These are the places you need to know about when you’re fishing for the iconic muskellunge in New York State. Whether it’s a river or a lake; a large body of water or small, these destinations will increase your chances of putting a wall hanger in your hands.
This article includes some locations that are considered the home of the hybrid tiger muskie or “nor lunge.”
Lying south of route 370 between the villages of Meridian and Cato, Cross Lake’s 2,000 surface acres has a maximum depth of 65 feet making it easily fishable for any angler.
Tiger muskies stocked here have done quite well and appear to have a thriving population. Try the weed edges and drop-offs around Little and Big Islands for a chance to hook into one of these sizable hybrids.
Imagine casting from a canoe or a kayak while you dream about latching into a big muskie. The Cassadaga lakes chain in Chautauqua County, with a total of a 210 surface acres, consists of the upper, middle, and lower lakes. At their outlet is Cassadaga Creek, which may be at the most 40 feet wide in spots, is home to many 10-15 pound muskies.
The Cassadaga Lakes region can be found about six miles south of Fredonia, New York, just off of route 60. Since fish stocked there have been reared at the Prendergast Point hatchery, the state’s only purebred muskie hatchery, the muskies found in Cassadaga Lakes are the real deal.
Otisco Lake is the easternmost lake in the famed Finger Lakes region. This lake lies in southern Onondaga County about 30 minutes from the city of Syracuse.
Many hold that if Cross Lake doesn’t produce the next state record norlunge, then Otisco Lake will. Many 20-30 pounders have come from this body of water which makes it a go-to spot for the serious tiger muskie fisherman.
Explore the weedbeds near “the narrows,” which is south of the lake dam where the east and west shorelines come together by trolling or casting to structure. Otisco Lake hardwater action for tigers can be excellent as well.
This is the best muskie lake in New York that you may have never heard about. Also in Chautauqua County, Bear Lake is a mere 141 acres. With 70% of the shoreline designated as wetlands, Bear Lake is considered unique among New York’s public lake system. Muskellunge stocked as fingerlings in Bear Lake can reach and exceed 40 inches in length.
Fishing large shiners seems to be the best bet while 8- to 10-inch stick baits take muskies as well. With a maximum depth of 35 feet, and extensive natural shoreline, Bear Lake is as good as it gets for car-top boats and canoes alike.
Considered a mid-size Finger Lake, Conesus has roughly 3,400 surface acres and a maximum depth of 66 feet. Take Interstate 390 to exit 9 and proceed to the village of Lakeville. With four public boat launches around the lake you can access Conesus with ease.
Conesus Lake is stocked with approximately 9,500 baby norlunge per year. Generally, they are not stocked in lakes that have such a thriving pike population, (some fish there have exceeded 20 pounds!) but Conesus Lake has such huge schools of alewives that biologists have deemed it important enough to try and cut their numbers down.
A lake contour map is a great way to begin your Conesus Lake experience. MacPherson Point on the western shore is always a good start. Tiger muskies can easily reach 10-15 pounds and even grow bigger. Throw or troll stick baits in larger sizes or cast double bladed spinner baits around likely weedbeds. If a six-pound largemouth or a 15-pound northern grabs it, well, just smile and hang on.
NY Route I-81 will lead you into the north country past Watertown where you will take the NY-411 exit to the right for about three miles. Turn left on State Route 37 for approximately 18 miles and then a right onto Lake St/County Highway-6. About six miles later you will come across one of New York’s premier fishing destinations for a variety of species.
The purebred and naturally occurring muskellunge in this lake can reach huge proportions. In the summer of 2006 a Chittenango man landed a 50-inch bull that was photographed and released; yeah, it’s still in there. With many shoals, weed strewn edges and islands, Black Lake has the size (10,000 acres) and the cover to harbor some of the state’s finest muskie fishing.
In 2005, region eight fisheries biologists netted the lake to check health and overall numbers of muskellunge. Their catch included 240 specimens of which many were in the 15-20 pound range; a 32-pound brute being the biggest.
At 813 surface acres, Waneta Lake is easily fished in a day. Most hook-ups are a result of trolling large stick baits or in-line spinners. The weed edges are clear in the summer making trolling patterns even easier.
Take NY Route 15/Southern Tier Expy to exit 40, go north on NY-226 for about 12 miles and then left on County Road 23. You’ll run right into one of the states finest muskie fishing destinations.
While it can have up-and-down years, like any muskie addicts know, the Upper Niagara River and east-end Lake Erie areas are all too familiar with trophy muskellunge. Make sure that you bring your camera because the Niagara Muskie Association has successfully lobbied for, and won, a 48-inch minimum creel length. While muskies of such size are rare, every year 50-inchers are boated around Buffalo Harbor and the islands of the upper Niagara River.
Trolling sizable plugs around the southwest corner of Grand Island, Tonawanda Island and near the Peace Bridge are all accepted methods here, but since these can be treacherous waters to the unfamiliar angler, the best bet is to hire one of the many veteran local guide services.
One of the most famous lakes, in a state blessed with water, is Chautauqua Lake. With a whopping 13,100 surface acres, this lake is known more for its numbers of muskellunge than for their size. An angler with a mind to catch one has a good chance here.
Located in the southwest corner of the state at Jamestown, it is a great place to start a muskie hunting quest. The state’s only purebred muskie hatchery on Prendergast Point supplements Chautauqua’s natural population. In 2007, netting yielded over 180 mature fish in the 36- to 48-inch range.
Speed trolling is a favorite technique among locals, but with such a large area to cover, a veteran guide is the way to go.
This river is arguably the destination of destinations for true believers seeking to catch the world record muskie. Once the holder of the IGFA world record 69-pound 15-ounce muskellunge, the river still has a knack for producing monsters. Rescinded by the IGFA, Arthur Lawton’s title of world’s largest muskellunge catch might have been broken here anyway.
Although some dicey moments of overfishing and disease have threatened populations over the years, groups such as the Save The River foundation and the many river guides associations have been instrumental in returning this great fish to its once mythical proportions.
Hook-ups with 50-inch brutes have become increasingly steady in the past decade, and in 2006 a 58-inch, 52-pound behemoth was landed, adding to the ever-increasing numbers.
Cape Vincent, Clayton, and Alexandria Bay are the prime locations to secure a guide and start your quest. Given the vastness of the river and its shared border with Ontario, Canada a provincial license may be required.
A veteran guide once said to me after I landed a beautiful 32-inch, 8-pound walleye on the river:
“That’s just a cigar to one of them muskies”
I was smiling then, and I’m smiling now just thinking of all the possibilities for catching a muskie in the beautiful state of New York.