Finicky Cold Water Saugeyes From The Shore

For some, cold wintery weather can destroy an angler’s motivation to fish. Summer is over, and the days of warm sunshine and green shorelines are gone as well and are replaced with a dull landscape. However, winter can provide excellent fishing oppurtunites. Many species of fish tend to school up at this time. If you can find them, big catches are possible. Dressing warm is absolutely important, and a good thermos full of coffee helps as well.
Presentation becomes extremely important as the temperature dips to fridgid conditions. In most cases, I’ve found that presentation needs to become slower. However, there are exceptions to this. Sometimes the fish really turn on and will strike at a more aggressive retrieve. When the fish prefer slower presentations I have found that they can become finicky. Let me rephrase that, EXTREMELY finicky. I found this out by fishing a very popular fishing hole. Two anglers down the shore from me were catching fish, yet I had yet to even get a strike. I tied on the exact same bait that they were using which was an 1/8th ounce jig with a 3 inch chartruce grub, yet I still could not get that tap on the end of the line I was patiently waiting for. My patience was dwindling, as I knew that this bite could end at any moment. If I wanted to catch anything, I had to act fast. I tried slowing down my presentation and still did not succeed. Finally, I carefully watched the angler beside me and copied his presentation, same speed, same lift, same everything. I was immediately rewarded with a sharp tap at the end of my line and instantly set the hook. I caught two saugeyes that day before the bite abruptly stopped. Attention to detail is so important this time of year, and I’ve found that I’ve had be willing to experiment with different presentations to find out exactly what the fish want. What worked yesterday may not work today. Bait size, weight, and type of bait are critical factors as well. Some days it seems they won’t bite unless I tip my jig with a minnow.

As for location, I’ve had luck around deeper water in the winter. Drop offs and large shallow areas near drop offs have worked for me. Spillways are another great option.

Winter has always been one of my favorite times to fish. Not the most comfortable time, but at times it has been very rewarding.

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An Opinion on Weather and Saugeyes

“The best time to fish for saugeyes is when you have time to go”. I agree with this statement, as I have caught fish on sunny days, rainy days,  and during all different types of barometric pressure. My best catches usually occurred when I had the time to fish every day and was able to stay in tune with the bite and be on the water when that hot bite comes along.
However, over time I did observe some patterns relating to weather. I didn’t find these observations to always be true, but I found them to be true often enough that I always take them into consideration. One condition I always consider is the passing of a weather front, cold fronts especially. In the spring, cold fronts sometimes have a drastic effect on fish. However, I have at times noticed some good fishing BEFORE the front arrives. Also after ice out and in the spring, I’ve noticed positive changes during any time that the weather becomes warmer, especially if it lasts for a few days. 

In the fall and winter, it seems that the opposite occurs. I’ve enjoyed some good bites right before a cold front, during cold fronts, and the days following cold fronts. I’ve fished in some nasty weather during the fall and at times it really seems to get the fish fired up. My rule of thumb for fall fishing is the nastier and colder the weather, the better the fishing gets. 

One last thing I want to mention is out of the ordinary weather. I remember one fall season where it rained excessively. It rained so much that there was flooding everywhere. One spot that I frequently fished was so flooded that the lake water rose almost 10 feet. This spot was a feeder stream on a reservior. I was absolutely disgusted with this and was sure that the fall season was ruined, as everyone I knew was not catching anything anywhere. After a few days I returned to this spot and couldn’t believe what I saw. The water was sparkling and boiling with baitfish. There had to of been millions of them! The fish were there with them, and completely stacked! I immediately threw out a jerkbait and got a strike on the first cast and reeled in a healthy 18 inch saugeye. The next cast was successful as well. I got bit on almost every single cast, only keeping the best fish and ended up with a nice limit of 18-24 inch fish. This was by far the hottest saugeye bite I ever experienced and it lasted for almost a month.

The best time to fish is when you have time to go, but I do always consider weather conditions especially when my time is limited. Fishing at prime times can help and put more fish on the stringer.

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Jig Techniques for Saugeye 

Jigs are probably the most versatile lure out there. With so many different shapes, sizes, styles, and ways to rig them, they can be used in almost every situation. They can be retrieved fast, or painstakingly slow. Actually, you can move them through the water just about any way you want. This makes them very useful for times when fish are finicky. They can even be trolled if that’s your style of fishing. 
When I refer to jigs, I’m referring to a hook with a ball of lead attached for weight, and some kind of plastic body or live bait on the hook. One of the most common plastic bodies used is the curly tail grub. This design has been around for a long time, and still catches lots of fish. 3 inch baits seem to be most common. However, other sizes produce as well, sometimes better. A smaller offering can sometimes be the ticket to success. Larger baits are sometimes preferred and can even produce bigger fish. 

Swimbaits are another great option. The enticing wobble of these baits is out of this world. I’ve been using these baits for a long time now, but to this day I still take time to work them close to shore just to watch the incredible realistic action of these baits. I think the fish feel the same when they see them, but it definitely gives me a boost in confidence. Swimbaits also come in many sizes. I tend to use 2 and 3 inch swimbaits, but I also use them in 4 and 5 inch sizes, especially if I’m confident that trophy fish are in the area.

Another choice is plastic jerkbaits. Plastic jerkbaits tend to be minnow shaped with a forked tail but also come in other shapes and sizes. At one particular location I know of, this is the go-to bait that alot of people use. When I use these baits, I retrieve them with sharp or subtle twitches to make the bait dart. Often, I allow them to fall to the bottom. There are many other types of jig bodies out there, far too many to cover, but these are some of the most common and the ones I’ve been successful with.

Directly after Ice-out, I tend to use a lift and drop method. Slow lifts followed by dropping the rod downward while reeling in slack just enough to keep a tight line. I often pause at the end of the lift. The reason being that most times this is when the fish bite for me. Sometimes I even allow the bait to sit still on the bottom for a few seconds. Keeping bottom contact seems to be more important this time of year. Try different things and let the fish tell you what they want. Sometimes in cold water, the fish can be extremely finicky and the most subtle change in presentation can make all the difference. I’ll also do a slow steady retrieve this time of year. Just fast enough to give the bait some action.

As the water warms, I use a steady retrieve more often, bumping bottom occasionally, but keeping the bait above the bottom. As the spring progresses, sometimes I burn them in with a fast steady retrieve with no bottom contact at all. This is one of my favorite ways to fish and I usually try this around late April to May. 

Trolling is another way to use jigs dressed with swimbaits or curly tail baits. Choosing the correct weight and speed to keep the bait near bottom has been the key for me. Try different sizes and speeds to find out what speed the fish prefer. Snagging is inevitable, but a small price to pay for the effectiveness of this tactic.

When fall arrives and the water cools, I tend to go back to the slower presentations I use during ice-out, but not as soon as one would think. Agressive tactics still work for me during the fall at times and I always start out agressive first. As ice on gets closer, slower presentations become more common for me.

Live bait is another option and sometimes it’s the best option. Tipping is the addition of live bait to a jig that already has a body on it. I use this technique for tougher bites. For me, using minnows is the best choice early and late in the year while nightcrawlers seem to work better for me during the warmer months. Live bait can also be used alone and sometimes this is what the fish prefers. 

Did I mention weight? In my opinion, weight is the most important factor of all. Keep a variety of sizes, from 1/32 to even 1/2 ounce. I myself have fished beside someone using a 1/16th ounce jig while I was using an 1/8th ounce jig. I couldn’t get a single bite while I watched this guy reel in four in a row. I immediately switched to a 1/16th ounce jig and started catching them as well. As a rule of thumb, I try to go with the lightest jig possible. But ultimately you just have to try different sizes to find out what the fish prefer. For me, once I find out what size the fish prefer, this size works for me year after year at that particular location, provided that I’m not fishing in current or waters that frequently fluctuate.

Regardless of what you dress your jigs with, I couldn’t imagine a tacklebox without them. As always, let the fish tell you what they prefer, and keep jigging!

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Learning the Fine Details of a Fishing Location

On any body of water, some locations have a better ability of attracting fish. Sometimes through word of mouth, these spots become well known and very popular among anglers. You’ll know these spots when you see the shoreline crowded with anglers, or by the large fleet of boats floating side by side. Other spots are more secretive, shared by a handful of friends or by one sole lucky angler who happened to stumble upon it. Either way, knowing the best locations is only half the battle. To be fully successful at these locations, it helps to get to know them in full detail.

When I first started fishing for saugeyes, I fished one of these crowded fishing locations almost every day. As time went on, patterns began to emmerge that were completely exclusive to this location. Over fifteen years have past since I first started fishing at this location, and the same pattern stays true here to this day. I don’t fish here much anymore, but everytime I come here I apply the same tactics and they still hold true. Here is a rough description of this location. 

*For imformation on how to read lake maps, check out Utilizing Lake Maps for Saugeye Success.

The only time I ever caught fish at this location during the day in the spring was after a hard rain that made the water high and muddy. When the creek level was only slightly elevated, the following pattern held true: During the morning and evening hours, Almost every fish caught at this location came from either tight to the bank, or in the creek channel as shown in the image. Also note that almost all fish came from this side of the bridge. There was the rare occasion where fish were caught in other locations, but this event was so rare that I did not bother to make note of it.

During mid-day, I could usually pick up a fish or two in the shade underneath the bridge, and only on the side near the creek channel. *See post How light effects saugeye.

Sometimes the water would get so high that it would overflow the banks. This was prime time at this location, but the pattern also changed slightly. The creek channel still produced, but I also began to pick up fish in the middle of the creek. Also, I still caught fish under the bridge during mid-day, but on the opposite side as well. 

In the fall, the pattern changed again. The mid-day bite became non-existant. This time of year, clear water was the trend and it brought on a late-evening bite and an awesome night bite. Sometimes the water was crystal clear and low yet the fish were still here. The fish seemed to hold closer to the bridge this time of year, and consistantly stayed near the creek channel.

As for lures, what worked best here in the spring was 1/4 ounce jigs with a 2-3 inch plastic grub or swimbait. I tried 1/8th ounce and 3/8th ounce and caught significantly less fish. I tried 4 inch plastic and never succeeded. I tried crankbaits and jerkbaits in the spring and never got a strike. However, in the fall 4 3/4 inch suspending jerkbaits were the best option and crankbaits worked as well.
The fine details of these locations can only be learned from experience and time on the water. To me, thats all part of the fun! Try different things and under different conditions to find out what works and what doesn’t, always take notes, and always be willing to adapt. Knowing good locations and the habits of the species you pursue is very important, but the fine details can make all the difference.

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Utilizing Lake Maps for Saugeye Success

Looking for new locations to fish at your favorite lake? Are you planning a dream vacation for some prime fishing in another state? No problem! Lake maps can offer a wealth of information to any angler. With a little knowledge of how to interpret them, you’ll be better prepared for any situation.
Lake maps use contour lines to show depth changes. Each line represents a change in depth, usually indicated somewhere on the map. Alot of maps are calibrated to a 3 foot depth change per line. In the following example, the depth gets deeper farther away from shore to a depth of 9 feet. 

The distance between each line represents how steep the depth change is. Lines that are close together show a steep drop-off whereas lines that are far apart show a flat. Also note the dark blue line that represents the creek channel.

Lake maps also show how a point lays out beneath the surface of the water. Also note how the map shows irregularities of the point, such as the steep drop-off shown in this example, or where the end of the point meets the channel. These irregularities have potential to hold fish.

Islands are shown by the contrast of color of land to water, while submerged islands are shown as the same color of water, and again the contour lines are used to determine depth change.

Deep holes are shown in the same manner. 

Many maps also show structure such as rocks, wood, and brush piles. With the use of a search engine, there is a good chance you’ll be able to find a map of the lake you plan to fish. 

To put it all together, maps can point out potential hotspots, as well as show areas of the lake that are less likely to produce. Apply knowledge of what saugeyes do at certain times of the year as well as weather trends to decide what depth and structure to approach. Circle any areas that have potential, and again pay attention to any irregularities. A small steep drop-off among an otherwise gradual slope might be just enough to hold fish. The opposite also should be considered. A deep hole also can have its time to really shine, especially during fall and winter or for a hot daytime bite. For more information on the habits of saugeye, check out the saugeye and walleye category on this page. When utilizing a lake map, these locations can be known to an angler, and potentially increase success.

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How light effects Saugeye

Years ago, I frequently fished the tailraces below a river dam for sauger. When I first lstarted fishing this area, I was rather clueless to the proper methods of fishing it. This particular tailrace had a pier below it, and during the late fall and winter months it was usually filled with anglers. My first approach involved finding an available spot on the pier, and slowly dragging a heavy jig across the bottom. As I looked down the pier, I noticed an angler pulling in sauger with every cast. “The bite is on!” I thought to myself. Both anglers on either side of him also started pulling in fish with every cast. For the next half hour or so, the three “lucky” anglers continued to pull fish after fish over the pier while the 15 of us down from them caught nothing. I began to wonder why the only fish being caught was at this far end of the pier. As the evening progressed, the next group of anglers down the pier began to catch fish. This trend continued until finally, I felt a distinctive tap on my jig and hooked my first fish of the evening. It was almost dark by then, and I caught a limit of fish within an hour. I fished this pier alot that winter, and found that the fish behaved the same way every day. One day I arrived early and had the pier to myself. I dropped my jig to the bottom at the end where I first saw fish being caught that day. This end was very deep! I checked the depth all the way down the pier and found that it became progressively shallower. I reached the spot on the pier where I caught my limit, and found out that it was only 5 feet. Something clicked on that day. I realized that these fish were moving shallower as the daylight decreased. I applied this knowledge to reservior and lake saugeyes and have found that the same holds true.
Saugeyes seem to seek out a certain amount of light, and to understand this amount of light, we must think like a fish and imagine being in their under water environment. Picture a bright calm sunny day and the time is around 1pm. The location is the deep end of the lake, near the dam. The sun shines brightly through the water column. During a moment like this, saugeyes will tend to be feeding in deeper water, possibly 20+ft deep, and relative to how deep the surrounding water is. 

Now lets consider a different location, same time, same day, and the same lake. This time our saugeye is located in a shallow feeder creek, about 5 feet at the deepest spot. It rained hard the previous day and the water is very muddy. The muddy water counters the powerful sunlight and gives the saugeye the perfect lighting for feeding time. 

Our third example is the same lake and at the feeder creek. On this particular day the creek is clear and the sky sunny. Around 4pm, a front approaches. The sky suddenly becomes darker and the wind roughens the water’s surface. Rain begins to fall on the surface, making it even harder for light to penetrate. The front darkens the water once too bright, and feeding time begins!

This last example is the same lake and on a shallow bar, roughly 8 feet. The sky is partly cloudy and the wind is calm. The time is 3pm. Overhanging trees line the shoreline, creating lots of shade and blocking out the sun. The saugeye move to this shaded area to feed.

To break this down, consider these 6 factors; Time of day, cloud cover, wind, shade, precipitation, and water clarity. When thought out carefully, these factors can help you decide where to fish at the right times and the right conditions. Keep track of weather reports for the day you plan to fish and the days previous as well. With the proper game plan, and if you’re willing to be mobile throughout the day, all day catches are even possible.

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Jerkbait and Crankbait Treble Hook Replacement Tutorial

Over time, the treble hooks on old jerkbaits and crankbaits can become worn, broken, or dull. Lures get banged off of docks, pulled over rocks and weeds, snagged, and if used properly, catch alot of fish. If you spend enough time on the water, your tackle will see enough abuse to benefit from a treble hook replacement. Follow these steps to bring new life to your old baits.

You will need:

1) a split ring pliers

2) New treble hooks (same size as the old hooks)

3) An old used lure

 The first step is to remove the old hooks from the lure using the split ring pliers. Work the point of the tool in between the ring and twist to open it. Do this for every hook.

If you are planning to reuse the split rings, use the split ring plierd to remove the split rings from the treble hooks. If your old split rings are damaged or you just prefer to replace them, Skip this step. You will need some new split rings of the same size.

Attach the split rings to the new treble hooks with the split ring pliers. Be careful! These hooks are very sharp.

Now, use the pliers to apply the new hooks to the lure. Make sure the split rings are completely attached to the lure.

That’s it! Your favorite old plug now has fresh new hooks. Be sure to try it out to make sure it still swims properly. Be prepared for more successful hook sets!

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Saugeyes Love Current!

It can be be day or night, or any season. At any time these fish seem to be attracted to current. From tailraces of dams, spillways, narrow spots in the lake, feeder streams, and bridges, hit these spots from shore at the right time and chances are good that saugeyes will be there. No matter where you fish, you will find that saugeyes love current!Spillways are a natural saugeye producer. You can find a few fish in these spots any time, but expect increased action after heavy rains or after the gates have been opened for a period of time. Anytime after the water in the spillway rises is a great time to fish. Look for eddies, areas of slack current, deep holes, or where two streams meet. These are all excellent spots to pick up a few fish. Jigs are the usual choice for presentation, but crankbaits and jerkbaits work as well. Any lure that works anywhere else has potential in a spillway. For snaggy areas, a snap on bobber above a jig is an excellent choice. Set the bobber so that the jig remains close to bottom. Live bait can also be drifted with a bobber.
Feeder streams are another excellent spot that is often overlooked. Heavy spring rains raise these streams and increase current, drawing in fish. Jigs with 3 inch plastic grubs have produced best for me in shallow feeder streams in the spring. If the water is stained, expect a good day bite, and a  good bite near the sunrise sunset hours in clear water, or after dark. During summer and fall, crankbaits and jerkbaits are my go to lures, but jigs still produce as well.

Narrow spots and bridges also naturally have current flowing through them. Picture a small hole in the bottom of a bucket and imagine the water streaming out of the hole. The flow is faster when it is narrowed. These spots really shine during drawdown periods. Shallow flats above narrow spots and bridges get flushed out like a toilet, but at a much slower pace. All the baitfish begin to migrate out of the shallow flats and must cross the narrow spot or bridge to get to deeper water. Saugeyes take advantage and wait here for the easy meal. Heavy rains and high water also increase the potential here, but some of these spots remain hot well after the drawdown period. Crankbaits, jerkbaits, and jigs work great during twilight and night periods, while more vertical presentations seem to do better during the day. Bladebaits and dropshot rigs are very popular, as well as jigging spoons.

When it comes to presentation, never get hung up on one or the other. Let the fish tell you what bait they want, and how they want it. Presentation can even vary from different bodies of water. Find out what works for you. When the conditions are right, always remember to take advantage of saugeyes in current!

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Walleyes and Saugeyes by the Light of the Full Moon

One thing we do know is that the moon effects tides. There are other things known as well, but alot of mystery and theories surround the timing of the full moon. For centuries the full moon has been handed the blame for many things. It has long been believed that the full moon causes moodiness in people. A popular saying after a busy hectic day at work is “Must be a full moon tonight!”. Ancient Myths even include stories of the full moon. Myths of werewolves claim that the werewolf comes out when the full moon comes. I can’t say if there is any truth to this, and I don’t believe in werewolves, but I do know one thing; When the full moon shines bright and lights the night sky, its a good idea to be out fishing for walleyes and saugeyes.

It has long been known that the full moon tends to provide trophy fish catches of walleye and saugeye. Also, the night before and the night after seem to be good as well. The full moons of October and November seem to be most active for me. These nights are definitely worth trying all night sits.

The techniques for night fishing remain the same during a full moon. Try the same lures that work on other nights, including jerkbaits, bladebaits, crankbaits, jigs, swimbaits, or whatever has worked for you. As always, if it’s not working try different retrieves, different baits, or possibly different locations. Just remember that fish can be extremely shallow and close to the shore.

I can’t say for sure why the full moon makes for good night fishing, but I do have a couple of theories. One is the increase of light. It is possible that the increase of light provides that perfect condition where walleyes and saugeyes can see, but baitfish have difficulty seeing. Perhaps the full moon lengthens the time of this occurance, and the walleyes and saugeyes happily take advantage.

The other is tide. Obviously this effect is smaller on small bodies of water, but maybe there is something there.

The last theory I have, is maybe the light draws baitfish closer to the surface and closer to the bank. Just like when a light is shined into the water, baitfish will tend to school up under the light.

For whatever reason, my best nights of fishing have been on or surround the full moon by a couple of days. Maybe the reasons for this are best unknown to me. Perhaps this adds to the mystery and mythical aspects of the full moon, and adds a little more fun to the equation. Also, Legends of trophy walleye and saugeye full of razor sharp teeth are more exciting than werewolves any day!

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