A member of the perch family, the sauger is a smaller, slimmer relative of the walleye, which it closely resembles. It is an important commercial species in some places, especially in Canada, and a gameﬁsh that is often overlooked in some parts of its range. Most of the commercial Canadian catch is taken in Manitoba, where ﬁshing with gillnets and pound nets occurs in the summer, the autumn, and the winter.
Sauger are marketed almost entirely as fresh and frozen ﬁllets, and much of the catch is exported to the United States. Their ﬂesh is slightly softer, sweeter, and ﬁner in texture than that of the walleye, but this difference is generally indistinguishable to most people, and commercially, they are sold as one and the same ﬁsh.
IdentificationThe sauger’s body is slender and almost cylindrical, and the head is long and cone shaped. The back and the sides are a dull brown or olive gray ﬂecked with yellow and shading to white over the belly. There are three or four dark saddle-shaped blotches on the back and the sides.
It is easily distinguished from the smooth-cheeked walleye by the presence of rough scales on its cheeks and two or three rows of distinct black spots on the membranes of its spiny dorsal ﬁn, by the absence of a large blotch on the anterior portion of its spinous dorsal ﬁn, and by the absence of a white tip on its tail. The eyes are large and glossy, and the teeth are large and sharp.
Size/AgeSauger are commonly caught at sizes ranging from 10 to 16 inches and up to 11⁄2 pounds. Specimens exceeding 22 inches and 5 pounds are rare. The maximum size is about 9 pounds, and the all-tackle world record is an 8-pound, 12-ounce ﬁsh caught in North Dakota in 1971. The life span is 10 to 12 years.
Life history/BehaviorMale sauger mature at age 2, females at ages 3 or 4. They spawn when the water temperature is between 41° and 46°F. Adults enter back-waters or tributaries or congregate in tailwaters and search for gravel or rock substrate where they can deposit their eggs. In large river systems, the upstream spawning run can cover 100 to 200 miles, although it will be just a short distance from reservoirs into tributaries.
In waters where they occur with walleye, they will usually spawn immediately after walleye. Sauger can naturally interbreed with walleye, producing a ﬁsh called a saugeye. Sauger grow more slowly than do walleye, however, and are primarily a river ﬁsh that locates near the bottom on a variety of bottom types.
Like walleye, the sauger is a schooling species. Food and feeding habits. Sauger feed on such small ﬁsh as shad, sunfish, and minnows, as well as on crayfish, leeches, and insects. Most feeding occurs over rocky gravel bottoms or along sparsely weeded sandy bottoms.
Other Namessand pickerel, sand pike, blue pickerel, pike, gray pike, blue pike, river pike, pike-perch, spotﬁn pike, jack, jack ﬁsh, jack salmon; French: doré noir.
DistributionThis species has a general distribution in mid-central North America from Quebec to Tennessee and Arkansas, and north-westerly through Montana to about central Alberta. Between Alberta and Quebec it occurs in southern Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario and throughout the Great Lakes to James Bay.
It does not occur east of the Appalachians or much south of Tennessee, except in a few drainages where it has been introduced, principally from the Carolinas through the lower coastal states to as far south as Texas on the lower Gulf of Mexico.