It’s often confused with its cousin, the walleye fish, but the sauger fish has its distinct features. Here’s all you need to know about the species, as well as fishing and eating it.
What is a Sauger Fish?
The Sauger fish is a freshwater perciform fish that is scientifically known as the Sander Canadensis. It belongs to the Percidae perch family under the Chordata phylum. It is one of the most populated freshwater species in North America, which is underlined by its ‘least concerned’ status on the IUCN Red List. As well as various states and territories across North America, the sauger fish can be found in both Asia and Europe. It is known for its fighting spirit, making it a great game fish.
Esthetically speaking, the sauger fish has several distinguishable features. A slender physique is accompanied by two dorsal fins, one of which is spiny while the other is soft. The large brass-colored fish will also sport black spots and patches on the body as well as the front dorsal fin. It additionally has a large mouth while its jaw goes all the way back to behind the eye.
However, the sauger fish itself is relatively small. They can be 18” in length and weight 3lbs, but the average sauger fish is only 11-14oz in weight. Its cylindrical body and pointed teeth are further features that, when matched by the saddle-like patches, help separate the fish from other species in the Percidae family. While there are differences between this fish and the walleye (which is larger and has white on its tail), it should be noted that crossbreeding can occur to create the Saugeye.
Sauger can be fished year-round but are a particularly popular choice in the spawning season, which runs from March to May. They are known to leave their eggs and fry unattended while also laying them in a variety of spots. Juveniles eat insects and larvae while adults will grow to prey on other small fish as well as leeches and crayfish.
The sauger fish is considered an adult when it is 250-300mm in length, which usually happens at around 2-3 years. Wild sauger fish live for up to seven years on average, although those in captivity can live for over 10 years. Although under different names, like Lucioperca Canadensis, the sauger fish can be dated back to at least the 19th century.
Where to Fish for Sauger
Sauger fish can be found in several water bodies, such as rivers, lakes, streams, and tributaries. While they like fast-flowing streams, they prefer to spend the majority of their lives in deep, muddy pools. In the summer months, they thrive in waters with temperatures of 20-28 degrees C, which is another characteristic that separates it from the walleye fish and other related species.
The sauger fish has strong numbers in several Canadian territories, including Alberta and Quebec, while also thriving in the Mississippi River basin, the Gulf, and the Atlantic slope. Alabama, Tennessee, Hudson Bay, Northern Louisiana, and St. Lawrence to Great Lakes all boast good populations of sauger fish Anglers heading to those popular spots can find sauger fish in quiet backwaters, particularly those over sand and mud substrates.
They are additionally found in Kentucky, Montana, Ohio. New York, Wyoming, and Oklahoma. Other popular spots for fishing sauger include the Cumberland River and Fort Peck. The species is relatively aggressive at all times, but fishermen and fisherwomen can enjoy particularly productive sauger fishing trips during their spawning season. The sauger is additionally prone to engagement at nighttime.
Sauger fish are tolerant of turbid waters and cloudy waters. As well as rivers and streams, they are commonly found in reservoirs. Whether it’s summer or winter, low-velocity pools are the most likely spots to find them. Pools that are at least 6’ in depth are their preferred habitat too.
The sauger fish’s natural predatory instincts make it a great dancing partner for anglers of experience levels. Find deep, dirty water and you will find that the sauger is happy to engage. Thanks to the diverse spread across the continent, you won’t have to travel far to find them either.
Sauger Fun Facts
- Sauger fish are known by several other names, including the sand pike, spotfin pike, jackfish, and river pike. While its documented history dates back to the middle of the 19th century, it is believed that the sauger’s evolution to its current form occurred 7.5 million years ago. The biggest sauger ever caught was 21.8” in length and weighed 8lbs 12oz, making it significantly bigger than the average size.
- The female sauger fish is bigger than the male of the species in many colonies, although not always while the contrast in size isn’t huge either. During the spawning season, the female can lay up to 40,000 eggs in waters that are anywhere between 2’ and 8’ in depth. Incredibly, they can travel hundreds of kilometers downstream to lay those eggs before subsequently leaving them unattended.
- Sauger fish eggs take around four weeks to hatch, and the fry will start eating small insects and larvae right away. Even after reaching maturity, sauger fish are prey for various predators. The biggest threats will vary from one state to another but it is usually a bigger type of predatory fish.
- The sauger fish has 17-20 soft rays on the back dorsal fin. They are very sensitive to light, hence the heightened activity at night.
- While sauger fish are in strong numbers and under no threat of extinction, their numbers can fluctuate greatly from one year to the next. Even when it’s a low count, though, anglers should be prepared for a good day’s fishing – as long as they implement the right strategy…
Top Sauger Fishing Lures & Tips
Sauger fish share a lot of behavioral habits with their walleye cousins but tend to stay even deeper in the waters. So, any angler who is targeting the sauger will drag their jig along the bottom. Saugers are predators of small fish, which is why your lure will probably emulate the look of real prey. Bright colored lures will have the best chance of attracting the fish and standing out in muddy waters under 30’. Beyond that, it won’t matter due to a lack of light.
Long casts will be needed, so using a 7’-9’ rod is advised for fly fishing. Many anglers opt for light rods and reels as they are responsive and add fun to the action. Due to a sauger’s relatively low weight, you can achieve great results even with a 4-6lb line, although an 8-12lb line may be preferred. Once your lure hits the water, allow it to drop to the ground and leave it for a minute before beginning a slow retrieval. Most will bounce their jig around 5” above the lake bed.
While the retrieval is slow, you need to ensure enough movement to emulate a real fish or crayfish. Lighter jigs should be used in the daytime when the saugers are less likely to engage but a heavier jig is perfect for evening fishing, especially throughout the spawning season. They do have small mouths, though, which is why a smaller hook is advised for most sauger fishing adventures.
When fishing sauger fish in the winter months, you should remain patient during a bite as they will often suck at the food without taking it for some time. Once they do strike, they are feisty. You can let them run for a few seconds before starting the battle to get them back to boat or shore.
Sauger fish are aggressive but will still show a clear preference for a type of lure. This will be dictated by a number of variables relating to the habitat. Once you find a winning solution, though, it should work all day long.
Can you eat Sauger?
If the question is simply “is sauger fish safe to consume?”, the answer is yes. However, the more pertinent question may be “will I actually enjoy eating sauger fish?”. For starters, their small size combined with daily limits in various territories (eight per day in the midwest) may mean that you are unable to put a good family meal together with smaller sauger. However, when catching 3-4lb saugers along the Missouri River, for example, you can achieve adequate results.
The sauger fish has firm yet flaky, white meat but is commonly placed on the lower end of the edible fish spectrum. Although it should be noted that the small size is one of the main reasons for this. it is a sweeter taste than the walleye fish meat.
Before cooking the sauger fish, you must first clean it. This can be achieved by placing the fish on a chopping board with the head facing left before making a cut behind and down the pectoral fin. Cutting along the spine and through the ribs should enable you to remove the innards with ease. The final preparation step is to remove the ribs from the fillet.
Sauger fish can be pan-fried, baked, or deep-fried. Smoking is another option although you will need to take care due to the smallish fillet size. The sauger is a quite oily fish and those natural oils will only need maybe a tablespoon of olive oil during cooking. Some anglers get around the smaller size obstacle by breaking the fish up and mixing it with potatoes to make patties.
The sauger fish is a sweet white meat. While it doesn’t have the widespread appeal of cod or haddock, most fish-lovers will enjoy the taste as long as it is prepared and cooked in the correct manner. It’s certainly a fish that’s worth trying, particularly after catching it on the lakes yourself.