In the late afternoon of February 22, 2016 John Urquhart and I set out to find the elusive saugeye on Lake Avalon. Our deep lakes with steep sides make it difficult to sample these fish by traditional means which include gill nets and electrofishing because they prefer deep water habitat for most of the year. An added complication is that saugeye numbers are likely low. The spawning season is a time when saugeye move into shallow water especially at night. Our recent warm weather has initiated a pre-spawn pattern in these fish. The water temperature at the time of sampling was 51˚F. The day began by setting 6-gill nets at various locations within the lake. While the nets were working, the crew changed gear and electrofished spotty woody habitat throughout the lake and rip-rap habitat along the dam and especially around the spillway.
Just before dark, the crew pulled a 3.5 pound 21.5 inch male saugeye about three quarters of the way across the dam. It was about 15 feet offshore in about 8 feet of water just off the bottom. The male fish was freely expressing milt at the time of capture. Other fish were missed and could have been saugeye. Although only one fish was captured it does fit a pre-spawn pattern commonly seen with walleye and saugeye. The males move into the best spawning habitat about a week before the females. In Lake Avalon, the best habitat is the rocky substrate associated with the dam. If available, they can sense flowing water and will orient themselves around spillways or where significant water enters the lake. If we get significant rains over the next few weeks, anglers should try these locations.
Saugeye are sterile for the most part, but under the proper conditions, it is possible for them to successfully spawn with other saugeye, walleye, or sauger. Beyond that, successful spawning in lakes is next to impossible because they require flowing water to be successful. The female releases her eggs and her eggs are immediately fertilized by trailing males. The eggs are adhesive and attach to substrate, gravel and rock being the preference. Flowing water is required because there is no nest guarding which provides freshwater flow over the eggs.
The lakes crew will be sampling saugeye in Lakes Avalon and Norwood over the next few weeks. Lakes Ann and Windsor were stocked in 2015, but will not have catchable sized fish for another year. It is not my intention to provide a periodical fishing report, but I will pass on some tips for these fish. Anglers should try deep water offshore in front of the dams during the day with large minnows or shad. As evening approaches or on cloudy days, move in shallower towards the dam. You may find yourself catching fish in four feet of water on a crankbait. Again, fish close to moving water if the spring rains provide opportunity. Our weather will change from spring to winter and back again over the next few weeks, but don’t let that deter you. The season is on and Mother Nature is a hard force to hold back.
Lake Ecologist and Fisheries Manager