It’s that time of year to brave the cold and head to the water for a fishing reward – sauger, a freshwater fish that closely resembles the walleye fish. They are long and thin with dark spots, dark backs and pale bellies. Both species look similar, so you may want to fish with a local fishing guide to help identify your catch.
The upper section of Old Hickory Reservoir from Hunter’s Point near Lebanon to Cordell Hull Dam in Carthage is a prime location for sauger fishing from January through March. This stretch is accessible with public boat access areas at Hunter’s Point, Second Creek, Hartsville, Rome, Carthage, and the Cordell Hull tailwater.
Increasing water flow and warmer temperatures trigger sauger to concentrate below dams in winter and early spring in preparation for spawning. As water temperatures approach 60 degrees Fahrenheit, sauger move downstream from the dams to find appropriate spawning habitat. After spawning, saugers disperse throughout the reservoir, feeding on shad and other small prey. Anglers are most successful from January through March, when saugers are concentrated below dams.
Prime fishing spots from boats are in the eddy areas between the generator wall and spill gates and around the lock wall. The lock side of the dam is also popular, casting into the eddy created by the lock wall.
Casting straight down beside the lock wall is often effective. Saugers generally stay close to the bottom, so keeping your bait within a couple of feet off the bottom is best.
Casting Techniques & Bait Recommendations
A popular method is using a heavy jig (¼-1 ½ ounce, depending on the current) bounced off the bottom. The jig can be tipped with a live minnow and stinger hook or a 4-inch chartreuse or white curly tail grub. Another effective method is using a live minnow hooked through the lips and attaching a sinker to keep it in contact with the bottom. There are several methods to rig the bait; a basic split shot rig, a slip sinker with swivel and leader (Carolina rig) and a casting sinker with 3-way swivel and leader.
Bank fishing can also be good on the generator side of the dam by casting into the boils with a live minnow on a #4 to 1/0 hook and a ¼ once and larger weight (again depending on the current). The live bait rigs using a swivel work best in current by reducing line twist.
When fishing the areas downstream of Cordell Hull Dam, concentrate efforts at the mouths of creek embayments. Shad and other baitfish will move out of these embayments and into the river channel as water temperatures in the shallower embayments become colder. The steep drop offs transitioning from the embayments into the channel are excellent fishing spots. Some of these creeks include Little Cedar Creek just upstream of Hunter’s Point ramp, Second Creek at the Second Creek Ramp, and Jennings Fork Creek at the Rome Ramp. You can use the same methods described for fishing at the dam are also used at these locations.
Both sauger and walleye are stocked in Old Hickory Reservoir and are regularly caught in the same area. Regulations for sauger are 10 per day with a minimum length of 15 inches. Walleye regulations are five per day with a 16-inch minimum length.