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Conditions permitting, it's prime time for tailwaters sauger

By STEVE VANTREESE

A combination of intolerable weather and swollen water elevations has been in the way, but otherwise this could be an optimum period for sauger fishing in the tailwaters of dams on our major rivers.

Sauger collect below dams during the winter in advance of their annual spawning activities. By March, admirable densities of the toothy, torpedo-shaped fish are in the tailraces, feeding on shad that are pushed by the currents to the waiting predators.

Ryan Oster, biologist and fisheries coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said the sauger are packed below dams on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and other major waterways at present.

Angler access is the question of the moment. Tailwater sauger are ready to bite, pending flow levels and bloated water elevations from the runoff of winter storms subsiding. When tailwaters reach a fishable elevation at the same time that weather conditions are less Arctic in nature, catching of fish can ensue.

Area hot spots for late winter sauger are the tailrace areas of Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee, Barkley Dam on the Cumberland and Smithland Dam on the Ohio.

A top method for boating anglers is vertical fishing with heavy jigs tipped with minnows. A sauger-specific rig is often a jig of as much as one ounce dressed with a soft plastic grub or craft hair and garnished with a shiner minnow for taste.

A small treble hook, a stinger hook, often is attached on a short length of monofilament from the eye of the jig, one of the three treble hook points buried in the tail of the minnow trailer. When short-striking sauger nip and grab only the minnow, the stinger hook gets results.

Boaters fishing heavy jigs for tailwater sauger typically work straight down, bottom bumping and raising such rig only a few inches over ground zero beneath them.

Oster, however, notes that the Kentucky Dam and Barkley Dam tailwaters are perhaps the two top sites in all of the state for sauger fishing from the bank.

He recommended casting from the tailrace shoreline, chunking leadhead jigs bearing orange or chartreuse curly-tailed grubs, soft plastics with scent and salt additives to provide extra taste appeal. Oster said anglers might start with quarter-ounce jig heads in search of the right weight â “ enough to keep a jig moving just over, and occasionally touch the bottom during retrieve.

Because sauger are particularly light sensitive, even in murky waters, best times for fishing are hours of dusk and dawn and even during the night, Oster said. Low light periods bring sauger shallower and more accessible to bank fishermen.

For fishing daylight hours â “ when, frankly, more anglers prefer to fish â “ overcast days are more productive for sauger than bright, sunny ones.

n The annual Hunting Heritage Banquet held by the Shelley Nickell Chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation is set for this evening at Livingston Central High School at Smithland. The doors open at 5 p.m. Dinner begins at 6 and a live auction starts at 8.

Tickets, each of which includes an annual NWTF membership, are $50 for singles, $60 for couples and $275 for sponsors. Tickets and information: Jim Williams, 270-388-9406.

n Land Between the Lakes winter refuges â “ locations that shelter bald eagles and waterfowl during the cold season's migration â “ will reopen to public use March 16.

After being closed since Nov. 1, Smith, Duncan and Rushing bays on Kentucky Lake plus Fulton and Honker bays on Lake Barkley will reopen. The same goes for Duncan Lake, Honker Lake Refuge, Long Creek Waterfowl Refuge and portions of Energy Lake. Boating anglers will be some of the traffic that immediately resumes using the refuges on that date.

Hematite Lake will reopen March 16 for bank fishing only.

The refuge reopening date represents a time when most migratory waterfowl and eagles have departed in a move back to their nesting habitats.

n The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is proposing lifting outboard motor size limitation on eight small state-managed lakes, one of those being Swan Lake in Ballard County.

Boaters presently are restricted to the use of motors no larger than 10 horsepower. The change under consideration would allow the use of boats with larger motors, but boats powered with larger motors would be required to run at idle speed only. That restriction would be strictly enforced, according to the KDFWR.

The proposed change would not affect boats powered by 10hp or smaller engines. They could continue to operate at any speed.

Public opinions on the proposed change are being gathered throughout March and April. For consideration of the change on Swan Lake, comments can be phoned to the KDFWR at 1-800-858-1549 or e-mailed to fw.fisheries@ky.gov.

Other state lakes where the same boating regulation change is proposed are Shanty Hollow Lake near Bowling Green, Elmer Davis Lake in Owen County, Boltz, Bullock Pen and Corinth lakes in Grant County, Beaver Lake in Anderson County and Kincaid Lake in Pendleton County.

Steve Vantreese is a freelance outdoors writer. E-mail outdoors news items to outdoors@paducahsun.com or call 270-575-8650.

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