THE MOST DIVERSIFIED FISHERY IN NEW YORK STATE
Chautauqua is an Indian word, which translated means " a bag tied in the middle." This definition is a perfect description for this beautiful 17-mile long lake lying in the southern tier of Western New York. Chautauqua is actually two separate lakes of totally different structure connected by a narrow channel. The north end of the lake is mesotrophic with excellent structure with several holes in excess of 60 feet with an average depth of 35 feet. The south basin is eutrophic, with a shallow bowl type shape an average depth of less than 15 feet.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's fall netting survey results are in for 1998 and the picture once again looks very promising for the coming years. The excellent 1993 class year of walleyes dominates but there are still plenty of walleyes from the 1987, 88 and 91 class years. The estimated population of Walleyes in the lake now stands at 250,000. Some of the 1993 class year became legal size in 1998 and all the rest are expected to become legal in 1999. The fall netting survey indicated that the 1993 class year appears to be one of the finest on record at this lake and should produce excellent walleye fishing for many years to come. The north end of the lake in particular, because of its lower biomass and the high numbers of the class year, has seemed to inhibit the growth rate of the 1993 class but 1999 should produce almost all keeper size walleyes.
The Calico Bass (commonly known as crappies) are definitely down but 1994 appears to be a good class year. The population of white Perch is once again on the upswing. The White Perch by the way, are quite large with some attaining a length of 10" to 12". The Gizzard Shad is present but the number is hard to estimate as the shad tends to suspend in deep water beyond the reach of the survey nets and cold winters can affect their population. The Smallmouth and Largemouth Bass population is stable and Chautauqua historically is noted for great Bass fishing.
The Musky population experienced another outbreak of "redspot" disease during the long warm summer of 1998. The disease however, appeared to level off in the later part of the year.To continue enhancing the population of this popular fish the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation stocked 20,000 Muskie fingerlings during the summer. Musky fishing should be very good in 1999 with the average size running between 30 and 35." These fish are extremely good fighters and once you catch a big one you'll be hooked. As an old musky fisherman once told me "Muskies are the only fish, all others are just bait." The primary method used for catching these large fish is trolling with body baits such as the Depth Raider. Casting can also be effective using large "jerk" baits, which almost any local tackle store can supply. Heavier poles and reels are recommended for these large fish. If you want to up date conditions on the Muskie Fishing, you'll want to stop by either The Bait Pond (Stow, NY) or the Redwood Ranch Motel (Bemus Pt.).
I have been primarily walleye fishing this lake for over 25 years and always have preferred the North basin with its shoreline structure and the deep holes at Long Point, The Bell Tower, Prendergast Point, Dewittville Bay and Mission Meadows. For over 20 years I have stayed 1 week every spring at We Wan Chu Cottages because I strongly believe that they have the best combination of accommodations, docking facilities and proximity to good fishing. They have excellent slips, which can handle up to 27' boats. This feature has always been important to me as I have a 19' boat of which I am very fussy about. Don't be concerned if you don't have a boat as Peter from We Wan Chu Cottages has recently added a fleet of rental boats. These are not the run of the mill 12-14ft. car top style boats so often seen at most boat liveries, these boats are SV-16ft. LUND® Boats with Two Permanently Mounted Swivel Bucket Seats and equipped with 8 or 15 horsepower Honda® Outboard Motors! These boats are very seaworthy and can handle most any weather Chautauqua County can produce.
We Wan Chu continually updates their facility and a few years ago they added a driveway gate pass security system to drive into the complex which prevents people from entering the complex without security clearance. They also have power outlets on the dock for those of you who wish to charge a boat battery. Any of you who have carried a 60lb. Battery back to a cottage for recharging knows what a great service this is! For the night fishermen the dock lights stay on all night long. The dock, by the way, is a great spot for catching fish after dark. Simply cast a Rapala or any other stick bait off the dock at night, retrieve slowly, and chances are you'll catch a walleye. Peter has made it very convenient as he's added a fishing type platform on the southeastern end of the dock for this purpose. This also happens to be a great spot for walleye as the water drops off very sharply at this corner of the dock. They also have an excellent fish cleaning station for the many fish you'll probably catch! The cottages are Clean and Well Furnished along with a microwave oven. There is plenty for the kids and adults to do with a new indoor salt-water pool, game room, basketball and volleyball courts, large sandbox, putting green, etc. This complex can truly be classified as a Lakeside Resort !
Chautauqua Lake is noted for its excellent spring walleye fishing and the most consistent method I have found has been night trolling. Trolling SLOW in 5-15ft. of water with Rapalas, Rebels, Jr. Thundersticks or any basic stick bait will generally produce walleyes. My favorite trolling areas are from Prendergast point to the Bell Tower, Camp Chautauqua, Dewittville Bay, Lighthouse Point and Warner's bar but don't be afraid to try someplace else as almost all of the shoreline will produce walleyes on a given night. Three years ago we caught an 11lb. walleye on a Firetiger Rapala in Sunset Bay. My personal favorite color is the new Fire Tiger Rapala (No 11 or No 9) but black and silver or the fluorescent red is also very productive. Another lure, which has become quite popular, is the Jr. Thunderstick. Last year this lure in the Firetiger finish, out produced all the other lures in my tackle box. This lure was absolutely phenomenal on one particular night as it caught fish after fish and we couldn't even get a strike on a similar color Firetiger Rapala. We tried running our other lures back further, more weight, different poles, etc., to no avail. At the end of the night the Jr. Thunderstick had caught 12 of our 15 takers. The next day we made a trip to the local tackle store and purchased several more Jr. Thundersticks. Once again all of the new lures out produced all other lures the rest of the week.
I generally run the lures about 75-100 ft. back of the boat and continually "pump" the lures back and forth as I troll. I also have had success just long lining a lure with no weight. If you don't get any strikes in 15-30 minutes, change lure colors until you find one that works. Don't troll an area over and over, make 2 passes of a good area and if nothing happens move on to another spot! A little tip, if your catching muskies, slow down, if you're catching a lot of rock bass, speed up !
It's very important to keep everything simple in whatever you do in the boat after dark as the slightest line tangle can turn into a monumental mess after dark! Keep your flashlight and net close at hand and try to minimize the amount of light used when landing a fish as light in very shallow clear water will tend to spook the fish. Try to arrange the lures you intend to use on your dashboard and don't use the net to bring in a small fish. A tangled Rapala in a net can be quite a problem after dark. I also feel that a light in the very shallow water can tend to spook the fish. Be sure to keep your running lights on at all times and remember the speed limit on this lake after dark is 20 mph !
The only electronics needed after dark is a good depth finder or one of the newer LCR's with a good backlight for night fishing. Fishing after dark without this equipment is possible but it's very difficult to tell what depth of water you're in without a depth finder and you MUST be in 5-15 ft. of water to be successful. If your night fishing early in the year be on the lookout for the DEC's musky nets. Some of these nets extend out 100ft. or more and are not marked very well. They generally have a series of red buoys with a long pole and sign at the very end of the nets.
If you prefer daytime fishing my recommendation would be to drift or troll the deep holes off Dewittville bay, Long Point, the Bell Tower or Midway Park with worm harnesses or try a three way swivel with 3-5 ounces of weight and small Rapalas, Rebels or Junior Thundersticks. Last year I caught more fish during the day than in the past simply running a worm harness off a three-way swivel through the Bell tower hole and Dewittville bay. You can utilize these same methods in late spring and summer but move in to the edge of the weeds and use very little weight.
In the fall of the year the preferred method is vertical jigging in the deep holes off Long Point, Dewittville Bay and Midway Park using lures such as a Number 11 Jigging Rapala tipped with a minnow, a 3/4 ounce Sonar or a 3/4 ounce "Lucky Buddy. My personal favorite is the Chartreuse Rapala but any color might work on certain days. Always use a light line and a "slow" action pole to increase your sensitivity and your catch. An electric motor or a drift bag is almost essential to control the speed of your drift, as you must be almost vertical to get good results. The aforementioned three-way swivel with a worm harness also produces a lot of fish.
The one potentially big change in the lake is the presence of the Zebra Mussel. This pesky little mollusk was discovered in the lake in 1995 and its effect on the lake waters is still unknown. I strongly believe that the water will get much clearer that will drive the fish somewhat deeper and the added sunlight will promote more weed growth. The mollusk also competes with the small forage fish and young of year fry for food, so be prepared to change your fishing tactics accordingly. At this time however the effects of the mussel seem minimal as for some reason it hasn't multiplied as rapidly in Chautauqua as other lakes.
The legal minimum for Walleyes is 15" with a daily limit of 5 per person with the season opening the first Saturday in May. There also is a daily limit of Crappie of 25 per person and a minimum length of 9." Musky and Bass season opens the third Saturday in June. The minimum size for Muskies is 40" and the Bass is 15". Good luck and if you want any information I'll be staying at We Wan Chu Cottages the 3rd week in May and also a long weekend in June so give me a call or stop in and say hello.
FISH COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN, N.Y.S.C.C.
REGION 9 DIRECTOR, N.Y.S.C.C.