Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

2018 Chautauqua Lake Annual Fall Walleye Survey

Print or View PDF

Chautauqua Lake, located in the upper Allegheny River watershed in Chautauqua County, is the largest inland lake in western New York with a surface area of 13,156 acres. The eutrophic lake contains two distinctly different basins and is managed as a high-quality multi-species fishery with muskellunge, walleye, and black bass being the primary sportfish. Currently, the lake is stocked annually with pure-strain muskellunge fingerlings to maintain the trophy fishery. The walleye population in Chautauqua Lake experienced a sharp decline during the early to mid-2000's but has been steadily increasing since 2012 due to the implementation of a special regulation (3 fish/day, 18-inch min.) and a walleye stocking program (2004-2015). The walleye stocking program and special regulation were both discontinued after two of the most abundant walleye year classes on record for Chautauqua Lake were documented in 2014 and 2015. Survey results and fishing quality in 2017 indicated that the walleye population appears to have made a remarkable recovery from a decade ago. In early October of 2018, Region 9 fisheries staff conducted a fall boat electrofishing survey of Chautauqua Lake to evaluate the overall walleye population and monitor recruitment of those large year classes.

Graph depicting catch rates for Walleye from Chautauqua Lake from 2004-2018.

A total of 474 walleye were collected, 214 of which were young of year (YOY). Two hundred sixty adult walleyes (age 1 or older) were caught resulting in a catch rate of 35 walleye/hour (Figure 1). This catch rate is lower than the 2017 adult catch rate (49.5 walleye/hr) but is still indicative of a highly abundant walleye population when compared to the statewide average for high abundance (20/hr). Adult walleye ranged in length from 14 to 26 inches with an average length of 18.3 inches (Figure 2). It is remarkable that over 93% of the adult walleye collected exceeded the legal length limit (15 inches), and 88% of those fish were between 18 and 21 inches. This indicates that the large 2014 and 2015 year classes experienced good survival rates and are now boosting the number of quality size fish available to anglers. There are still decent numbers of 22 to 26 inch walleyes to be caught and the opportunity to catch trophy walleyes is only expected to increase over the next decade. The absence of sub-legal adult walleyes during this survey is most likely the result of a lack of successful reproduction in 2016 -17. However, another exceptional year class was found in 2018 and should only reinforce the outstanding walleye population in the lake. The catch rate for YOY walleyes (7 to 10.5 inches) in 2018 was 29/hour, which is the second highest record in recent history (Figure 1).

Graph depicting length frequency distribution for Walleye from Chautauqua Lake from 2016-2018.

As anticipated, the walleye population in Chautauqua Lake continues to improve in 2018. Although there was no distinct increase in overall numbers this year, the average length and quantity of harvestable size walleye did increase. The occurrence of large successful hatches in three of the last five years is exciting and mimics the last period of high walleye abundance in the late 1990's, which followed large year classes in 1993 and 1996. High-quality walleye fishing is expected to continue in Chautauqua Lake over the next 7 to 10 years, and angler reports during the 2018 season have been excellent, including several anecdotal reports of walleyes up to 10 pounds. The current walleye fishery in Chautauqua Lake is rivaling "the glory days" of the late 1990's, referenced by seasoned Chautauqua walleye fishermen as a time when catching a limit seemed to be the norm. Statewide angling regulations should continue to be used for walleye in Chautauqua Lake. This survey will continue in the future to monitor the Chautauqua Lake walleye population.