Sauger fishing is just starting to heat up on the Illinois River in time for Sunday's Illinois Walleye Trail Fall Classic at Henry.
IWT director Bob Kidd said water temperature has already fallen into the low 60s. With temperatures in the 30s predicted at night this week, the mercury will fall even lower. That drop should trigger the start of an exodus of baitfish from the shallow backwaters into the main river where sauger and the less-numerous walleyes can feast on them to prepare for winter.
Record high water earlier this fall also created more current to draw saugers, walleyes and baitfish upstream to winter near the hard-bottomed areas of gravel, sand and clam beds where the sauger and walleyes will spawn in spring, he said.
"Fish are spread out all the way from Henry to the (Starved Rock) dam," Kidd said.
Sauger and walleyes hold on river bends where current speed drops. They don't have to work as hard to stay there as they do in long stretches of fast-moving water.
Look for dropoffs into the main river channel and look for the deeper holes on outside turns cut by river action and barge propellers.
Kidd said huge schools of big Asian carp are taking over some shallow areas, forcing sauger and walleyes to stay deeper than might be expected. Check the usual 12- to 15-foot range, but search water 18 to 20 feet deep before leaving the spot.
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Traditional methods are working.
- The easiest is jigging. Use enough weight to stay in contact with the bottom. Add a minnow and work the bait downstream using the electric trolling motor to match the boat speed to the current. The goal is to keep your line straight up and down to maximize your ability to feel a bite and set the hook.
- Use three-way rigs to troll upstream. The simplest set-up uses a three-way swivel. Tie the main line to one eye. Tie a two-inch dropper and a lead weight or five-eighths or one-ounce jig and minnow to the bottom. Use a leader 18 inches to 3 feet long to a plain hook, a hook and a colored bead, a floating jighead or a floating crankbait. Use the electric motor to travel upstream at the pace of a slow walk.
- Troll floating crankbaits upstream using three-way rigs and crankbaits, but use the gasoline motor to travel faster to cover more water to find fish. When you connect, either continue using the crankbaits or slow down and use jigs.
- Troll No. 5 Shad Raps on lead core line. The tactic allows you to move at a pace of 2 mph or more to cover longer stretches of river fast. You'll catch fewer fish, but the lead core technique usually produces bigger fish.
The IWT Fall Classic is 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Henry waterfront. Cost is $200 per team.
The 2008-2009 IWT season begins this fall with a tournament Nov. 2 at Hennepin and another Nov. 23 at Henry. Phone (309) 527-6328 or e-mail email@example.com.
Illinois Fall Trout Season starts at 5 a.m. Saturday at 37 ponds and lakes. Anglers must have a fishing license and an inland trout stamp unless they are under the age of 16, blind or disabled, or are an Illinois resident on leave from active duty in the Armed Forces. The daily catch limit for each angler is five trout.
Stocked lakes in Central Illinois include Hennepin Canal Parkway State Park, (815) 454-2328; Macon County Conservation District's Rock Springs Pond, (217) 423-7708; IDOT Lake, (309) 543-3316, and Washington Park Pond, both in Springfield, (309) 543-3316; Forest Park Lagoon, Shelbyville, (217) 345-2420; Mineral Springs Park Lagoon in Pekin, (309) 347-5119; and Clear Lake at Kickapoo State Park, (217) 442-4915.
- Steve Anderson and Jerry Martoglio won the EverBlooom circuit's fall classic with six bass weighing 13.29 pounds. Jamie Maisenbacher and Brad Norris were second with 11.56 pounds. Terry Brown and Mike Blake were third with 10.84 pounds. The event was held over two days on Evergreen Lake and Lake Bloomington.
- The Central Illinois Muskie Hunters and the Illinois Muskie Tournament Trail host the Gregg Tichacek Memorial Muskie Tournament from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. Entry is $60 per team. Contact Duane Serck at (309) 267-1601 or firstname.lastname@example.org.