Thousands of ice anglers flock to Lake of the Woods every hard water season.  As anglers make their way to the Walleye Capital, there are a variety of expectations that make for a successful trip.  In many cases, catching fish and having a fish fry are somewhere on the list. 

Comedian Rodney Dangerfield coined the phrase, “I don’t get no respect.”  One of the fish that doesn’t get respect, yet day in and day out keeps anglers busy and fills buckets is the sauger.  This smaller cousin to the walleye is sometimes taken for granted. 

When headed up to Lake of the Woods, many anglers’ focus is on the fish that has made LOW famous, the walleye.  On days when going after those walleyes is a test in great patience, saugers play a big part in what makes Lake of the Woods such an enjoyable fishing destination.  Here are ten good reasons to love saugers.

Sauger from Lake of The Woods
  1.  Saugers bring consistent action.  In between schools of walleyes or if the walleyes are not biting well that day, saugers normally bite well and keep the activity level high.  There have been many days ice fishing that saugers have saved the day and certainly preserved the evening fish fry.  If the walleyes aren’t dialed in that particular day for whatever reason, having saugers whacking the lures and dead sticks really adds to the enjoyment. 
  2.  High population and good sized.  Sauger numbers at Lake of the Woods fluctuate year to year.  One thing we know, right now, there is an extremely high population of saugers in the system and many of them big.  When I say big for sauger, I am talking up to 17 or 18 inches.   This creates a perfect scenario for a lot of action, that exciting red line appearing on your electronics and that heart-pounding “tap” at the end of your ice rod. 
  3. Living Quarters.  Saugers will coexist with walleyes.  It is common to come in with a bucket of walleyes and saugers mixed.  As a rule, though, saugers tend to prefer a bit deeper water than walleyes.  In addition, they normally hug the bottom vs walleyes that will utilize more of the water column, often suspending while targeting tulibees and other baitfish.
  4. Great for kids.  Depending upon the day, walleye fishing can take some patience.  Saugers are typically more cooperative and help to bring consistent action to a fish house.  Kids want and need action and saugers will typically keep electronics lit up and bobbers bouncing. 
  5. Saugers are unique.  Many waterways throughout the Midwest do not have saugers.  Saugers traditionally live in waterways associated with a river system and do well in stained water.  Thus, most anglers do not have the opportunity to catch saugers on a regular basis.  Looking at the sauger vs the walleye, there are differences.  Saugers do not have the white tip on the bottom of the tail, they have splotches on their skin, are browner, do not have a dark area at the base of their dorsal fin and have spots on their dorsal fin.   
  6. Saugers taste incredible.  The firm white meat of a sauger is very much sought after.  Some locals will tell you they like the sauger better than even the walleye, as they believe the meat is a bit sweeter.  Regardless of opinion, one thing is for sure, they taste good.  
  7. Liberal daily limits.  There is a strong population of saugers in LOW.  In the winter months, anglers are allowed a combined total of six walleyes and saugers per day.  Of these six, up to four can be walleyes.  With these limits, it lends itself well to filling a bucket of fish for an evening fish fry and bringing a few fish home. 
  8. Saugers bite all winter.  In some lakes when the oxygen levels decrease in February, fishing really shuts off.  Lake of the Woods keeps on trucking in February.  It is big water and luckily, there are so many saugers in the system some fish seem to cooperate every day making for a successful outing.  March can be incredible fishing for both walleyes and saugers as it is the month fish are putting on the feedbag for the upcoming spawn and catching fish can literally be nonstop.
  9. Season open into April!  For the avid ice angler who cannot fathom the end of ice fishing, no worries.   Lake of the Woods season for walleyes and saugers is open until April 14th.  Ice houses can remain on the lake until March 31st.  Depending upon the year, we are often still ice fishing and catching walleyes and saugers through the ice until the end of March.
  10. Fun to catch!  Sauger fishing is much like walleye fishing.  The fish are typically hugging the bottom of the lake and they are normally a bit deeper.  Jigging your favorite lure with a minnow head in one hole and having a dead stick down the second with a live minnow suspended 6 inches from the bottom will usually do the trick.  Much like walleyes, every day is different.  One day they will be chasing down your jigging lure with wild abandon.  On other days, the jigging line will attract them, but if in more of a neutral mood, they may prefer a wiggling minnow on a plain hook or small ice jig.
Joe Henry with a Lake of The Woods

Although walleyes receive most of the attention, saugers play an important role in the overall fishing success during the ice fishing season on Lake of the Woods.  Saugers are fun to catch and swim the waters of Lake of the Woods in abundance.  More often than not, when you come for that epic walleye trip, saugers will be happy to pay you a visit! 

About The Author

Joe Henry

As a long time guide, licensed charter captain, and tournament angler, Joe Henry has made fishing a part of his everyday life. Joe “cut his teeth” on MN lakes and rivers and has guided and fished walleyes throughout the nation. Joe’s home water is now Lake of the Woods, which he has fished for over 25 years. Professionally, Joe is an outdoor communicator and a media member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW). His professional background combined with his many fishing credentials lead him to his current role, Executive Director of Tourism for Lake of the Woods.