It’s the shank of the winter and not much is doing out there.  Hunting is essentially over, the ice is iffy, and about the only fishing is for steelhead and saugeye.  Which is okay, because saugeye particularly can provide some fun fishing, at least given proper conditions.

 This below dam sport has been slow most days, because of heavy rains and snow runoff that caused maximum water to be released from the various lakes.  You won’t catch much when the water is boiling past and coffee brown.  But the weather has got to stabilize soon, and eventually, maybe right now, the tailwaters will slow and turn a nice green color.  That’s saugeye time, and action should be unusually good, since the high water means few have been caught so far this winter.

 Everybody has their own favorite method for fishing these below dam fish, and mine is to take a half inch ice spoon in bright red, yellow, or chartreuse, head hook a minnow to it, add a splitshot about six inches above and a float above that, then cast and let the minnow drift downstream.  Since saugeye are bottom feeders and like to lie in depressions or behind rocks that break the current, you need to have that minnow within six inches of bottom.

So, my first move is to add a sinker to the bare ice spoon, cast out, adjust the float and adjust again until it’s riding about six inches below the surface.  Then I remove the sinker, add a minnow, and get serious.  I’m often amazed at watching other saugeye fishermen.  I’ve seen anglers stand on a rock and cast like a metronome to exactly the same place, usually within a few yards of the far shore.  It’s a lot smarter to cast near that shore, then to mid-stream, then up some and down some, and cover every bit of water, moving 20 feet occasionally to reach new territory.

And I like to have a second rod with a float, spoon, and minnow, working back and forth in the eddies right near my feet.  Territory close to where an angler is standing is usually ignored, and that can be a mistake.  Another choice that I make sometimes, and other fishermen a lot, is to use bright colored jigs with twister tails, sometimes one, sometimes with a second on a short side line above.  That can be effective too, used with or without a float, but always better with a bit of worm, a small minnow, or some Berkley Power Bait for extra allure.

Time is always important for this tailwater fishing.  Saugeye move at night and move best when there’s some water release, and they’ll usually be waiting at crack of dawn.  You should be, too.  Head for the dam at 10 a.m. and you’ll likely find the cream well skimmed before you arrive.

 Where to fish?  There are lots of good places within a modest drive.  Two of the best saugeye hotspots in the state are O’Shaughnessy and Griggs Reservoirs near Columbus, and Delaware and Deer Creek are just as good.  If trying to choose, keep in mind that the second pair were built by the Army Corps of Engineers and have good accomodations for fishermen.  The first pair are city reservoirs and have a decent situation for fishermen, but not great. 

Alum Creek and Hoover Reservoir are worth a look too, and you might try your luck below the Muskingum River dams or below Ohio River dams like the one near Wheelersburg.  I’ve caught some dandy saugeye there.  Whatever your choice, tailwater fishing is nearly the only game in town. And given proper water, it’s a good game indeed.

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