Walleye, Sauger, Saugeye: What’s the Difference?

Video sauger vs walleye

When fishing on reservoirs such as Lake Sharpe and Lake Francis Case, fisheries that have abundant populations of both walleyes and saugers, there is a common question that always arises. This question, is did I catch a walleye, sauger or saugeye? We’ll discuss the differences between these fish and how anglers can identify what exactly they caught.

Walleye Vs Sauger

Walleye (Sander vitreus) and sauger (Sander canadensis) are two different species that are closely related. Both species have a long, slender body and the well-known tapetum lucidum in their eyes. This is an organ within the eye that captures all available light in the environment and results in exceptional low-light vision.

While both species look similar, there are a couple distinct identifying characteristics.

White on Tail:

  • Walleye will have a white-tipped tail.
  • Sauger will lack the distinct, white-tipped tail, but rather have a thin, long white line.

Dorsal Fin:

  • Walleye will have a distinct, black mark on the back of their dorsal fin.
  • Sauger will lack this black mark, but instead have spotting on their dorsal fin.

Body Markings:

  • Walleye will lack saddle markings along their body.
  • Sauger, generally, will display saddle markings along their body.

To see these identifying features in action, check out this video of two fish caught out of Lake Francis Case in the Chamberlain area.

What About Saugeyes?

As mentioned, walleye and sauger are closely related and both live in the Percidae family. Because these species are so closely related, interbreeding can occur. When this happens, the offspring is what many call a “saugeye”, but it’s not as simple as that.

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When this interbreeding occurs from a pure walleye and a pure sauger, the offspring will likely show more resemble of the mother species. These “saugeyes” will likely have a resemble of the white-tipped tail of the walleye, but it will be less defined and show more of a long, white line as well. They may also have a black tip on their dorsal fin, but additional markings on the dorsal fin as well. Lastly, they may have some degree of saddlemarkings along their body.

While this appears black and white, it’s not that simple. As this fish breeds, whether with a walleye or sauger, it’s offspring will begin to resemble the species it bred with. Now, these offspring will show major resemble to the species and though their is the genetic composition of both species within their DNA, to the naked eye it will look more like either a walleye or a sauger. As this continues, the ability to decipher whether the fish is a true walleye, sauger or “saugeye” can really only be determined by DNA. In reality, genetic testing could find the presence of both walleye and sauger in the genetic history of many of our walleye and saugers.

Take a look at these two fish caught out of Lake Sharpe near Pierre and see what you’re looking for.

Overall, when it comes to identifying walleye and sauger it is best to stick with these two species. Walleye and sauger regulations are the same and both species are grouped together for them. The fisheries that produce abundant populations of both are extremely special! Good fishing!

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Sean Campbell’s love for hunting and outdoor life is credited to his dad who constantly thrilled him with exciting cowboy stories. His current chief commitment involves guiding aspiring gun handlers on firearm safety and shooting tactics at the NRA education and training department. When not with students, expect to find him either at his gunsmithing workshop, in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, on nature photoshoots, or with his wife and kid in Maverick, Texas. Read more >>