It was not to many years ago my wife realized how crazy some people really are! The alarm clock goes off and the numbers read 3:30 AM. As the covers are pulled off and my feet planted firmly on the ground, I stood up and stretched. My wife looked up at me and said, “I have married a “CRAZY MAN”. Later that day, I would remind her of that comment! As I went into the kitchen, I read the indoor/outdoor thermometer. It read 19F. I turned on the weather channel and the forecast for that day was a high of 28F and north winds at 15-20 mph. Sleet and snow was also in the forecast. For most people, this would be a good time to fill the wood boxes, rent some movies and stay inside. As for the “CRAZY MAN”, well this is the time to catch Sauger.
Let me start off by saying, “ I am no expert on Sauger fishing”. I have been fishing for Sauger about fifteen years now, so I will share with you what I have learned. Hopefully, there will be some information you might be able to use in the future to improve your catch.
Over the years I have come to one conclusion and that is Sauger are “staging” fish. What I mean by staging is, Sauger will hold at different depths according to water temperature, current flows and availability of forage. The key to having success is to know the water temperature, and current flow.
I will be referencing a lot to the Tennessee River because this is the area I fish primarily; but the following techniques will work on any river impoundment that has hydroelectric power plants. One of my favorite places to fish is above Ditto Landing. Here the river has many bends in the channel and has a lot of rock and sand bars. The lake contours in this area have a lot of depth changes and this also makes for a great Sauger habitat. The depth changes on the contours are where the staging effect comes into play.
One of the easiest ways to remember the staging effect is October=28, November=30-35, December=38-40, January=40-60 and February=15-22. The numbers represent a good depth to start looking for Sauger during this particular time of year. These numbers were based on accurate records that I have kept over the years. After awhile I started noticing depths relating to water temperatures which in turn represented the time of year. Although these numbers are not always true, you can put about an 85% trust in them. You are probably wondering about the February numbers??? We will get to that later in the article!
Lets say it is November and you want to go out Sauger fishing. You should have these items to work with. Warm cloths, a good map that shows contours of the lake and a good graph on your boat. Put in a Ditto Landing and go up river. As you are headed up river, start watching the shoreline along the river. What you are looking for is where the river channel bends. In these areas look for shorelines that have irregular features such as rock and sand. Steep bluff walls are another good choice. Keep in mind that these areas must have deep water nearby. Other areas such as the mouth of creeks are also good areas to concentrate on. When fishing these areas, concentrate above and below the mouth of the creeks. The Paint Rock River and Flint River are good choices to try when fishing for Sauger. Once the water temperatures start to fall into the low fifties, concentrate on areas of the river that are narrow. By looking on the map, these areas are easy to spot. In these areas position the boat dead center of the channel and fish accordingly. Another sign to watch for is boat concentration. It is not uncommon to be going up river and all of a sudden see 20 to 30 boats in one particular area. This is a good sign where the Sauger are.
Over the years I have tried several different types of lures but one of my favorites is a heavy hair jig tipped with a tuffy minnow. The trick with using heavy jigs is to match the weight of the jig with the current flow. Here is a good choice of jigs to have on hand, 1.5 oz, 1.25 oz, 1.0 oz and ¾ oz. With these weights, one can match the current and keep a vertical presentation. Keeping a vertical presentation is very important when it comes to catching Sauger. We will discuss presentation a little later in the article. Note: Local tackle shops carry these jigs. Try Busters bait and tackle in Huntsville and Keller’s shell on 431 heading towards Guntersville.
Now that you have a good idea on what weights to use, lets talk colors. Through trial and error I have come up with several combinations when it comes to color selection. If the water is clear, I have found that a flo-red head and white hair is hard to beat. Chartreuse and blue are also good combinations in clear water conditions. If the water is stained, I have found that a flo-red head and orange hair is a good choice. My choices for line diameters are 8lb, 10lb and 12lb test. Depending on the location being fished, your choice will be determined by hang-ups and current flow. The higher the current flow, the smaller diameter line. If you are losing a lot of jigs, go up to a stronger diameter line.
As I have covered location, lures and line diameters, presentation is next. When Sauger fishing, I like to use a 6.5-foot medium action-spinning rod. Choice of reel is left up to the angler. Keep in mind that a smooth drag is important. When fishing for Sauger, think vertical! Keeping a vertical line is very important. To maintain a vertical presentation, the angler must adjust by using the trolling motor. Here is the trick. Lets say that the current flow is strong and you are having a hard time keeping vertical presentation. Adjust the trolling motor speed until the jig becomes vertical; but at the same point allowing the boat to drift with the current. If this still does not work, then it is time to start thinking about increasing the weight of the jig. The reason that a vertical presentation is so important is it reduces hang-ups and allows the angler to keep in contact with the bait. Once the jig reaches bottom, there are several different methods of working the jig. Most of the time, a jump and fall presentation is very productive. A lot of people ask me when I take them Sauger fishing, “what does it feel like when you get a strike”? They are amazed when the response I give them is, “I don’t know, I don’t feel the strike 98% of the time. As the jig is being worked, the angler will be jumping the jig and all of a sudden on the upward jump, there will be dead weight. Once the angler feels this, the hook should be set in one long upward sweep and the reeling should begin. Once the angler gets the Sauger coming up, the line should never go slack and a constant retrieve should be maintained. The reason for keeping constant pressure on the fish is because as the Sauger is coming up, he is shaking his head back and forth. If the angler allows the fish to have any slack, the hook will be thrown 60% of the time.
Another method when Sauger fishing is just a stationary drift. Allow the jig to fall all the way to the bottom and once the jig makes contact, reel up about a foot. Do not move the jig. A lot of the times I have seen this method out fish the jump and fall method. When using this method, the angler will feel the strike and 90% of the time it will be a single solid “thump”. Again, set the hook by a smooth upward motion and do not allow any slack.
There are several tricks I have learned over the years that have increased my catch rates. A lot of the times if Sauger are short striking the jig, I start using a stinger hook. A stinger hook is a small treble hook (#4 or #6), which is connected to the jig by two snap swivels. I have learned over the years that by using snap swivels instead of monofilament, lost fish at the boat are no longer a problem. The angler can build his own stringer hook assembly by getting two snap swivels, a treble hook and an old piece of plastic worm. To create the stinger hook assembly, place the jig on a flat surface. Take one of the snap swivels ends (the one that line is normally tied to) and slip over the jig hook point. Now, open the other end and place the second snap swivel exactly the same way onto the first snap swivel. Close the first snap swivel. Open the second snap swivel and place the treble hook on. Close the snap swivel. To prevent the assembly from coming off the hook, take a piece of old plastic worm and place on the hook of the jig where the bend starts. I like this system a lot better because Sauger cannot bite through the wire swivels. Another trick I learned is to use a bearing type swivel to connect the jig to the actual fishing line. This prevents the line from twisting and allows the jig to fall in a more natural way.
Earlier in the article, I mentioned the “staging affect” and explained dates relating to water depths. There is a period when Sauger will spawn and for some reason it is usually occurs in mid February till the first week in March depending on weather conditions. Signs to look for is when fish are being caught in late January early February and all of a sudden they are gone! You begin to search the areas you have been catching them and the graph on your boat shows nothing. More than likely, the last couple days the weather has warmed and the water temperatures have risen a couple of degrees. Try looking in areas where the river bends sharply. The bottom content should be a mixture of sand and rock. This is when the February=15-22 staging effect comes into play. To make it simple, watch for the first warm spell in February. Sometimes this may in occur in early March depending on the weather. As far as after the spawn, well this is when I give up and realize I still have a lot of work to do. Where they go during late spring and summer is a puzzle I cant seem to solve.
Before I close, I would like to discuss some safety issues about Sauger fishing. It was about four years ago when I was headed back to the ramp to go home. I had been fishing all day and had a good sack of Sauger. As I approached the ramp, I shut the motor off and tied the boat to the dock. As I stepped up onto the dock, my foot slipped and I went in. Luckily for me, the water was only about 4 feet deep. As I stood up, I could not breath! As walked up the ramp, my joints had already started to stiffen up and I began to shake uncontrollably. By the time I got to the truck, my mental awareness had been affected. I realized at that point how dangerous Sauger fishing can be. A lot of anglers take cold-water temperatures for granted. I was one of them. Later that night I realized how close I was to losing my life. I started thinking that if my accident had happened in open water, I might not be here today. If you fall overboard, the current will separate you from your boat and time becomes your enemy. I am not trying to scare anyone, but please be careful. Be aware of your surroundings. Before heading out to the lake it is always a good idea to let someone know where you are going. Leave information such as areas being fished, ramps being used and anticipated time of arrival. Bring extra cloths in case there is an overboard accident. Bring a friend along for added safety. Check weather reports and wind forecasts. Wear life jackets even while fishing.
With a small amount of time
on the water and the information I have provided, an angler can improve
their catch rates considerably. Sauger are not that hard to catch once
you understand their behavioral patterns and their surroundings. Keep accurate
notes such as catch rates, depth of water fish are being caught, water
and air temperatures, current flows, water clarity and availability of
forage. Note: Check local creel limits and size restrictions. Here in North
Alabama the daily creel limit is ten per day and only 3 of the ten can
be below 14 inches. Good luck and be careful!
The oil is heated to 350F. A Sauger fillet is rolled in seasoned meal and released into the oil. Minutes later the wife brings the slaw, hush puppies, golden brown Sauger fillets and a tall glass of tea to the table. As we both sat down, I watched her carefully. She comments that she has been waiting for this all day. As she squeezes a lemon and covers her fillet completely, she takes a bite. By her reaction, you would think she had found a 90% off sale at the local mall and they were taking an additional 10% off! As I sat there watching her enjoy the meal, she said “Before I married you, I had never tasted a fish that was this good!” I calmly sat there and paused for a moment, and replied, “Yea, you would have to be married to “CRAZY MAN” to be able to stomach that fish!
Good luck and please wear those
life jackets (especially when Sauger fishing)!
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