April’s Sand-Bottom Saugers

By Ted Peck - April 6, 2016
A lifetime of fishing the Mississippi River has taught me that the concept of "pre-fishing" is usually a waste of time. It makes perfect sense to begin a day on the water with a presentation that caught fish the day before. But if the rod doesn't bend in less than five minutes a substantial change in strategy is often the best strategy.

There are a couple of caveats to this rule of thumb: summertime largemouth bass on a stable summer River and saugers relating to sand-based cuts and running sloughs in April.

Even with changes in the Big Picture ranging from subtle to extreme it is usually possible to snake at least a couple saugers out of the River this time of year when water temperatures are 44-58 degrees.

A fair representation of the River's sauger biomass is swimming over sand bottomed areas in 7-13 f.o.w. now in a moderate current.

A trolling presentation, known on the River as "pulling" is the best way to hook up, moving upstream at 0.4-1.0 mph with variations of the Dubuque and river rigs.

The difference between these two rigs is a combination of both leader length and the lure at the business end of both droppers coming off of the two eyes of a three-way swivel not tied to the main line.

The late, great River legend Jimmie Oberfoell is credited by many folks as originator of the Dubuque rig. Essentially, this is a heavier jig on the longer leader (20-24") and a lighter jig on the short leader (8-12").

The light jig usually weighs 1/16-1/8 oz, with the heavier jig 3/8-3/4 oz, with jig weight driven primarily by current velocity and River depth.

The jigs are tipped with plastic. Usually ringworms, Kalin grubs or variations like the Kalin Sizmic grub and B-Fish-N Tackle moxie tail.

River color influences plastic color, with fluorescents, white and orange generally better in dirty water and natural colors like purple or black more productive when the River is running clearer.

Also, saugers tend to hit the shallower running, lighter weight jig during the mid-day period if the River and barometer are stable, with the heavier jig getting bit more frequently with different conditions.

Trying to figure out why one jig is working better than the other may lead to varying degrees of mental illness. The Mississippi River is an enigma wrapped in mystery. Better to just be thankful for the bounty and get the lures back in the water quickly to catch another fish.

When saugers are in an aggressive mood, catching doubles is not uncommon. Should this be the case and you find yourself wondering which lure got bit first seeking therapy might be a good idea.

My favorite Dubuque rig variation is some kind of fluke or ringworm on an orange 1/8 oz. jig and the Echotail Teddy Cat with the snap hooked on the second top hole behind the head on the heavier line.

For the sake of this article a "river rig" has the heavier weight on the short dropper line (6-10") and a stickbait, spinner rig or floating hair jig on the longer dropper (3-6').

When using a river rig I like to start with a 1 ½ oz. jig/Kalin grub on the short dropper and a #5 Berkley Flicker Shad or small floating Rapala on the longer line this time of year.

Pulling in the fall is usually more productive with larger bait profiles, like#11 jointed Rapala or two #9 Raps rigged in tandem. To get this presentation to track correctly, remove the plastic lip and rear treble hook from the front Rapala and tie the rear Rapala to the split ring with 12-20 inches of 30 lb. monofilament.

Although saugers are relating to hard sand bottom during April, the Mississippi is notorious for considerable bottom structure. Getting hung up is inevitable. Losing tackle is part of the game.

Sacrifice to the River Spirits is part of the overall experience. Losing a pair of #9 Rapalas more than once in a single outing can make a grown man cry.

If you are fortunate enough to return to the boat ramp with a limit of fat saugers in the livewell without losing a single lure, consider stripping down to skivvies and throwing handfuls of pennies in the water while chanting in Aramaic. This is probably good mojo. It's also cheaper than losing just one Rapala.

I haven't had this kind of luck since the 1970's. Back then, we used to call it "streaking"

Author Ted Peck
Ted Peck
Cap'n Ted Peck has over 30 yrs. guiding experience, specializing in multi-species fishing on Pool 9-10 of the Mississippi from Genoa, Wi. to Prairie du Chien. Cap'n Ted is a pro staffer for Lund, Northland Tackle, MinnKota, Bill Lewis Lures, Evinrude, Uncle Josh, HT Enterprises and Custom Jigs & Spins. When not guiding Cap'n Ted communicates the outdoors experience via newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and through seminars. This work has taken him all over the midwest, Canada and beyond... but he always returns to the upper Mississippi which he considers the most diverse fishery in North America. Click here for more info on Ted's guide service. Cap'n Ted's new book Mississippi Musings with the Old Guide is a personal account of his long career as a professional fishing guide on Old Man River.