Fishing, Life, Love & The Great Outdoors
For Wisconsin Outdoor News
Written April, 2008

Solid State Sauger Systems
By Joel “Doc” Kunz

Wisconsin has a number of solid sauger fisheries. First and foremost in this writers mind are those of the Wisconsin and Rock Rivers. Here sauger are caught regularly and even dominate the bite at times. I’ve noticed this over the years as catching a bunch of small saugers was part of most any day fishing below the Dells or Castle Rock dam. At Nekoosa we seemed to catch walleye more consistently, but in other areas, sauger usually dominated the bite. More often then not, these fish were under the 15 inch size limit, so trying to avoid the schools of “sand pike” and finding the bigger walleye was the key to taking a few fish home for the frying pan. Those times have changed as both the Wisconsin and Rock Rivers have good sized sauger and naturally reproducing populations. In fact, the new slot limit on the Wisconsin River has created a situation where the next state record sauger may have to be released because it will probably be under the 28 inch size limit. That slot limit was put in place on the Wisconsin River to protect the prime spawning age walleyes and requires anglers to release all fish between 20 and 28 inches. But the likelihood that a sauger reaches 28 inches is small. That creates a quandary of sorts. With potential state record sauger presently in the system, thoughts are that the DNR may have to manage the Wisconsin River differently for both species. That would bring up it’s own set of problems with anglers ability to tell the difference between the two a major concern. Although noticeably event to me, the subtle differences can arguably be overlooked in some cases, especially on smaller fish. But once they are over 15 inches the dark “blotches”, spotted dorsal and lack of a white tip on their tail is hard to miss. Although some anglers have used mistaken identity as an excuse to wardens on the Winnebago system lately.

Once one of the solid state sauger fisheries in Wisconsin, the Winnebago sauger have been off limits to anglers creels since 1999. Still, question 26 on this years spring hearing questionnaire asks if a one fish bag limit should be established. If there is to be a specific size or slot limit for those fish is still unknown, but the thought of being able to harvest sauger on Lake Winnebago is being debated. This in part because more and more nice size sauger are showing up on anglers lines. There is good reason for that. First, the closed season. Second, the herculean effort by Walleyes For Tomorrow in conjunction with the DNR. Spawning reefs have been being put in place and crews of people net fish,harvest eggs fertilize them and raise fry in mobil hatcheries. Those fry are put back into the system with the hopes that they will help re-establish a naturally reproducing population of fish. Signs may be showing that starting to happen. Still some involved with groups such as Walleyes For Tomorrow have publicly stated their preference in leaving the zero bag limit in place. I too think it is a good idea as some of the older fish would end up in tournament creels and subject to the associated mortality rates. To me, if they are coming back, let them have a few more years to prove whether they can reproduce a fishable population. That has been greatly in debate until recent years. With the numbers of walleye around, they won’t be missed in the creel and it gives them the best chance to establish themselves. Mistaken identity and poachers will have their effect on some scale due to the prime eater size of some of those sauger, but hopefully that affect is minimal.

Another fishery often overlooked is the Rock River where a healthily reproducing population of sauger exists. A conversation with fisheries biologist for the lower Rock River basin, Don Bush gave me some very interesting information. First surprise was the size of some of the fish in the system. Don told me that sauger of 24 inches were not uncommon. That’s a very good size sauger and one that would provide an exceptional fight. Second was that these fish spawn in May, well after their cousin the walleye. Shallow gravel areas with current in the “lower river” provide the present spawning beds but hopes are that these fish will use the installed fish ladder to go past the Jefferson dam and visit the natural areas like this in the Watertown area. That would greatly increase the size and diversity of the available spawning grounds and give an additional boost to this growing fishery.

It all started in 1992 with the yearly stocking of sauger fry. Stocking efforts of sauger stopped a few years ago but young of the year fish continued to show up in DNR nets. Some good year classes too. That can only mean a now naturally reproducing population and good news for Rock River anglers. With good water levels the last few years to bolster spawning conditions, future year classes should provide excellent fishing for both walleye and sauger. Heck, it’s good fishing right now.

So take your shot at the next state record at the Dells or go out and fish the re-established sauger population on the Rock River but don’t forget to cast your vote regarding the Winnebago sauger. I’m hoping anglers tell the DNR to give these fish more time to establish themselves. Their beauty and hard fighting attitude make them a treat to catch, especially when they get to the 2 - 3 pound range. Still. no matter the decision, it is good to see their return to the Winnebago system. My hope is that they will once again establish themselves among the other solid state sauger populations in Wisconsin. Information regarding year class strengths and more about the sauger re-introduction efforts is available in Kendall Kamke’s State of the Lake presentation available on my web site at

Joel “Doc” Kunz
For Outdoor News


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