Nestled in the southwest corner of New York State is a gem of a lake known as Chautauqua. It holds so much in the way of outdoor recreation opportunity that it might take a lifetime to try it all. Boating, swimming, kayaking, camping, and picnicking are available, but it is the resoundingly good sportfishing that garners the most attention. Chautauqua Lake is a well-known waterway in the Empire State, and it is a lake that offers anglers warm water species fishing in a diverse fashion. For those new to fishing in New York's waters, you may find that a trip to this area is as easy as it is enjoyable. For those who have fished here for years, it may be a difficult thing to share, but the secret was going to get out eventually.
Chautauqua Lake Location, Size, and Features
At over 13,000 acres and some 42 miles of shoreline, Chautauqua Lake is the largest inland lake in Western New York. It's roughly divided into the north basin and the south basin (the south basin being the shallower of the two) by the area known as Bemus Point. Beyond being an anglers dream, this lake offers itself as one of the state's easiest large water systems to navigate with multiple public boat launches on each basin. Popular access areas include Long Point State Park, Prendergast Point, Midway State Park, Tom's Point, Bemus Point, Cheney Farm, and Stow Farm.
The boat launches at Prendergast Point and Long Point State Park provide access to loading docks, bathrooms, and parking while Stow Farm has accessible waterfowl hunting in the fall. In fact, the nearby Chautauqua Lake Fish & Wildlife Management Area is open year round for fishing and hiking, and offers in-season hunting and trapping. Snowmobiles and ATVs are not allowed.
Chautauqua Lake Fishing
First, take a quick look at the species in the lake by the New York Department of Conservation: largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, muskellunge, walleye, yellow perch, pumpkinseed, bluegill, black crappie, white crappie, white perch, white bass, brown bullhead, yellow bullhead, white sucker, common carp, rock bass, longnose gar, and golden shiner. That's variety of we've ever seen it!
Many report that the muskellunge population is not only stable but thriving, supported by annual stockings of over 13,000 fall fingerlings (8- to 9-inch fish) by the DEC Chautauqua Hatchery at Prendergast Point. Muskellunge fishing in Chautauqua Lake is the stuff that dreams are made of, and what brings me back year after year.
In most areas with both largemouth and smallmouth bass, one or the other usually takes precedence as a target. But in Chautauqua Lake, both species have great habitat between the shallow weedy areas, under the docks, and among the many shoals and gravel bars. As a result, they're both abundant and both get targeted by equal measures.
Walleye surveys in the lake show a steady but moderate wild population "supported by annual stockings of 130,000 50-day fingerlings and 130,000 pond fingerlings." Walleyes are found throughout the lake but are more consistent during dusk when they move up into the shallows to feed.
As with so many great fishing lakes, the premier panfish angling further attracts people to Chautauqua Lake. Not only are the opportunities great for kids to be successful and have a great meal at the end of the day, but ice fishermen from around the state come here to drill a hole and set up their favorite shanty due to the great access.
Chautauqua Lake as a Vacation Destination
It's worth it to recognize the many campgrounds and RV parks, hiking trails, bird watching sites, and other sightseeing spots that exist here. Did you know that Lucille Ball's hometown was Jamestown on the south end of Chautauqua Lake? There's a small public park named after and dedicated to her that's worth a visit.
As with any great outdoor destinations there are great year round accommodations, and anyone can visit any month and find ways to have a great time. But if you're there during prime fishing time from spring until late summer, be ready to get in on the action. It's the type of lake that you shouldn't visit without fishing, but you knew that already, right?
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