Archive for the ‘Sauger’ Tag



The Kaskaskia River supports a large variety of game fish as it winds some 300 miles through 22 counties in Illinois. There is a variety of habitats as one fishes the Kaskaskia River Project.  Composed of 36 miles of navigational channel below Fayetteville and the reservoirs of Carlyle Lake and Lake Shelbyville, the river provides many local fishing opportunities.

To that end one can fish for numerous species below the Carlyle Dam. Most popular species for the angler are bass, channel catfish and crappie.  At this time of year of particular interest, and least known, are walleye and sauger.

Saugers populate the tailwaters due to their washing over the dam from the lake. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources stocks millions of fish each year into the lake.  The saugers are in the 2 to 4 pound class.  Just down river below the General Dean suspension bridge is one of the best places to find them.

Successful anglers throw light-colored lures. White, chartreuse or pearl are a good bet.  You can increase your odds by adding a fathead minnow as an extra enticement.

Current is a major factor in fish activity. A steady flow below the spillway is a tip off to active fish.  Fishing along current breaks is a good place to start.  Slack water eddies where they meet faster current and along deeper holes or gravel areas are good bets.

Below the Shelbyville Dam a similar situation exists for the walleye that are in that lake. Those fish are reaching up to 8 pounds.

Weather and river conditions are the basic factors in fish activity. Sauger and walleye are most active in February and March when there is good water flow.




The 273 miles of the Illinois River divides into 5 pools as it meanders across the state.  The final one is the Alton Pool, just up river from St. Louis.

The Alton Pool extends from the tailwaters below La Grange Lock & Dam downstream some 82 miles to Grafton.

The bottom contains mud and sand with side channels forming islands.  Swift current below the La Grange dam holds concentrations of sauger and provides the best sauger fishing in the river.   The river is popular with recreational boaters and is a commercial barge waterway.  Probably the best time for anglers is during the week. There are also public areas open to bank fishing.

Fishing from a boat is the best choice.  Not all fish habitat is open to fishing.  Illinois law declares public only backwaters that have natural connections to the river and where the water rises and falls along with the river.  Dug out areas such as marinas and entrances to duck clubs are not natural connections.

The lower Illinois is historically one of the most productive Illinois waters.  However the aquatic habitat degradation caused by sediment in the backwater, erosion around islands, and the invasion of Asian Carp has hurt the native fishery.  Still there is excellent sport fishing in this pool.

Saugers stage in deeper water during the day.  They move to the shallows of the main channel border at night in search of forage.

Built to handle current, the body style of the sauger is lean and mean.  They range from fast current up near the dam downstream a mile or two.

Due to the nature of the river, anglers prefer heavier jigs and jigging spoons tipped with minnows.  Blade baits are preferred in vertical jigging the heavy current.  Baits with a lot of noise and color are best for sauger.  Baits with crazy colors, polka dots and pink as well as other bright colors are good.  Saugers appear to prefer bright colors.

Vertical jigging is a key choice for anglers.  Big one ounce baits and hair jigs work well.  In a heavy current a boat drifts fast.  Heavy baits aid in keeping the bait vertical while jigging.  It is important to fish vertically as the fish move up out of holes in the bottom to grab the bait and return to the bottom.

Hair jigs like those normally used for lake trout work well.  Large jig heads with long hair behind it and bright colors are good.  The Sauger is a visual feeding fish.  They really thump bait.  Occasionally sauger move onto flats where trolling crankbaits can work.  However generally trolling is not a productive technique for these fish.

Due to the fact that you are fishing fast moving water, safety is important.  Be sure you have all the safety equipment.  Do not skimp on it.  You never know when you are going to need it.




Trolling crankbaits is a great way to fish as it allows you to cover a lot of water when going after aggressive fish.  You get aggressive strikes at speeds upwards of 3 mph.  The strikes are from the fish’s reaction to what they see.  Walleye are a predator and they just naturally want to bit that crankbait.

On the Mississippi River water levels are somewhat under control in late winter.  Dependent upon conditions upriver, the ice may not be moving downstream.  The result is deep water conditions both above and below the dams.  Public boat ramps are available in each of the river towns and at the dams.

Fishing the diverse habitats created by the river/dam combination is somewhat intimidating to some anglers.  Each dam creates its own habitat both above and downstream.  Anglers need to select a specific dam/pool combination and study water flow, levels, and depths.  One dam may have deep water holes that hold suspended crappie relating to the rocks and logs that have wash into them.  By contacting local bait shops and anglers, a profile of the pool is constructed.

Fishing around anything that looks like deep water structure in slack current is a good idea.

As a predator Walleye and Sauger want to take advantage of timber, of structure so they can get out of the current and have things floating past.  The do move out to get their forage and return to the shelter of the structure.

Walleyes are going to be on the front sides and backsides of wing dams.  Typically there is a wash hole on both sides of the wing dam.  Active fish like the front side.  They feed on the front side and rest on the back side.

Fishing the river you learn to read slicks.  You see these water slicks of everything from trash to leaves and seeds that have fallen in the river.  Fish in the slicks can feed with little effort as the river brings them food.  The fish are on the side of the slick with the least current passing.

Anglers often troll downstream because they believe that the fish sit facing the current.  That is true if they are in the main current.  However wash holes in the bottom create eddies.  In an eddy the current is flowing the opposite direction from the main flow above the fish.  As a result the fish are actually facing downstream.

Anglers trolling downstream think they are putting the lure in front of the fish and they are not.  They are bringing it along side of the fish and not giving him enough time to look at it.

As one goes south on the river, the waters tend to be more muddy.  Up north the water tends to be clearer, an important factor to consider in lure selection.

In muddy water it is advisable to go with lighter colors especially white.  Dark colors in dark water can actually be good.  Fluorescent colors tend to lose their color in dirty water.  It is not that the water is stained, but rather that it contains particles blocking the vision of the fish.  When a fish looks up against the light from the sky it is easier to see the profile of a bait.

In the clearer water up river the more natural colors or shad, perch, crayfish work well.  White always seems to work everywhere in the river.

The fish tend to be shallower this time of year.  If you pay attention, you can walk crankbaits over submerged wood.  Walleye and Sauger will hold right by timber just like bass.  Pitch the right bait up against trees and run them along bumping occasionally.


The most popular area of the Illinois River for sauger and walleye fishing is between Henry, Illinois and the Starved Rock State Park.  The fish population is about 80 percent sauger, 10 percent walleye and 10 percent saugeye.

At the Spring Valley boat ramp, anglers drop their boats into the water and begin a day long quest.  The winter cold is forgotten and the heat of summer is yet to come.  But, the cool temperatures and high water will bring the big female fish back from down river.

When the water temperature of the river rises into the 50-degree range, the fish provide anglers with opportunities to catch big fish.  With the assistance of trolling motors, fishermen work lead head jigs just off the bottom of the river at about 15 feet as they drift with the current.  After drifting a significant distance they return working the same water upstream.

The warming water brings the big female fish back to the area in search of spawning areas.  Anglers begin catching 15 to 16-inch fish in the 2 to 3 pound class.

The basic rig is a three-way variation on the classic Wolf River rig.  The main line is tied to one of the three-way eyelets.  To another is a short drop line of about 8 inches with a 3/8th to ½ ounce jig which will bounce off the bottom.  The other eyelet leads to an 18-inch line and another jig and minnow combination.  Often a trailer hook is added.

In the warmer weather a 1/4-ounce jig is used.  Both jigs are in bright colors to better allow the fish to see them in the dark water of the river.  Blaze orange, chartreuse or pink are popular colors but others work as well.  As the water cleans up black, blue and purple begin to produce results.

Anglers seem about equally divided in their use of braided vs. monofilament line.  Most prefer the lighter 6-pound test line but some will go to 8-pound.  For the three-way rigs some anglers prefer 6 ½ to 7-foot rods.

During summer some anglers turn to trolling crankbaits 100 to 120 feet behind the boat on either lead core or monofilament line.  The lead core line keeps crankbaits down near the bottom.  Other anglers like to stay with the lead core line all year.

The rigs are trolled in slower moving water at about 14 or 15 feet deep.  The rods used are in the 5 ½ to 6-foot length with sensitive tips.  Out in the deeper water anglers switch to longer rods set wide and off from the boat.

Tournaments during the spring season produce sizeable amounts of money that is poured back into programs for the river.  Some 10 to 15 million fish are stocked into the river for the future.  The tournaments have always been catch and release since they began in the Spring Valley area.

This economic treasure to the area is in jeopardy from the advancement of the Big Head and Silver Carp.  Both are invasive species not native to the area.  The Big Head eat the eggs of the sauger. The Silver Carp devour the zooplankton upon which the sauger and walleye depend.

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