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Kentucky Afield Outdoors: With Arctic Weather All Around, Sauger Still Bite

June 16, 2011 - News Release from Kentucky Afield

FRANKFORT, Ky. – This winter seems like the longest, most dreadful slog since the winter of 1977-1978. The Arctic weather began right after Thanksgiving and hasn't let up yet.

Sauger don't care that we've had snow cover for what seems an eternity. They still bite all winter long.

“Sauger have to eat now,” said Ryan Oster, assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “It's biology. Eggs are developing in their bodies. Female sauger must consume protein now for egg development. They are eating whether the water temperatures are 36, 38 or 42 degrees.”

Productive places to fish for sauger are below the dams on the Ohio and Kentucky rivers. The Tennessee River below Kentucky Lake and the Cumberland River below Lake Barkley are also consistent winter sauger hotspots.

Fisheries biologists report good sauger fishing on the Barren River downstream of Barren River Lake Dam to just below Greencastle Dam in Warren County. Good numbers of 15-inch sauger swim in this section of Barren River and fishing will likely improve from recent sauger stockings.

“Sauger haven't left the dams because it's cold,” Oster said. “They are still feeding. It may be a little slower. Instead of a 40 fish day, you may only catch 25, but you can still catch them.”

Oster begins his search for sauger by finding the deepest hole in the river closest to the dam. The depth of the deepest hole is relative to the body of water. On the Kentucky River, a depth of 18 feet may be the deepest hole below a dam while on the Ohio River, that depth could be 35 feet.

“When I go, I target aggressive fish first, which are usually shallow,” Oster said. “I work my way deeper as I go and end up fishing in that deepest hole.”

Floods scour at least one deep “blowout” hole below a dam, especially on the Ohio River. “The sauger move in and out of that hole,” Oster said. “If we get marginal conditions, they move into the hole and wait until things stabilize.”

Bank-bound anglers should try and find that deeper water as well. “If you are fishing from the bank below a dam on the Ohio or Kentucky rivers,” Oster said, “keep moving downstream until you find the depth the sauger are holding that day. If you are fishing 8 feet of water or so and not getting strikes, move until you find 12 to 15 feet of water. Don't keep pounding the same spot.”

Oster caught many sauger in the past several years below the dams on the Kentucky River in central Kentucky. Anglers now benefit from a sauger stocking program commenced on the river in 2006.

“The fishing on the Kentucky River keeps getting better and it will be really good when the water clears and the river stabilizes again” he said. “It is a little high and muddy right now, but the fish are still there.”

Oster throws soft plastic curly-tailed grubs rigged on ¼-ounce leadheads for normal water levels and moves up to a ½-ounce for swifter water on the Kentucky River. Combinations of green and orange dominate his color choices, but Oster also throws a white grub if the other colors don't produce.

“I'm pretty basic,” Oster said. “I don't mess with live bait because my hands get cold in this weather. Rarely have I been out-fished by someone in the boat using live bait. Today's soft plastics impregnated with scent and salt are so good at mimicking baitfish that sauger can't tell. They are going to work.”

On the Ohio River and in the Kentucky and Barkley tailwaters, Oster uses soft plastic grubs along with hair jigs in the same colors that weigh up to one ounce. “If you aren't getting on the bottom, no matter where you fish, you aren't getting strikes from sauger,” he said.

Bring along plenty grubs and leadheads as floods line the bottom of rivers downstream of dams with rocks, trees and everything else imaginable.

“My Dad used to say, if you aren't getting hung up, you aren't fishing right,” Oster said.

Dams are not the only place to sauger fish on the Kentucky and Ohio rivers. Sand bars produce sauger on the Kentucky River and many catch late-winter sauger in the mouths of creeks on the Ohio River.

The Green and Salt Rivers should become sauger hotspots as recent stockings take root. The stockings in these rivers along with Barren River will continue for the next three to five years.

The weather outside is frightful, but the sauger aren't scared. You shouldn't be either.

(Article Provided by: Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife)