that gets little attention elsewhere (as you probably know, suckers aren’t a highly sought after fish outside of the Ozarks), truth be told, it really is more of a celebration of Nixa itself and the heart of a small town community. Proceeds from Sucker Day continue to feed the community through scholarships and other donations to benefit the citizens of Nixa.
The original intent of a day of fun and a bit of relaxation still resonates with the people of Nixa more than half a century later. “Work hard, play harder” may be true everywhere, but few places make it a way of life as they do in the Ozarks. And if what they say is true, and a sucker really is born a minute, in Nixa they’ll be patiently waiting to grab it.