Sauger vs walleye is question that I get asked a lot. If you're lucky enough to catch the same size of each species, telling the difference between walleye and sauger can sometimes be very difficult because they are similar in appearance.
However, it is important to know the difference between walleye and sauger because in some states knowing the difference can save you from a potential fine!
For example, Wyoming has a creel limit. You can only have two Saugers in your possession, while you can have up to six Walleyes. Make sure you know the difference between walleye and sauger before going on your next fishing trip!
Sauger and walleye look similar because they are cousins from the same family Percidae (Perch family). Both are predatory fish and are nocturnal or low light feeders. Reason being, both are light sensitive due to a layer of pigment in their eyes called tapetum lucidum (night vision) which allows both of them to see in low light and murky water. (this is the same layer of pigment found in lions and other nocturnal animals)
The size difference between walleye and sauger:
Walleyes are the largest member of the perch family and grow larger than saugers. They usually grow to a maximum of 29 inches in length and about 15lbs in weight. The largest walleye ever caught was 41 inches in length and weighed in at 25lbs.
Saugers, on the other hand, are smaller and take longer to reach their adult size. They usually grow to no more than 15 inches in length with a maximum weight of or about 4 pounds. The current world record for the largest sauger ever caught is 28 inches in length and 8lbs 8oz.
(It is possible to find a much larger specimen for both)
Differential features (sauger vs walleye):
The two species are quite similar in appearance but they can be distinguished by the following;
Color - Both have a white belly, but walleyes are gold and olive in color. Saugers on the other hand are brassy in color, and are mottled with 3-4 dark (almost black) saddles that extend down their sides.
Both have two dorsal fins. A spinous dorsal fin and a soft dorsal fin.
Saugers - have 2 to 3 rows of distinct black spots on its spiny dorsal fin. It has 17 to 19 rays on its soft dorsal fin and 11 to 12 on the anal fin.
Walleyes - have no dots or spots on their dorsal fin but rather a large blotch on the last few spines of their spinous dorsal fin. They has 19 to 22 rays on the soft fin and a 12 to 14 on the anal fin.
Saugers have a mottled caudal fin while walleyes have a white tip on their caudal fin which can be easily distinguished.
Walleyes - are typically found in large cool and deep lakes as well as reservoirs. Walleyes prefer clear water and hard bottoms such as rock, gravel etc.
Saugers - prefer rivers and streams with deep pools with murky water and soft bottoms such as sand, mud, and silt to provide cover from high current.
Saugers are sympathetic with walleyes and where they inhabit the same waters expect to find saugers in deeper waters than walleyes because they have a larger tapetum lucidum which allows them to see better than walleyes in extremely low light.
Walleyes and saugers sometimes interbreed and produce Saugeyes which are a bit more difficult to differentiate.
Comparison table sauger vs walleye:
Females grow larger than males
Females grow larger than males
Brassy color with mottled dark saddles extending onto the sides
Gold and olive in color
Size & Lifespan
Nocturnal feed at night or in low light.
Eat a variety of fish, crayfish crustaceans and insects.
Adults principally eat fish but also eat insects particularly mayflies during their entire life and crustaceans.
Usually found in large rivers with deep pools, murky water and soft bottoms e.g. sand, gravel
Usually found in deep lakes and reservoirs with clear water and hard bottoms e.g. rocks
Spawning habits are similar to walleyes.
I hope you can now tell the difference between walleye and sauger. Pop quiz, is the fish in the first picture a sauger or walleye? Comment below.