Got a fishing report to give you, but let me give a little background to the story. Back in the mid-1990’s I worked for a couple of years in our newly-established fisheries management office in south-central Nebraska. That region included much of the the Tri-County canal and reservoirs on that canal. In the years I was there we were not able to spend much time on the canal reservoirs, but from what we knew of the high flow-through rates and stained waters it appeared that the canal and associated reservoirs might be good habitats for sauger. Sauger stocking started on the canal system above Johnson Reservoir in 1998, and I can tell you that system has developed a very fine sauger fishery since then. I have been able to catch a few of those sauger over the years, but I am always game to learn more and catch more and I had an opportunity to do that last week.
I had an invitation from Brian Robinson to come out and fish with him. I have fished with Brian before and knew that he spends a lot of time on the canal system above Johnson. Brian had shown me some pictures of really nice sauger he and his partners had caught out of that fishery, and I wanted in on that action too! We would have fished together earlier this summer, but my schedule was crazy over the past couple of months. So we waited until the heat of late August to get together to fish.
Brian’s success had lagged in the past couple of weeks, that is not unusual for late August, but that was not going to discourage us. We figured the baitfish, young-of-the-year (YOY) gizzard shad, still had to be there someplace and the predator fish would not be far behind. They were not. We mostly trolled crankbaits, Berkeley Flicker Shads and similar baits ( Berkley hard bait ), and spent some time covering water while watching the depth-finder and searching for fish. We caught more channel catfish on those trolled crankbaits than anything, but that first evening we managed to scratch one 22-inch+ walleye and a 19.5-inch sauger!
Walleyes and sauger are closely related–close enough that they can hybridize in the wild. You can see in those photos that the walleye and sauger look very similar, but one of the things I love about sauger is they ain’t walleyes! Their body shape is more “tubular”, they are made for living in current. I am not saying that walleyes do not like current and flowing waters, because they very much do, but if you have the two species in the same environment you can expect the sauger to be deeper and holding in stronger current. That first sauger was a dark-colored fish, much more darkly-colored than a walleye. The belly even had dark brown and black markings on it. I am betting that fish was holding close to the bottom over dark-colored substrates.
We did not spend a lot of time on the water that first evening, but we caught some fish and had some confidence that the next day was going to be a good day.
We started the next day on Johnson Reservoir and caught some largemouth and smallmouth bass there. We also managed a nice black crappie and a couple of white bass (Brian caught most of the fish at Johnson). Speaking of Johnson, let me make a couple of comments. First of all, the water level at Johnson is down right now as they finish releasing irrigation water for this season. Water levels there continue to drop and launching a boat will become more and more of a challenge. Here is what I know about the plans for Johnson over the next few weeks, http://www.cnppid.com/News_Releases/2013-07-24_Supply_Canal_lakes_down_for_conservation.htm .
In spite of the low water levels, and as is true on most Nebraska reservoirs where we have white bass right now, the white bass are chasing YOY shad. Look for the surface feeding activity and look for the gulls!
Midday, middle of a hot day, we headed back up to canal waters above Johnson and started trolling again. We covered a lot of water, and I am not going to tell you that we hammered the fish, but we had consistent action all the rest of the day. We picked up another sauger from shallower water and notice the difference in the color of this fish.
Coloration of fish is very “plastic”, is very changeable and can differ a lot from fish to fish. That is one reason the coloration of a fish should be only one characteristic to look at when identifying fish. Anglers can also learn some things by noticing the coloration of the fish they catch. The fish will try to match their environment. That light-colored sauger was caught from shallower water, on top of a point, while the darker-colored sauger was taken from the same water, but deeper, and I am betting over a darker-colored bottom.
I mentioned that we caught a bunch of channel cats on trolled crankbaits and that continued on the second day. Channel catfish are predators too! And so are flathead catfish. I have mentioned more than once that casting or trolling crankbaits can be a great way to intentionally catch flathead catfish. That was proved once again on another Nebraska water body.
Actually that was just one of the flatties we put in the boat. We hooked and lost at least 3 big fish while I was with Brian, and we suspect they were all big flatheads. One straightened the clip that was tied on the end of the line and the other two busted the line.
Of course you know we fished until late in the day–we were not going to miss that prime time especially during late summer when the feeding windows can be short. Things finished with a bang! We caught another 19-inch+ sauger.
Actually we doubled up with that sauger; caught another nice walleye on another rod as soon as we got done reeling in the sauger.
Now I may catch heck for the vertical holds on these two fish, and the photo is just a little blurry, but I gotta show the walleye and sauger together, both fish caught at the same time.
I do not know if I will ever again have the chance to hold two fish like that, that size, one sauger and one walleye, both caught at the same time. That was cool!
By the way, you know I am going to make a point of telling you this: Not one fish was kept during those two days of fishing, even the legal-size walleyes and sauger, which are darned tasty, went right back in the water!
I suspect some of you get a little frustrated with my fishing reports as I do not tell exactly where we were fishing nor exactly how we were fishing. You can figure out the rest of the details if you put some time in on the water. My partner Brian has spent years fishing on the water we were on, and he has put in the hours and effort to figure things out for himself. I believe that he has earned it and other folks should expect to do the same. You have been told enough: The canal system above Johnson includes a lot of water, is accessible to the public, and has some very good fishing, some of the best sauger fishing in the state. If you get out there, and do some exploring you will find some fish, your own fish.
If you must know exactly where we were fishing. Here it is. . . .
We fished until dark, until the moon came up on a warm, late summer’s evening. As we recalled our efforts over a couple of days, we had caught walleye, sauger, white bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, white crappie, black crappie, drum, and one big common carp that slammed a crankbait. Over the course of a couple of HOT August days, fishing during the middle of the day, we caught dozens of fish–not bad if you ask me! Don’t know what kind of a full moon it was; looked like a fishing moon to me!
My partner is a reporter for In-Depth Outdoors, http://www.idofishing.com/ . If you do not believe my stories, you can check his version, and more, here, http://www.idofishing.com/forum/showflat.php?Cat=0&Number=1273050&page=0&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=93&fpart=1&vc=1 . Brian also is on the field staff for Provide Outdoors, http://provideoutdoors.com/ , and you can read an additional field report here, http://provideoutdoors.com/2013/08/the-more-things-change/ .
Thanks a ton, Brian! I had a great time fishing with you, save one of those Master Angler sauger for me!