Ohio Published 12:00 a.m. ET July 22, 2014 | Updated 12:03 a.m. ET July 22, 2014
The Ohio Division of Wildlife had a good idea when it decided to start stocking many Ohio lakes and reservoirs with saugeye.
These hybrids, a cross between a walleye and a sauger, thrive in lakes with often-murky water, such as Charles Mill near Mansfield, where walleye would not do well. Also, given a lake with a good forage base of gizzard shad or plentiful panfish, they grow with vigor — sometimes going from fingerlings to husky fish of five pounds in just three years. Finally, this is the one that counts, they’re just as good eating as their relatives. Fry some fillets golden brown in a skillet of olive oil or canola oil and you’ll reach for seconds and thirds.
To make consistent catches of saugeye, it’s important to know their habits. Although they are similar to their relatives in many ways, they differ in at least a few. The fish will lay-up in deep water during the day and, come twilight, fan out to forage in shallow water. It’s not unusual to catch them in just four feet of water or so during the night. However, come daylight, they start moving deeper and anglers will need to fish deeper. As a rule of thumb, they’ll be in deep water during the day if the lake is clean and be a bit shallower if it’s murky.
Use a fish-finder whenever possible. If an angler has a lake map, he or she should concentrate on good bottom structure. Saugeye love old road beds, the foundations of sunken houses, ancient roads and humps off points with good bottom structure — whether it be stones or tree stumps. Find these and you’re likely to find fish.
One of my favorite areas for catching this tasty fish is Pleasant Hill Lake in north-central Ohio. It receives good stockings of fingerlings and has a decent forage base. I always try to arrive there before daylight and, when I do, I’ll work the marina docks that exist in just a few feet of water. As the day brightens, I’ll move to the swimming beach: First casting near shore, then gradually moving out to deeper territory. Finally, I’ll turn to much deeper territory near the dam and spots near the lodge. It’s a plan that works most days.
How do you catch a meal of these tasty predators? They’ll hit on a variety of offerings but, in early summer, jig fishing works well. I still remember an evening spent jig fishing on Atwood Lake near New Philadelphia with a friend who guides on this fertile hotspot. He fishes almost strictly with black or dark brown jigs and tips them with a leech.
“I love leeches,” he said. “They’re tough and wiggle nonstop when I head hook one on a jig, which gives them great eye appeal. And being so hardy, it isn’t unusual to catch several fish on a single leech.” He orders his leeches from live bait dealers he’s found by searching the Internet, and keeps them in an aquarium with a couple of pumps and air stones.
Some fishermen do their jigging with ordinary jigs holding twister tails: Either casting them near shore and letting them bump bottom on the retrieve, or vertically jigging them over structure. They work — especially in colors such as chartreuse, yellow, white and black. A little experimenting will show which color saugeye favor on a given day. But veterans know a little extra flavor will make a fish hold on that crucial extra second or two, and the favorite flavoring is a bit of nightcrawler on the hook.
A small minnow on the hook will produce, too, although maybe not so well. Some favor a small bit of something really fishy and pungent, such as Berkley Strike.
Where to fish for saugeye would entail a list too long to be printed here, but readers can look up the Division of Wildlife’s website, make their choices, and find maps of any lake selected. Your choices will range from Alum Creek, Caesar Creek and Charles Mill to Indian Lake, Buckeye Lake and Rocky Fork — about 70 lakes and reservoirs in all. Lots of choices, lots of fish and plenty of time to make a good catch this summer.