Fishing is a secondary thought for many in the fall. For some of us the addiction is real. As the temperature drops and the leaves turn color, we feel the urge to head to our nearest spillway and take on the challenge of fall Saugeye fishing! Most pursue whitetails, waterfowl, small game, or become obsessed with NFL games in the fall. This leaves many an opportunity for those of us who enjoy pursuing perhaps one of the most fickle, challenging fish in the Midwest.

General Introduction About Saugeye

Saugeye are a hybrid created when crossing a male sauger with a female walleye, and they are members of the perch family. They closely resemble both parental species. Usually, saugeye can be identified by the blotchy markings on their back and side as well as on their dorsal fin membrane. Saugeye eat yellow perch, gizzard shad, and shiners and grow rapidly, often growing to 5 pounds or more within three years. Saugeye are known for their aggressive feeding behaviors and are most active at sunset and sunrise. During the day, saugeye will often be close to the bottom of the pool with their bellies almost rubbing the bottom. In addition, they prefer not to fight fast-moving current looking for protection behind stones, deep pools, and eddies.  

Saugeye became the stocking fish of choice after walleye stocking programs performed poorly in the Midwest in the 60s and 70s. DNR’s discovered that saugeye grow faster than walleye, prefer to live in turbid, structure-deficient reservoirs and survived better than walleyes. Although saugeye can naturally occur when there are walleyes and sauger living in the same body of water, the majority of saugeye we pursue today are because of DNR stocking programs. In Ohio, for example, the DNR stocks about 25 million saugeye each year.

Reasons to Choose Spillways for Saugeye Fishing

Most people live within a short drive of a spillway, and most river systems in the Midwest contain good populations of saugeye. (Google Earth is a great tool to locate spillways.) As the temperatures get cooler in the fall, saugeye head upstream only to become concentrated at the spillways as they bulk up for winter. Spillways remain oxygenated with the outflow of water and are often a buffet of food such as weakened bait fish, insects, and invertebrates.

Fishing Techniques for Spillways

The fishing will be best at most spillways from directly below the dam to several hundred yards or more downstream. Look for eddies, submerged sandbars, concrete walls, and deep pools moving until you locate the fish. Most fall saugeye are caught by anglers using crankbaits, jigs, swimbaits, minnows, or night crawlers. Retrieves vary from bottom bouncing to snapping the retrieve against a loose line while using soft hands. This action triggers a response from the predatory saugeye. Each day will require experimentation to see what will trigger a response.  

All these presentations should be made casting at an angle upstream or downstream. Most bank anglers make the mistake of standing across from their intended target and casting directly at it. Very rarely, if ever, will any natural food source swim across the current.  

fishing at spillways

The most productive colors are white, chartreuse, and yellow. Keep in mind that saugeye can be very finicky, and their color of choice can change within the hour. I normally use a snap swivel to save time when switching colors.  

My most productive method has been a jig with a minnow, twister tail, or a swimbait. It is always a challenge finding the correct sized jig that will allow you to bounce off the bottom and not get hung up. Remember that being two to three feet off the bottom can result in zero fish. You must put the bait in front of the fish to get a hit. I always start with a 1/4oz jig and work up or down based on current water conditions. Jigs are inexpensive, and the correct weight will vary from day to day based on water flow. Expect to lose jigs when spillway fishing!  

The most exciting way to catch saugeye, in my opinion, is with a crankbait. The retrieve that will get a response varies from day to day, from dead sticking to burning it. 

Nightcrawlers are usually my last resort, but when it is right, it can be on fire! My favorite method is to take half a nightcrawler on a single hook and attach a split shot sinker about 15-18 inches above the hook. I then cast upstream and let the bait drift to a point downstream, lifting the bait gently as it encounters obstacles.

Parting Thoughts about Catching Spillway Saugeye

I often find when fishing spillways, the locals will gladly tell you their preferred fishing methods, natural underwater structures, water depths, etc. Tactics and colors can and do vary from spillway to spillway.

Normally, in the fall, you will have the spillway to yourself during the week, and encounter a handful of anglers on the weekend. Remember that fish density can vary by day, and a heavy flow of water will normally bring more saugeye upstream. If your spillway is large enough to be affected by wind, always fish the wind-driven side as the saugeye will congregate there in search of baitfish. 

Do not become discouraged at first with hang-ups and lack of catches. You will be surprised how quickly you begin to feel and anticipate bottom structure, resulting in fewer hang-ups and more fish. Enough writing. I think it is time to do some fishing. Golden fried saugeye filets Sounds pretty darn good!

My Fishing Gear to Catch Spillway Saugeye

I prefer to use a medium light spinning fast action setup with a braid and light fluorocarbon leader when catch 

spillway saugeye. I have linked my favorite lure colors below, but make sure to have several other color options available as well.


Joe Miller

Joe Miller

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November 24, 2023 — Joe Miller
Tags: Fishing Tips

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