The Big Sucker is perhaps one of the easiest North Shore creeks to catch with water. From Cty 33, there is about a half mile of light rapids with one low ledge sequence. You'll want to get out and scout the next steep, twisting drop that changes directions abruptly several times in a narrowed channel that feeds almost immediately into a 12', high angle slide.
This is followed primarily by light rapids and flatwater with a decent current speed. Passing under Ryan and Berquist Rds, there are no more significant drops until the woods open up for a powerline frontage. There is a low ledge shortly after and then the main action begins.
There are two slide sequences that can be a bit scrapy at lower flows. The second is terraced at the top and has a "ski jump" in the center at the bottom. At this point the river makes a hard turn to the left. Get out on the right to scout the next sequence here as eddies become somewhat scarce below.
The river looks innocuous here but just around the next bend is "The Bunny" (named with references to Monty Python and Energizer battery commercials). The river drops 100' in the next 0.2 miles. Around the corner lie a pair of ledges, then most of the current funnels down into a narrow, violent slot dropping about ten feet -- this route hurts, trust me. Instead, after the ledges (which will likely leave you river-left) cut hard to far right across the lip of the main (slot) drop, to hit a small bypass channel. Watch for a potential "head and tail" pin here and angle left at the bottom to avoid the rock wall. This is the most difficult part of the drop but the fun is just beginning.
Ten yards below, there is a short ledge leading into a small vertical that drops into a pothole; watch the overhanging rock on the left. This feeds immediately into another small vertical where it is necessary to come off with hard left angle to avoid pitonning the facing rock. At higher flows it is possible to run a slide to the left here. Just downstream are a pair of ledges, 4-5', for a double boof followed by running water into a slot with a twist at the bottom that feeds onto a low angle slide for the finish. Much, much fun. Taken piece by piece, the drop may only be class IV. However, the length and complexity of this drop (especially at moderate to high water) generally merit a class V rating.
There is a small slide just below and then some light water for a brief stretch before "Goosed", a fairly straightforward drop with a pourover near the bottom that tends to tailstand boats. Just downstream is "Two Step", a pair of small verticals into potholes with a hole after the second (that has an appetite for small boats) followed by a small sloping ledge. There's another short stretch of running water before the finale to the steepest section.
"Five Step" is a staircasing series of five drops into potholes dropping 16-18' total. The holes can be very aggresive though if you can hit several boofs in quick sequence, the drop's a cinch. There are light rapids down to the bridge at Old North Shore Rd but watch for a section which was badly wooded up after the big 4th of July Storm of '99.
Light rapids bring you down to the long culvert under Hwy 61 and shortly after, there are some ledges that lead into a slightly bigger sequence. More class II stuff and you may begin to encounter fishermen coming into the drop under the railway bridge leading into "Sucker Punch". This drop isn't difficult be warned: the 'wave' just below the ledge is not just water. Run with right angle and float down to the mouth.
Hang a right (south/west) and paddle Lake Superior for maybe ten minutes to take out on the public beach.
At lower flows, the upper and lower sections get scrapy so it may be advisable to shorten the run by carrying in on the power line frontage off Berquist Rd (maybe a quarter mile) and take out at Old North Shore Rd.
There are a number of references to "potholes" in the description. This is not entirely accurate. The river was modified by the DNR to improve upstream fish passage. The modification was done with explosives, so those potholes should more accurately be referred to as blast craters. Therefore, be aware there will be sharp edged rock (not yet smoothed and dulled by time) at and downstream of these drops.
NOTE: This stream is sufficiently narrow and tree-lined as to make difficult viewing on aerial photos. As a result, we are unable to accurately locate and identify all the named features on the run. (Added to which, it has been too many years since this reporter has been on that run.) Thus the list of rapids/features is not entirely complete or accurate, but merely representative sampling to pinpoint some of the locations. In just a few instances I have been able to make identification of features, but most features in this list are merely 'descriptors', not the boaters' names for features.
Anyone boating this run should be prepared with adequate creek-boating skills recognize, scout, and then run class IV and V rapids.
We welcome input from anyone who can help match more names to locations on this run. Help out your fellow boaters using the "Add a Comment" button which should appear below for all registered, logged-in users, or email the contact(s) listed on the "Credits & Network" tab.
A USGS sampling site at this location lists drainage area of 39 square miles.
This is roughly half that of the Knife (at 84 sq.mi.), so flows here could be about half of that gauge. Or, putting it another way, this is very similar in size to the Lester, which has about 37 sq.mi. drainage (above its confluence with Amity).
By the way . . . the sharp edged blasted rocks (mentioned in the final paragraph of the main description) can be hell on boats. It is not entirely uncommon for someone (out of a group of paddlers) to end up with a major gash and leak in their boat. (North Shore paddling can be hazardous to your pocketbook!)
* Gauge shown is the Knife River. Flows in excess of 300 cfs are a good indicator that the Sucker will be running.
Paddler's gauge: Old North Shore Rd bridge, river left downstream footing, measure down to water.
Minnesota DNR maintains a gauge for this river. Click Here to see that gauge.
Note: You can change the dates for which data will be displayed. Once you make your selections, press the "Change" button for the changes to take effect and a new graph to be displayed.
Permits are not required for this reach.
We have no additional detail on this route.
Use the map below to calculate how
to arrive to the main town from your zipcode.
If someone gets hurt on a river, or you read about a whitewater-related injury, please report it to
American Whitewater. Don't worry about multiple submissions from other witnesses, as our safety
editors will turn multiple witness reports into a single unified accident report.
Log into the American Whitewater website and you can contribute to river descriptions,
flow and access tips, and maps associated with runs you've done. You can even add new
runs to the inventory!