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Proven tactics for below the dam saugeyes

By DICK MARTIN • Feb 17, 2018 at 8:00 AM

Is fishing over for the winter, at least until the ice grows firm again? Not at all. There are lakes and reservoirs all over Ohio, from Charles Mill and Pleasant Hill clear down to the Ohio River where saugeyes traditionally make a winter migration to territory just below their dams. Over the winter anglers often take limits below such fertile waters, and a lot of them will run two to three pounds up to even 14.

Taking a limit of saugeye anytime is a tough proposition, and many a Norwalk area fisherman is happy to net a couple, and not surprised when he or she goes home with nothing, at least occasionally. Those who fill their limit are doing something right, and the "right" varies little from year to year. The first point to remember is that saugeye do not stack up below a dam every single day. A few might swim upstream anytime, but best action is usually after the dams release water. That surge of liquid stimulates saugeye below to start moving upstream, so action is always best after a release.

They do their moving at night, feeling safer about swimming over thin water riffles when light is low, so the first move of any would-be successful angler is to be there as early as possible, hopefully at first grey light. Wander down to the water at 10 a.m. and you'll find others have already skimmed the cream.

This year, as always, fishermen are using small quarter ounce jigs with twister tails or casting with small vibrating lures. Most add no bait, primarily because bait of any kind is hard to come by at this year. Minnows are tough to find, nightcrawlers too, and even waxworms might take some looking..

The jigs typically produce best when they're chartreuse or white, but if you hit murky water something bright like orange might work better. And when they're finicky, something extra on the hook will always help. If there's no live bait available, try some Berkley Power Bait or similar offering, something with a really fishy scent, anything to make a fish hold on for that extra second or two.

If there's a carved in stone rule for winter saugeye fishing, it's that these hybrids of a walleye and a sauger will have their bellies nearly bumping bottom, and if you're casting a jig it's got to be just a few inches above the rocks. Casting a lure that runs two feet above the bottom will get you nothing but exercise, so make sure you're feeling a bump now and then, or even snagging up occasionally. Jigs are cheap and a three pound saugeye is worth a loss or two.

If you're sharing the water with a number of other anglers, you might be stuck in one spot, but if not, move occasionally to cover as much water as possible. There might be a hole here or a few rocks there that make good laying up spots for migrating fish, and moving will find them sooner or later. If you can't move and other anglers are close, at least cover the water in front thoroughly. Cast to near the opposite shore, then to the middle, then make short casts to reach any fish within range. I've seen too many anglers below a dam cast like a metronome, hitting the same spot time after time. That's not the answer.

Finally, if you're adventurous and tire of nearby hotspots, consider a drive to other country. Deer Creek Reservoir near Columbus has excellent access and lots of saugeye, as do several other Columbus area reservoirs. Action below Muskingum River dams can be good, and I've caught some dandy saugeye in the Ohio River below various dams.. But wherever you go this winter, action should be good, so long as you follow these simple Golden Rules.

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• The Sportsmen's Alliance, an organization dedicated to defending the rights of hunters, trappers, fishermen, and sport shooters, is hosting a Hunting Film Tour event at the Drexel Theater,2254 E. Main St. in Columbus on March 8 at 7 p.m. They welcome all outdoorsmen to join them for a fun night of food, drinks, raffles, auction and film. For details and tickets, call 614-888-4868.

• The ODNR will host its 34th annual Ohio Wildlife Diversity Conference on Tuesday, March 6 at the Ohio Union on The Ohio State University's campus in Columbus. The conference will offer experts on predators this year, from those who howl in the night to those that fly sky high. Doors open for registration at 8 a.m., and the conference, titled "Predators Never Late for Dinner," will run from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Register at wildohio.gov or call 1-800-WILDLIFE for registration and tickets.

• The cheaters lose again! This fall, Lake Erie wildlife officers were checking perch anglers along the Michigan-Ohio border. The limit for yellow perch is 50 in Michigan, but only 30 in Ohio, so anglers sometimes try to catch 50 yellow perch from Ohio waters and take them across the state line. The officers spent seven hours on the water and issued a total of 23 summonses, 17 to Michigan anglers fishing in Ohio waters without Ohio fishing licenses and six for taking over the limit of yellow perch. Obviously, crime still doesn't pay.


Dick Martin is a free-lance writer from Shelby. Reach him at [email protected] You can also visit his blog at outdoorswithmartin.com.

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