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Articles » Fish Guides » Freshwater Fish » Sauger Fishing Guide: How to Catch Sander canadensis

Sauger Fishing Guide: How to Catch Sander canadensis

Sauger is a popular fish that can be targeted all-year-round.

Depending on where you live, you can go after them ice fishing during winter months or especially during spring in the southern regions.

Sauger fishing tips
A monster sauger caught in the Wind River. Source: USFWS Fish and Aquatic Conservation

It is often confused with its close cousin, the walleye because of the stark similarities between the two species.

I hope you’re amped to go catch them. Use this guide to help you catch more during your next outing.

Recommended Sauger Fishing Gear:

Overview

We get asked a lot, what is a sauger?

Sauger is a freshwater species of fish which is a member of the largest vertebrate order called Perciformes. The fish can be found in North America, northern Europe, and Asia and it is known for its fighting spirit as well as delicious and flaky meat.

The sauger is a slender and spiny rayed fish that has two separate dorsal fins, a large mouth and an upper jaw that extends to the hind edge of the eye. It has distinct botches on the sides as well as dark spots on the first dorsal fin.

sauger fish painting
A beautiful paining of a sauger. Source: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources

Yet, unlike the larger and solid gold-colored walleye, the smaller sauger fish is brassy in color and have the same pattern all over their body. It often interbreeds with walleye if their ranges overlap to produce saugeye fish.

Sauger vs Walleye

The walleye vs sauger question comes up a lot. Sauger’s resemble the walleye closely. What’s even crazier is that they cross breed with walleyes to create saugeyes!

Body Color

The sauger will have dark black spots (blotches) or solid gold markings on their sides. Walleyes don’t have as pronounced dark markings.

Fins

They both have a similar shape dorsal fin, however, sauger’s will have black spots. The tails of walleyes have a white marking on the bottom which should be easy to spot.

Size

Saugers are smaller than walleyes. Their body is more slender and tends to be shorter. If you want to compare the saugeye vs walleye, saugeyes are close to the size of walleyes and have the markings of the sauger.

Sauger Facts

Scientific NameSander canadensis
Common Name(s)Sauger, sand pickerel, sand pike, blue pickerel, pike, gray pike, blue pike, river pike, pike-perch, spotfin pike, jack, jack fish, jack salmon
FamilyPercidae
Identifying CharacteristicsIt is a slender and spiny rayed fish that has two separate dorsal fins, a large mouth and an upper jaw that extends to the hind edge of the eye. It has distinct botches on the sides as well as dark spots on the first dorsal fin
Depth RangeThey like water around 62 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
HabitatThe fish can be found in North America, northern Europe, and Asia.
LimitsCheck your local regulations
Largest Recorded12 pounds, 3 ounces
StatusYes

Sauger Fish Habitat

Sauger fish prefer to remain in cloudy and moving water as well as quite backwaters over sand, mud or bedrock substrates. These are found along the mouth of tributaries and in deeper tailwaters over rock and rubble substrates near dams.

As a cool water species, it favors water that is about 67°F. It can also be found deep underwater in the Ottawa River in Ontario. It’s not uncommon to have sauger found in shallow lakes and other slow-moving bodies of water.

How to Catch Sauger

 

The best way to catch sauger is with a vertical jig. Use a large and heavy one that is about an ounce heavy and made of soft plastic. Make it more enticing by tipping it with a minnow so that the fish can locate it by its scent. A heavy jig will be able to sink 30 to 40 ft deep where the sauger are and won’t be buffeted much by the current.

Don’t worry about the fish’s smallmouth. It tends to pounce and pummel passing jig as it hops off the bottom so the fish will bite eventually. If you are fishing in water that is snag-free, you a heavy lead head or a thin but heavy plastic-tipped jig that can pull well through the current.

Another way to catch them would be to do a split shot rig with a shiner on the hook. Drop it down to the bottom and wait for the bite.

Sauger Fishing Tactics

  1. You can fish them similar to walleye, but they tend to hang out near the bottom. You’ll know when they hit because they tend to be more aggressive.
  2. Work the bait down till you touch the rocky bottom and then begin a slow retrieve to maintain enough action to lure sauger.
  3. Use fat nightcrawlers as bait to catch sauger. The plump females will be more effective than the smaller bumpy headed males.

Sauger Fishing Tips

  • Hold for a minute once you have made contact with the bottom and then lift the jig about 4 to 6 inches off it. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds before retrieving it slowly. This will make the bait look more realistic.
  • When the sauger is less aggressive, use a lighter jig that you can trail behind upriver as your boat drifts in the current.

Sauger Seasons

Sauger can be found year-round except in mid-April and end of May. The fish moves into the shallows during the day but the best time to fish for it is at night, 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes before sunset.

Wintertime is considered the best season to fish for sauger fish. The fish congregates in deep pools in river bends and in tailwaters below dams.

Sauger fishing Ohio River is very popular in the winter months!

How to Clean Sauger

  1. Place the fish on a clean cutting board with its belly towards you and the head on the left. If you are left-handed, rotate the fish 180° to the right.
  2. Make a cut-down and into the sauger fish right behind the pectoral fin and stop the knife when you reach the backbone.
  3. Turn the knife and while pressing down on the back of the blade, cut along the spine and through the rib cage all the way to the tail and out. The whole fillet should come off at this point.
  4. Turn the fish over and repeat for the second fillet.
  5. Remove the still attached rib bones from the fillets by placing each skin side down. Cut behind the ribs and out to the belly following the curve of the cage with the knife.

How to Cook Sauger

  • Cut the fillets into manageable pieces.
  • Beat 2 eggs in a bowl and set aside.
  • Combine ½ a teaspoon of garlic powder, ½ a cup of all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt in another bowl.
  • Place 2 cups of crushed saltine crackers in a separate bowl.
  • Heat oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat.
  • Dip the fillets in the flour mixture, then in the eggs and then in the cracker crumbs and set on a separate plate. Dredge all the fillets this way.
  • Lower two dredged fillets in the hot oil and cook till they turn golden brown on both sides (3 minutes per side).
  • Place the cooked fish on paper towels and serve with lemon wedges.

FAQs

Q: Are sauger fish good to eat?

A: Sauger is a delicious fish. It has firm, white and flaky meat that is sought after by seafood enthusiasts. Some say it is sweeter in taste than the walleye.

Q: When do sauger spawn?

A: Saugers spawn in spring in water that is about 2 to 8 feet deep and the young hatch in about 2 to 4 weeks.

Q: How big can sauger get?

A: Most sauger max out at about 15”.

Insider Advice

Sauger is incredibly pleasing to the palette which makes it an amazing table fish. Even if you catch small ones, you will enjoy a hearty meal after your fishing trip.


The Anglers Behind This Article:

Jon Stenstrom
Founder

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