Ten Good Reasons to Love Saugers

Thousands of ice anglers flock to Lake of the Woods every hard-water season. As they make their way to “The Walleye Capital,” there are expectations for a successful trip.

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield coined the phrase, “I don’t get no respect.” One of the fish that doesn’t get respect, yet day in and day out keeps anglers busy and fills buckets, is the sauger. This smaller cousin to the walleye is sometimes taken for granted.

When heading up to Lake of the Woods, many focus on the fish that has made these waters famous—the walleye. But on days when going after walleyes is a test in great patience, saugers will play a big part in what makes LOW such an enjoyable fishing destination.

Here are 10 good reasons to love saugers:

  1. Saugers bring consistent action. In between schools of walleyes or if walleyes are not biting well that day, saugers normally bite and keep the activity levels high. There have been times when saugers have saved the day and preserved an evening fish fry. If the walleyes aren’t dialed in for whatever reason, having saugers whacking the lures and deadsticks adds to the enjoyment.
  1. High population and good sizes. Saugers’ numbers at Lake of the Woods fluctuate year to year. One thing we know is there is an extremely high population of saugers in this system, and many are big, up to 17 or 18 inches. This creates a perfect scenario for a lot of action as that exciting red line appears on electronics and you get that heart-pounding “tap” at the end of your ice rod.
  2. Living quarters. Saugers will coexist with walleyes. It is common to come in with a bucket of walleyes and saugers mixed. As a rule though, saugers tend to prefer a bit deeper water than walleyes. In addition, they normally hug the bottom vs. the walleyes that will utilize more of the water column, often suspending while targeting tullibees and other baitfish.
  1. Great for kids. Depending upon the day, walleye fishing can take patience. Saugers are typically more cooperative and help to bring consistent action to a fish house, but kids want and need consistent fishing action and saugers will typically keep electronics lit up and bobbers bouncing.
  1. Saugers are unique. Many waterways throughout the Midwest do not have saugers; they traditionally live in waterways associated with a river system and do well in stained water. Thus, most anglers don’t have the opportunity to catch saugers on a regular basis. Looking at the sauger vs. the walleye, there are differences. Saugers do not have the white tip on the bottom of the tail. They have splotches on their skin, are browner, do not have a dark area at the base of their dorsal fin and have spots on their dorsal fin.
  1. Saugers taste incredible. The firm white meat of a sauger is sought after. Some locals will tell you they like the sauger’s taste better than the walleye’s, as they believe the meat is a bit sweeter. Regardless of opinion, they taste good.
  1. Liberal daily limits. There is a strong population of saugers in LOW. In winter, anglers are allowed a combined total of eight walleyes and saugers per day. Of these eight, up to four can be walleyes. With these limits, it lends itself well to filling a bucket of fish for an evening fish fry and bringing a few home as well.
  2.  Saugers bite all winter. In some lakes when the oxygen levels decrease in February, fishing really shuts off. But Lake of the Woods keeps on trucking from January into February. It is big water, and, luckily, there are so many saugers in the system that some fish seem to cooperate every day, making for a successful outing. March can be incredible for both walleyes and saugers too, as it is the month when fish are putting on the feed bag for the upcoming spawn. The catching can literally be non-stop.
  1. Season open into April. For the avid ice angler who cannot fathom the end of ice fishing, there are no worries. The season here for walleyes and saugers is open until April 14 and ice houses can remain on the lake until March 31. Depending upon the year, we are often still ice fishing and catching fish through the ice until the end of March.
  1. Fun to catch. Sauger fishing is much like walleye fishing—the fish are typically hugging the bottom of the lake and are normally a bit deeper. Jigging your favorite lure with a minnow head in one hole and having a deadstick down the second with a live minnow suspended 6 inches from the bottom, will usually do the trick. Much like walleyes, every day is different: one day they will be chasing down your jigging lure with wild abandon and other days the jigging line will attract them. But if they’re in more of a neutral mood, they may prefer a wiggling minnow on a plain hook or small ice jig.

Although walleyes typically receive most of the attention, saugers play an important role in the overall fishing success during this season here. Saugers are fun to catch and swim the waters of Lake of the Woods in abundance. More often than not, when you come for that epic walleye trip, these saugers will be more than happy to pay you a visit.

SAUGERS at a glance

Scientific name: Sander canadensis

Higher classification: Sander

Phylum: Chordata

Order: Perciformes

Rank: Species

World record: 8 lb 12 oz (N. Dakota, 1971)

Minnesota state record: 6 lb 2 oz. (1988)

The sauger is a freshwater perciform fish of the family Percidae which resembles its close relative the walleye. They are members of the largest vertebrate order,

Perciformes. They are the most migratory percid species in North America, having general distribution in the U.S. and Canada, from Quebec to Tennessee and Arkansas, and from northwestward through Montana to about central Alberta.

Did you know: Sauger are long and thin, with dark backs, brassy sides, dark spots, and a pale belly.
Sources: IGFA, Minnesota DNR