How to identify a sauger
Walleye anglers sometimes catch an odd-looking fish that resembles a walleye but is covered in dark blotches.
Here’s what you need to know about catching and identifying the famous and tasty sauger.
A sauger (sander canadensis) is a cousin of the pickerel or walleye and is a member of the broader perch family of fish. The scientific name for the group is percidae.
Difference between a sauger and a walleye or pickerel
The sauger is smaller and has a more elongated body than the walleye, which tends be wider through the mid section.
A sauger also has very distinctive dark-brown patches that saddle the back and blotches than can be found along the side of the body.
The sauger’s spiny and soft dorsal fins are covered in black spots.
The easiest way to distinguish between the sauger and the walleye is to look for something that is missing. A sauger does not have the distinctive white spot found on the bottom of the caudal (tail) fin of the walleye. The walleye doesn’t have rows of spots on its dorsal fins.
While the colours of the two fish can vary depending on the water body, the walleye tends to have a bronze back whereas the sauger’s colour is closer what most people would describe as brass or a even dark grey approaching black in some regions.
Where do you catch a sauger?
The sauger and walleye are regularly found in the same watershed but walleye anglers often catch a sauger when fishing on the bottom in fast-moving water.
Both fish have the famous opaque eyes and the sauger tends to thrive better in murky water.
The one in the picture was caught in the Winnipeg River in northwestern Ontario in about 12 feet of water along a rocky bottom using a jig head with a rubber tail.
The sauger’s distribution is extensive and anglers frequently catch the fish in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, New York, Kentucky, and Tennessee as well as in other states.
In Canada, the sauger is primarily found in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec.
Can you eat a sauger?
The sauger is prized for its tasty flesh and some anglers actually prefer sauger over the better-known walleye. A sauger normally counts toward your walleye or pickerel limit and the size restrictions are different for each fish, so it is important to check the regulations before you head out on the water.
How big does a sauger get?
The average sauger varies by region but most are smaller than 16 inches and weigh less than two pounds. A record-setting sauger caught would have to be larger than six pounds in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan in the U.S. and in Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada.
The world record was apparently caught in North Dakota and weighed 8 pounds and 12 ounces. That’s one big sauger!
Ontario’s largest documented sauger catch is a measly 4.4 pounds so there’s an opportunity for Ontario cottage and cabin owners to get out there and set a new record.
How to catch a sauger
As I mentioned above, the sauger in the picture was caught using a jig. On that day I had it tipped with a yellow rubber tail. Many anglers use a jig with a minnow.
If you have a favourite walleye spot in your lake or river, try fishing nearby but a bit further out in the deeper water and present the bait right on the bottom. This can be especially effective close to a submerged reef. As keen anglers know, each body of water is unique and the fish have varying habits at different times of the year. Some anglers find they catch a sauger more often in shallow water, while others normally find the fish deeper than 25 feet.
If you are new to an area, simply stop in at the local bait shop to get the sauger scoop.
Sauger fans also target the fish through the ice during the winter months. This can be very effective if you are familiar with the lake and know where the fish tend to hang out.
What’s a saugeye?
You guessed it – the walleye and sauger will sometimes interbreed to produce a specimen that is normally larger than a regular sauger but has distinctive characteristics of both fish. A saugeye often possesses a subdued version of the sauger saddle marks and blotches, as well as the walleye’s distinctive white mark on the bottom part of the tail fin.