Catch the biggest sucker in the smallest city

Omer hosting one-day fishing extravaganza


OMER — The Omer Sucker Festival was a three-day event that used to pack Michigan’s smallest city with loads of locals and tourists alike, all on a mission to hook monster suckers running in the Rifle River.

But according to lifelong Omer resident Larry Daly, a lawsuit over an injury incurred during one of the festival’s contests in the 1980’s made the city hesitant to continue the weekend extravaganza that included a queen contest, parades and the release and potential capture of a tagged $5,000 sucker.

“We (Omer) tried to have one again. … It was hard to get people interested,” Daly said, adding that when the suckers are running, “There’s still a lot of people coming to camp and fish.”

Daly said that the crowd is now tiny compared to the draw of the Sucker Festival.

“It was a big local event. … There were 8-10 people deep for the whole length of the river (in Omer),” Daly said.

That’s why this year, the city of Omer is trying to move back towards the draw that was once offered by the Sucker Festival when it hosts the First Omer Sucker Derby, which Daly said is attempting to encourage Omer residents and elected officials to reinstate a festival committee in the future.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Daly said.

The derby will last one day. Vickie Sheeder, owner of event co-sponsor Ma’s Girl Café & Catering, said the concept of the derby is “to bring back the old days when the city was overrun with people.”

And one way the derby will try to bring fishermen to the area is with a biggest fish tournament conducted by Coolwater Angler, LLC, which actually approached Omer City Council in December 2007 about the possibility of holding the event.

Coolwater Angler, LLC, is based in Lansing and conducts fishing tournaments throughout the state of Michigan.

“We read about the sucker run in Omer,” said Bob Reisner, co-owner of Coolwater Angler. “It’s (Rifle River in Omer) probably known for the sucker run more than any other place in the state.

“We never did a sucker tournament,” he added. “We thought it would be fun.”

According to Sheeder, Omer City Council didn’t need much prodding.

“The city was behind it right from the beginning,” she said.

Sheeder also said the rules for the derby laid out by Coolwater Angler make the contest unique and may help to draw contestants.

“It (sucker) can be caught hook and line or net,” Sheeder said. “The entry fee is low enough that a lot of people can enter.”

The entry fee for the derby is $20 and the top prize for the biggest fish is $750. On top of that, local businesses are donating prizes and the city will also offer other attractions.

“We have vendors and crafters coming,” Sheeder said, adding that children will not be left out of the fun of tournament since it is open to all ages.

And while this year’s derby may not be the return to glory of the past Sucker Festival, Sheeder said the anticipation is already growing for the derby.

“There’s a lot of excitement. We’re just hoping Mother Nature plays along with us,” Sheeder said.

And Daly is hopeful the first sucker derby could lead to some other fishing action in Omer in the future.

“If Coolwater’s happy and we’re happy, then hopefully we can do this every year,” Daly said.

For more information, call 989-653-2700 or visit the Coolwater Angler Web site at


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