For more than 60 years, the small town of Nixa has been hosting a big sucker fish fry. Over the decades, the event has grown to become a three-day festival that includes a parade, carnival, live music, vendors, food trucks, and more.

Over the years, Nixa SuckerDays has grown to become a three-day event. More than a celebration of an opt-unappreciated aquatic creature, SuckerDays is about community and connection.

By Caroline Dohack

The humble sucker fish might not be the prettiest thing in the stream, but these bottom-feeders are the talk of the town. The 66th annual Nixa SuckerDays, a three-day arts, crafts, and music festival, will be held May 17 – 19 in downtown Nixa, Missouri. 

More than a celebration of an oft-unappreciated aquatic creature, SuckerDays is about community and connection.

Whitney Guison, president and CEO of the Nixa Chamber of Commerce, says when she and her husband moved to the area five years ago, they had no idea what SuckerDays entailed. But as small-business owners forging connections in their new home, they bought booth space so they could participate. 

“We truly thought it was a candy festival,” Guison says. “We didn’t realize it had anything to do with fish.”

The event started in 1957, when local barber Finis Gold hosted the inaugural fish fry. The event quickly became a classic. For a time, everything except the post office closed down for SuckerDay. As a 1963 headline from Nixa Enterprise proclaimed: “Stores Closed, No School, Gone Fishin’.”

In these early years, more than 8,000 fish dinners—along with something called Sucker Soup Cocktail—might be served over the course of the festival. A SuckerDay Queen and King, as well as a SuckerDay Court, were elected from the Nixa High School and given a spot of honor in the SuckerDay Parade.  

Today, many of these traditions still are observed. Although the schools stay in session, teachers still select a SuckerDays Queen and King. In addition to getting to ride in the parade, these students—as well as one more selected from SCORE, an intervention program for high school students experiencing difficulties on the main campus—receive $1,000 scholarships from the SuckerDays Fund, which is housed by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks. 

These days, limits on the number of suckers a person can snag in a day, coupled with the fact that it’s illegal to sell fish without a commercial license, means the days of selling huge plates of fish are gone. However, Guison says they’re still able to give away samples of the fish and potatoes for free. A tip jar collects donations to be split between the Chamber of Commerce and the Christian County Historical Society.

And these samples go fast. Guison says if sampling the fish is a priority for you, the first thing you should do is get in line on Saturday. Volunteers start handing them out at noon and typically run out by 2 p.m. 

“I’ve been told they’re quite good,” says Guison, whose involvement with the festival has in the past prevented her from getting to the fish fry in a timely fashion. “This year for sure, you better believe I’m going to be having a sample.”

In addition to the parade and fish fry, participants can enjoy carnival rides for the kids, food trucks, arts and crafts vendors, a beer garden, a music festival, a cornhole tournament, and—new this year—a pie-eating contest.

A cornhole tournament is one of the many activities at Nixa SuckerDays.

“It’s just a good hometown, homegrown festival,” Guison says. 

It’s also a big draw. Last year, Guison says, the festival welcomed 10,000 visitors. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Census clocks in Nixa’s population at just under 25,000 people as of 2022. Most of the attendees are from Nixa or the immediate area, but Guison says she often meets people who traveled from out-of-town—and sometimes even out-of-state—for the event.

“It’s such a big part of Nixa, such a big part of our history,” Guison says. 

All photos by Delores Albers Photography.

For hundreds more events, visit Missouri Life’s Event Calendar.