Open-water Sauger Bonanza


Here we are once again in the month of January of another new year. While many anglers that love to fish our Midwest river systems are sitting at home waiting for warmers temps so that they can get out and try their hand at catching some fish, there is a hardy breed of anglers enjoying some great fishing right now.

I am going to concentrate on the great sauger fishing going on right now on the Mississippi River. Keep in mind that the other major rivers here that contain these tasty fish are also experiencing a good bite. For those savvy anglers not afraid to dress warm and endure the chill, some truly wonderful sauger fishing can be enjoyed.

Here on my home river, the Mississippi, fishing in the open areas of the tailwaters below the dams can be some of the fastest, most rewarding fishing of the year. When these tasty saugers congregate in great numbers below the dams, anglers can reap the benefits.

One thing I want you folks to note is the methods. They can be used on other river systems with equally good success. So with that said, let’s go catch some saugers.

When it comes to just what tactics to use, I find that there are many that will work for you. But for overall success, nothing beats a nice big minnow. In the winter, I like to use large minnows. If I can find them in the 3-inch range I use them. Also, if I can find Shiner minnows I prefer them to the fatheads that most bait shops carry. You will find that without a doubt, shiners will catch more and larger saugers for you during this time of the year.

When fishing these minnows there are two rigs I will use exclusively. The first, I call the DJR or Double Jig Rig, consists of a three-way swivel with either a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce lead head jig replacing the standard dropper weight. A lively minnow is nose-hooked and attached to this and kept in contact with the bottom. Off the other eye, I run a 3-foot leader with a floating jig head and attach a minnow. By fishing this double jig rig I am giving the fish two different looks. The most effective way to fish this rig is to slowly back-troll upstream, making sure the lead head is making bottom contact. Try and keep your line as vertical as possible for best bait control. If the current warrants, you may have to increase the weight of your dropper jig.

Another very effective method is to vertical jig a plain jig and minnow combination over structure. Simply slow-troll or slip with the current using a very slow lift and fall motion of a foot or so. Again, it is important you keep contact with the bottom. Watch your line as you let your lure fall. Try and follow it down, keeping as tight a line as possible since you will find that 99 percent of your hits will come on the fall, so learn to control your line.

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A little trick that works well during the winter season is to bulk up your jig by adding some type of plastic tail. I have found that 3-inch twister-type tails work well for this. As for colors, white, yellow and chartreuse seem to work the best. Also, on occasion, black can be very deadly.

Work these rigs near obvious current break areas that drop off into the main river channel. Saugers will hold on these break areas in good numbers this time of the year.

One last presentation that will take some extra fish for you is to simply hang a lively minnow over the side on a deadstick rod. The rocking action of your boat will provide all the movement you need. Make sure you have the bait near the bottom and also keep the rod secure to keep it from being pulled over when the fish hits.

Now I know that there are other methods that will take saugers in the winter, but for overall success this time of the year, the rigs I’ve mentioned this month are hard to beat.

It may be a little chilly outside, but I guarantee you will warm up quickly when you get into the great January sauger bite going on in a river near you where these tasty fish thrive. So with that said, dress warm and get out and make some early-season river memories. You’ll be glad you did.


E-mail your outdoors questions to Mike Cyze at: You can also check out his blog at: or listen to him on ESPN Radio.