"Fall River Sauger"
With fall in full swing, this is a great time of year from November through December (as long as no ice) to get out on the river for prime sauger fishing, the first cousins to the walleye.
The Illinois River is one of the top sauger fishing locations and fall through late spring is when sauger are schooling in predictable locations, not so elusive and bigger fish can be caught.
Our best fall locations for these crafty toothed cool-water fish are river bends, along channel breaks off flats or bars at inside sharp bends, mouth of tributaries, just below warm water discharges and holes downstream of dams where there is usually broken concrete or rocks to be cautious of. Our area to fish is usually from Henry to Peru depending on where we put in and we know this may sound crazy but, as long as there is no ice, is a great time to be on the river and when you have a good chance to see eagles too.
As for presentations, the most standard and simplest is jigging which many river anglers call slipping. Slipping or jigging is using your trolling motor to control the boat speed or drift downstream to match the current while maintaining a near vertical presentation with your jig and keeping constant contact with the bottom. We use a 3/8 to a 3/4 ounce jig of my favorite color chartreuse/orange for me and Linda likes pink/white. Those with more experience will even use 1/4 ounce jigs with good success but current, depth and wind will dictate your jig size. For gear, a spinning reel with 10# FireLine and a medium action rod works well for us and a good size fathead minnow for attractant and even sometimes we will dress our jigs with hair or feathers. Detecting the subtle bite may take some skill but just be aware if you feel anything different.
Next is pulling 3-ways slowly upstream which covers a little more water. This presentation starts with the main line from the reel tied to a 3-way swivel and on the second eye attach a short 10 – 14 inches of mono line (make this line the lighter test to eliminate loss of whole rig when a snags occur) with a 3/8 to 1 ounce jig or 1/2 to 2+ ounce pencil weight. On the third eye tie a mono line of 2 – 4+ foot and attach a floating jig head (some just use a small colored bead and hook). Again, fathead minnows are used and if you use the jig for weight, it too can be baited and fished on the bottom. If at any time you find you are getting short strikes on any of the hooked baits, make use of a stinger hook. Since the fish are on or near bottom, it is essential to maintain bottom contact with the jig or weight, as you go over deeper water let out line or slow your speed.
Another method is trolling upstream where we have tried a couple methods including in-line weights. The common presentation on the river is to tie a 3-way on the main line from your baitcasting reel and on the second eye attach 24 inches of mono line with a heavy 2 ounce pencil weight on two 6 foot rods and a 3 ounce weight to two 8-9 foot rods. Now on the third eye attach about 4 - 6 foot of mono line and tie on a crankbait snap and a floating Rapala or other floating minnow crankbait for which we like about a 2 3/4 inch bait but can go one size either way. Now place the shorter, lighter weighted rods in the back rod holders and the longer heavier ones in front rod holders. Using a gas kicker motor, start heading upstream at about 1.2 - 2 mph while you and a partner slowly let out line till the weights just start ticking bottom. You cover more water with this presentation and the key points here are to try to keep the boat in the same depth as you start, adjust speed to what feels good or what catches fish while you keep adjusting line out to assure weights are bump, bump, and bumping bottom. As you change depths along the breaks looking for fish, let out or take up line and be sure to set your drag light in case your lure hangs up. If this happens, the line can slip out Do Not jerk on the rod, take up all rods, reverse motor and back down river while taking up line and once just past the snag it should pop free (most of the time).
We would start by setting-out the pullin or trolling rigs a little downstream from where we wish to start fishing so I could get the boat trolling speed to about 0.9 to 1.1 mph going up river letting out line or reeling in to get weights just bumping bottom. Lastly, and one we have little experience with is trolling with leadcore line. Leadcore is tied to a good swivel with mono line or 4 – 8 feet to the lure. Length of line out and speed are important since leadcore runs deeper at slow speeds and shallower at faster speeds.
Keep in mind that sauger are very bottom-oriented which means if you are fishing a bait 2 foot or more off the bottom, you may be wasting your time. During the winter these fish will hold in deeper parts of the river while feeding to prepare for the spring spawn. We like to work the flats on the current bends and search depth of about 13 – 18 feet while looking for hole or wash-outs. We always looked forward to fishing the Spring Valley Walleye Club member’s tournament in late November. This clubs dedication, hard work and contributions have helped the sauger/walleye population in the river and kept the MWC Tournaments running here each year.
These presentations take some practice but all will catch river sauger and pullin or trolling rigs allows you to cover a variety of water allowing you to key in on their locations, give it a try to extend your fishing this year, you may find you like it.
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Till Next Time, GOD BLESS & GOOD FISHING !