Massachusetts has the Kennedys; Texas, the Bushes. England has
its royal family.
Wisconsin? For state anglers, at least, the most prestigious
family is the Percidae. You know, yellow perch, sauger, and of
course, the walleye. There are several other family members, but
these three are the most prominent figures in Wisconsin’s
In a recent graduate study conducted at UW-Stevens Point by Dee
McClanahan and Dr. Michael Hansen, a statewide mail survey
estimated that Wisconsin anglers caught more than 7.5 million
walleyes and kept more than 2.1 million walleyes during the 2000-01
The annual sauger catch doesn’t approach those numbers, but
there are reasons for that. Sauger aren’t nearly as widely
distributed as walleyes, and there aren’t as many waters that
There is less known about the annual perch catch. But they all
have one thing in common: They’re almost without dispute the best
fishy table fare one can put on a plate. “Personally, I like
walleyes the best,” says Wisconsin Outdoor News staffer “Tackle”
Terry Tuma. “The small walleyes the 11/2-pound fish. Usually, we
don’t keep the larger fish.”
With sauger, he says, big fish aren’t a problem. “You don’t see
a lot of 3- to 5-pound sauger,” he said. Perch are more seasonal
when it comes to taste quality, Tuma says. When they come from
colder waters, they’ll easily rival walleyes in terms of taste.
However, there are anglers who prefer perch over walleyes. It
comes down to a matter of personal preference. Perch are easier to
catch and, since the fillets are generally smaller than those of
walleyes, they fry up more quickly, keeping the fillets moist
beneath the batter.
Experienced perch fryers say you should put enough grease in the
pan to cover just over half of the fillet, but make sure the grease
is well-heated before dropping the fillets in the pan.
Similarities of the Percidae
As members of the Percidae family, this triad of fish shares
many similar physical characteristics. They’re long, slender, and
have a large bone on their gill cover. Their dorsal fin is perhaps
the most defining characteristic. There’s an anterior spiny
portion, then a slight separation, and a soft posterior portion.
The dorsal fin, however, is what makes it easiest to tell the
difference between a walleye and a sauger.
All members of the Percidae family are carnivorous they like
More aptly, the bigger ones perch, walleyes, and sauger are
piscivorous. They like fish meat. Unfortunately for perch, the
smaller of the three, walleyes and sauger prefer perch meat (as do
largemouth bass and northern pike, for that matter).
Perch their smaller size aside don’t evoke thoughts of imposing
predators like their big cousins. That’s because they’re not nearly
as toothy. They lack the teeth of the walleye and sauger.
Perch are easily distinguishable from the other two fish;
they’re smaller, and their coloration is quite different. They also
have six to seven vertical bars on their sides. But, how do
walleyes and sauger differ from one another?
Physical traits of Percidae
On just a few waters in Wisconsin will you have to know the
difference between the two. While walleyes swim an estimated 1,270
lakes, according to the DNR, sauger are in just a few lakes lakes
Winnebago and Wisconsin and the river systems, like the
Mississippi, the Wisconsin below Prairie du Sac, the Chippewa below
Eau Claire, the Black River, the St. Croix River and the Rock below
Lake Koshkonong. Here’s the easiest way to tell the difference.
Walleyes have no spots on their anterior (spiny) dorsal fin,
except for a black spot on the lower, back portion.
Sauger have several spots on that dorsal fin, and no black spot
on the lower, rear portion.
Walleyes have a white spot on the bottom of their tail.
Sauger have no white spot on the bottom of the tail.
Where their habitat overlaps, it’s not uncommon to find a
hybrid, commonly known as a “saugeye.”
Walleyes and sauger both have excellent eyesight, which enables
them to feed effectively in dark waters. The walleye, in fact, is
so-named for the “pearlescent” nature of its eyes, caused by a
reflective layer of pigment called the “tapetum lucidum.” The
sauger’s ability to find forage more efficiently in turbid water is
one important factor dictating its distribution in the state.
A walleye can grow much larger than a sauger. According to DNR
research, anglers typically keep walleyes to eat at about 13 inches
where it’s legal, sometimes a bit smaller. According to information
gathered by the DNR from ceded territory lakes (mostly northern
Wisconsin) with creel surveys from 1990 to 2002, the average length
of walleye harvested (as measured by creel clerks) was 15.7 inches.
In waters with no minimum size, the average length was 13.7. In
lakes with a 15-inch minimum, the average length was 17.3
Sauger are usually kept without hesitation in the 11- to 12-inch
range. Perch are kept for the frying pan when they’re about 9 or 10
inches and up.
Wisconsin anglers don’t see too many sauger weighing more than 2
The state record walleye is an 18-pounder caught from High Lake
in Vilas County in 1933. The state record sauger is a 5-pound,
13-ounce fish caught from Lake Wisconsin in 1988 by Kim Chrisler.
The state record yellow perch weighed 3 pounds, 4 ounces, and was
caught from Lake Winnebago in 1954.