Some of the better fishing in public waters not named Lake Erie is the result of a unique marriage of two species, and a petri dish.
Saugeye, the fish you get when a walleye and a sauger are artificially crossed, are stocked in Ohio’s upground reservoirs to the tune of 6 million to 7 million a year, creating strong fisheries.
The hybrid offspring end up being stronger and more resilient than the native parent species in these large inland lakes that lack the conditions walleye and sauger need to thrive, and reproduce.
“They grow like gangbusters in those waters,” Jeff Tyson, the Lake Erie program administrator at the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Sandusky station, said about saugeye. “In the reservoirs where there’s degraded water quality, they grow and survive better than fingerling walleye and sauger do.”
Saugeye came about some 40 years ago through the collaborative research work of Ohio State University and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and have been used to create strong fisheries in waters where other species had struggled, according to Scott Hale, inland fisheries program administrator for the Division of Wildlife.
“Sauger are a big river fish and are not suitable for reservoirs, while walleye do a lot better in Lake Erie and didn’t work out too well in many of these other bodies of water,” he said. “We found that in a number of reservoirs, saugeye worked out where walleye didn’t. We saw a good growth rate.”
The saugeye, raised at ODNR hatcheries at Grand Lake St. Marys, Hebron and Senecaville, are stocked as 30-day-old fingerlings, or as fry that are a week or so old, into more than 70 reservoirs. They grow rapidly, and when they reach catchable size, the saugeye are responsible for about 10 percent of the successful fishing outings in the state.
“Saugeye have been a huge success in Ohio,” Hale said.
Saugeye will not usually suspend, like Lake Erie walleye will do, and they will inhabit darker and muddier waters. Sauger sometimes will display characteristics common in bass, concealing themselves under brush, and they are often caught in water less than 10 feet deep.
Most anglers employ medium-weight tackle for saugeye, using six-pound test line when using jigs tipped with minnows or night crawler harnesses. Eight or 10-pound test line is used to toss crankbaits that mimic the shad or other baitfish that saugeye pursue in most reservoirs.
In the northwest portion of the state, the best places for saugeye fishing are Paulding Reservoir in Paulding County, Lake LeComte southwest of Fostoria, and Pleasant Hill Reservoir near Mansfield.
The state record saugeye was caught in Antrim Lake in Franklin County, a body of water that has not been stocked with the hybrids. Biologists theorize that the record saugeye reached Antrim Lake through a pipe that once linked the lake to the Olentangy River, which holds a population of saugeye, or it was an intentional or accidental transplant by an angler who caught the fish in the river and moved it to the nearby lake.
Saugeye were not intended to be stocked in the Lake Erie watershed, but there are sporadic reports of them showing up in those waters. Tyson said these isolated fish could be the result of saugeye escaping from hatcheries or aquaculture operations, or from naturally occurring hybridizing within the watershed system.
Although it is believed to be extremely rare, walleye and sauger can create hybrids naturally, in waterways where both species exist.
The saugeye stocked in Ohio’s reservoirs are not believed to be reproducing in those environments.
“What saugeye do is they fill the gap in these reservoirs,” Hale said. “In many waters where walleye and sauger would not do well or historically have not done well, saugeye have thrived, giving anglers a very positive option.”
FISHING REPORT: Maumee Tackle reports good numbers of white bass in the river, and the fish are running larger than in previous updates. The river remains in very good shape for wading throughout the most popular fishing areas from the boat launch at Orleans Park upstream to the Providence Dam. With good weather in the forecast for the holiday weekend, the fishing pressure should increase, along with the catch. The Sandusky River also continues to produce spawning run white bass, with anglers using small jigs tipped with twister tails, or floating shiner minnows 2 or 3 feet below bobbers.
On Lake Erie, when the wind has been manageable, the best areas for walleye have been from the turnaround buoy of the Toledo Shipping Channel to West Sister Island, Niagara Reef, west of Rattlesnake and Green islands, and north of Kelleys Island, according to the ODNR. Anglers who are trolling are using crankbaits and worm harnesses, while drift fishermen are using worm harnesses with bottom bouncers, or mayfly rigs.
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.