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Go Thin to Win by Jim Corey

There have been many articles written about targeting Walleyes in "skinny" water. We have learned, contrary to traditional beliefs, that Walleyes can be caught in very shallow water at times. Well I'm here to tell you that, at least in the Muskingum Watershed Lakes of East Central Ohio,  Saugeyes like their water the "skinniest" of all!
     Most of the MWCD lakes are relatively shallow with maximum depths ranging from 20 to 40 feet. They are, for the most part, older reservoirs; flood control lakes, badly silted in, and are subject to regular Winter drawdowns. There isn't much mainlake structure in these lakes, although there are exceptions where hard surfaced roadbeds, humps with hard substrates, or shale outcroppings have resisted the siltation. Our thermoclines form at about 14 to 16 feet and the fish use those shallow edge waters throughout the warm water months. After Winter drawdown our local Saugeyes concentrate on mainlake structure in those waters where it exists, and scatter out over the mud basin in the others. As the lakes fill up in the Spring and the water temps rise into the 40's, the Saugeyes make their move into water so shallow, so thin, so skinny, that it wouldn't seem enough to cover their backs. I have long believed that Saugeyes, perhaps because because of their "hybrid vigor", were far more apt than Walleyes to ignore any discomfort caused by light penetration, instead following the food wherever, whenever, and at all costs. We regularly take big Saugeyes from less than a foot of water, on bright windless days, in the hottest part of July and August. The local Bass anglers curse these toothy pests and, more often than not, the biggest Saugeyes of each season are taken by Bass anglers from very shallow water. At the same time that the main lake surface water temps are around 50 degrees, we usually have some warm rains, and the runoff serves to raise the water temps in the shallow feeder creeks into the 70's and even 80's in some years. This is where the Saugeyes will be.
     While the 'Eye anglers are beating the water to death, swearing that "these lakes are getting fished out", there are tight lipped locals, poling their flatbottomed boats through the mud at the very heads of these lakes, or standing on bridges that span creeks that a man can step across, hiding their stringers of big Saugeyes from curious passersby. Ask them if they're doing any good and they will tell you "Nope! Nothin' but a couple Carp and Mr. Whiskers". Don't believe 'em for a minute!
     When our Saugeyes are up in water this thin, many methods will put them in the boat. Jigs, very shallow cranks, small jerkbaits, or live Shiners, Chubs, and  Suckers are the favored presentations. As they pole their boats into the mouths of shallow feeder creeks, anglers look for the wakes of fish that were spooked by their intrusion. Small pods of Shad will burst from the surface and scatter, shining and glinting in the sunlight. A live 4 to 6 inch Lake Shiner, fished weightless will be lobbed past the bursting shad and gently eased back through the spot. Long, 8, 9, or 10 foot rods are used to lob these baits at their targets. These long rods also serve to cushion the force of the drag burning runs that can take place when fish running from 6 to 10 pounds are hooked in water less than a foot deep. Light line is a must for casting these unweighted baits. Here again the long rods tend to forgive angler's mistakes.
     One of the most exciting and rewarding ways to catch big Saugeyes in our area, this opportunity is overlooked by many anglers and ignored by others. For those of you who are in areas where Saugeyes have been introduced, give the extra "thin" waters a try. It may not work for you, but, if it does, hold on to your hat! The fun is about to start!

Jim Corey 
Vib-E Bladebaits 
Cripple Creek Bait & Tackle 
Electronic Fishing Network (EFN) Pro Staff 
Uncle Josh Bait Company Pro Staff

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