Sauger Fishing in the Tennessee Valley
Keith B. Floyd
District I Fisheries Supervisor, Decatur, Alabama
The fishing lights are bright below Guntersville, Wheeler, and Wilson dams. The reason? The tastiest fish that swims in the Tennessee River concentrate below the dams during the winter months.
The name by which they are best known in the Tennessee Valley is "jack salmon." Actually, they are sauger (Stizostedion canadense) members of the perch family. In Alabama they are native only to the Tennessee River.
Sauger are cigar-shaped fish, brownish in color with a mean-looking mouthful of teeth. Sauger have dark blotches on the on the body and due to their location are called saddle markings. Sauger have three rows of spots in the spiny dorsal fin located on the back. Considered the most desirable member of the perch family in Alabama for angling, sauger exist in greater numbers and provide more enjoyment for more anglers than do their cousins the walleye and yellow perch.
Large concentrations of sauger below Guntersville, Wheeler, and Wilson dams are the result of spawning "runs." Sauger swim upstream to spawn early in the spring. The dams impede migration and thousands are concentrated in the tailwater areas. Some sauger move further upstream by passing through the locks which are used for boating traffic.
Most anglers trying to catch these tasty fish use live minnows or a jig and minnow combination for bait. Heavy sinkers or jigs are needed to get the bait near the bottom in swift water. Usually the sauger is allowed to take the minnow, swim off a short distance, and stop before the hook is set.
The best fishing is found in eddy pools at the edge of the water coming from the turbines. Any structure that breaks the current flow, such as wing walls, rock piles, submerged islands, and drop-offs, will hold sauger. Always check several areas to help establish a pattern of where the fish are holding.
Sauger are commonly caught below dams in the winter, but other areas that have a substantial current should not be overlooked. Bridge crossings on causeways, bridge pilings, and mouths of creeks flowing into the main reservoir are all good areas to find sauger during their upstream migration.
Sauger fishing may appear to be the height of lunacy to the warm weather angler. But to the hardy, warm-blooded angler who has caught and eaten a fish with a savory flavor equal to no other, sauger fishing is great!