With ice coming off area waters, anglers are getting the spring fishing bug. Warm temperatures and open water equals a strong desire to go fishing. Many anglers in the area will be looking for walleye soon.
For those of you that love fishing shallow, spring walleyes are probably your target species. When walleye fishing gets underway, you will generally find them closer to shore in the shallows. If you are not having success you are probably fishing too deep.
Walleyes are one the early spawners. The exact temperature varies from lake to lake but watch the water’s temperature. When it is the 44 to 48 degree range, that’s walleye time. This weekends weather set things back a bit, but don’t worry. It will warm up again.
Walleye go shallow for a couple reasons. Shallow water, especially over a hard and/or dark bottom, warms up faster. The warm water attracts bait fish and the walleye follow.
Bright sunlight tends to keep walleye deeper. I like fishing late evenings and into the night in the early part of the pre-spawn. Walleyes move to the shallows as sunlight fades.
Now in addition to walleye, there are sauger to catch! Saugers belong to a freshwater family of fish that is closely related to walleye. Genetically they are so close to walleye that they do cross-breed. That fish is known as a saugeye.
Many anglers aren’t familiar with this fish. They look so much like a walleye that it is sometimes difficult to tell what you’ve caught. They may be distinguished from walleyes by the distinctly spotted dorsal fin and the lack of a white patch on the lower tail. Unlike walleye, saugers have a rough skin over their gill plates and are generally darker with a more brassy color than walleye.
Saugers can be found in their largest numbers in Lewis and Clark Reservoir and the Missouri River. These fish have also been stocked in places like Pawnee Lake, near Lincoln. For anglers in/around Beatrice, perhaps the best spot to fish for sauger is the Missouri River. Some other good spots to look for sauger are below wing dikes or dams, and where feeder creeks or small streams flow into a bigger river. Saugers can tolerate cloudier, murkier water better than walleye and that makes them perfect for Nebraska rivers. The hybrid saugeye can be found in Meadowlark, Willard Meyer, Big Indian and Iron Horse Trail reservoirs. Further west you can find sauger in Johnson Reservoir and the Tri-County canal system.
Saugers don’t grow as large as walleye, they generally average 1 to 3 pounds, but they do get bigger. Nebraska’s state record sauger was caught back in 1961 in the Missouri River by Betty Tepner, of Plainview. The fish weighed 8 pounds, 5 ounces. The state record saugeye was caught by Shawn Ackles, of Cotesfield, in Calamas Reservoir May 26, 2003. The fish weighed 8 pounds, 14 ounces.
Like many other species of fish, springtime is spawning time. Sauger move upstream to spawn typically in 2 to 8 feet of water. A female can lay between 15,000 to 40,000 eggs for each pound of her body weight. Sauger fry hatch after 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the water temperature.
I learned about sauger fishing from a gentleman by the name of Jimmy Hall, from Nemaha. He was a master at catching sauger in the Missouri.
“Saugers follow the path of least resistance in the river,” Hall told me. “You can look at the river and tell where the slower current will be, where fish will hold up behind wing dikes and where they will cross the channel as they move upstream in the spring. Once you figure that out, you can catch sauger.”
Over the years I’ve fished for sauger quite often, mostly on the Missouri. Generally I have had my best success catching these fish in cold water during winter and early spring. The best baits for me have been live baits like minnows, crayfish and night crawlers. I rig the minnows on brightly colored lead-head bucktail jigs or twister tails. I used a Lindy-rig with crayfish and the night crawlers. I like to rig so that my bait is just heavy enough to get to the bottom. I want to feel the bait lightly bouncing off the rocks or other structure.
Sauger can provide excellent angling opportunities and great table fare, too. Prepare and cook sauger the same way you would do walleye.