Walleyes and saugers will
not necessarily hold at the same levels, so know which you are after.
Typically, sauger hold deeper than walleyes. Both will probably be using deep
holes somewhere near spawning areas. Look for holes below dams in washouts, on
outside bends of rivers, and scour areas where current, either manmade from
tugs or pilings, or natural from current washouts.
Within those holes there are
areas of slack water with current rushing over or next to them. Look for the
fish to be using these as ambush points where they can dart out into the
current and pick off a quick meal as it washes downstream. These slack areas
are typically at the head and tail of the holes and along the sides. Any
irregularity in the hole, especially something that could have been swept
downstream and landed in the hole as an obstruction, will also serve as a
vital current break. Most times you will not visually detect these anomalies,
but I use my Bottom Line NCC 5300 to detect them and then punch in the quick
save on the unit so it is stored in my GPS log and I can go right back to it
in the future.
Holes with current and slack
water are classic holding spots for pre-spawners. For saugers in particular, a
locking system in a river usually has a washout hole below it that will hold
numbers of fish. Most fisherman tend to concentrate on the dam area, but
besides being a barrier to migrating fish and stopping their upstream
movement, it really serves no better purpose than any other downstream hole.
Most of the time, Iíll kick the 200 horses of my Mercury Optimax in the rear
and head my Ranger 619 downstream to find a hole of my own rather than fight
the pack of boats.
Once I find a hole that
looks fishy, Iíll start at the head of the hole, drop my MinnKota Maxxum
trolling motor and slip downstream vertical jigging the hole. To slip
properly, you need to move downstream at the same rate as your jig so that you
maintain a vertical position over the jig at all times. It is imperative that
the jig be directly beneath your rod tip. To accomplish this, just place the
bow of your boat into the current and tap the trolling motor every now and
then as your boat will usually want to travel downstream faster than your jig.
For vertical jigging, I use
a 6í Shimano V rod model VST60M, medium action, fast taper, teamed with a
Shimano Stella STL-1000F reel, spooled with 6-lb test Stren Gold line. The rod
offers me a sensitive tip with a lot of backbone, and the reel is anti-reverse
for quick hooksets. The line is highly visible so that I can detect the
slightest bump of the jig by a fish and then set the hook instantly.
The jigs I use are
one-quarter to three-eighths ounce Lindy Fuzz-E-Grubs tipped with a minnow.
Minnow size can be critical for this time of year, so I always have a mix of
different sizes from two to four inches; it really depends on how aggressive
the fish are. In murky water, go with colors like chartreuse, orange and pink,
and in clear water the blues, blacks, charcoal and motor oils seem to work
best. This time of year I am almost always using a stinger hook in the minnow,
as the bites can be non-aggressive at times.
To slip and work the hole
properly, I place one rod in each hand and face forward in the boat. Pick a
depth level to work the hole through and try to stay at that level. Drop the
jigs to the bottom and then engage your reels so that your rods are held out
to your sides at about 4 and 8 oíclock. You should develop some kind of
cadence in your jigging to be effective. My cadence usually revolves around a
four count. Either it is three counts hovering a couple inches off bottom and
drop on the four, or visa versa, three counts dragging on the bottom and rise
on the four. When you drop your jig to the bottom, you probably wonít feel the
jig hit, you need to line watch and determine by the slack momentarily
introduced into your line that your jig has hit. This is called acknowledging
bottom, and once you have acknowledged it, bring the jig right back up and
hover it for your three count again. Look for many of your strikes to occur as
the jig is falling, so any interruption in your cadence should immediately
alert you to set the hook.
Since saugers hold deeper
than walleyes, look for them to be in ranges of 20 to 30 feet deep, while
walleyes could be as shallow as 10 feet in the hole. Also walleyes have more
of a preference for rock substrate while saugers prefer sand. Both however are
still looking for slack water holding areas next to current to ambush prey.
Work through one depth level
of the hole and see if you encounter fish. If there are no fish at that level,
drop down or raise up a couple feet and go through again. Once you determine
the depth the active fish are holding at, you can pretty much find fish in
every similar hole on the river holding at the same depth. Thatís when you can
really start to bang some fish.
I remember back in 1995, I
was fishing an MWC tournament at Red Wing in pre-spawn conditions. During
pre-fishing we figured out that the bigger female sauger were relating to 19
foot of depth in the slack water. At that point it just became a matter of
finding the areas that had 19 feet of water that was slack, which amounted to
three areas in the system. Being able to pattern those fish like that meant a
second place finish in the tournament for me and my partner. My friends Carl
Kaufman and Curt VanLanken wound up winning the tournament fishing the exact
same pattern on the exact same spots. The difference was that they happened to
bang a 10-pound walleye on day 2 of the tournament and eclipsed our two-day
weight by one pound.
Just remember to find holes
with slack and current and donít be afraid to leave the comfort of the pack
and strike out downriver on your own. Many times this has paid huge dividends
for me, as the pack winds up sharing a bunch of fish while I wind up with the
whole group to myself. Dress warm, and Iíll see you on the water!