Chautauqua Lake is located in the southeast corner of Chautauqua County and is the largest inland lake in western New York. It's one of the highest navigable waters in North America and is divided into two basins of nearly equal size by Bemus Point.
Elevation: 1,308 feet
Area: 13,156 acres
Shoreline Length: 42.5 miles
Max Depth: North basin 75 feet, south basin 19 feet
Mean Depth: North basin 25 feet, south basin 11 feet
Town: Chautauqua, Ellery, North Harmony, Ellicott, Busti
Long Point State Park: On east side of lake off Route 430, between Bemus Point and Maple Springs. Site offers shore fishing, hard surface boat launch, marina and day-use area. Parking for 56 cars with trailers and 70 cars. Fee.
DEC Prendergast Point Launch: West side of lake. From Route 394 turn onto Prendergast Blvd., turn right at end of street. Site offers shore fishing and hard surface boat launch. Parking for 50 cars and trailers.
Midway State Park: On east side of lake off Route 430. Turn into park entrance and follow road to parking lot at intersection with Chautauqua Ave. Park offers shore fishing and ice fishing access.
Tom's Point: Part of DEC Chautauqua Lake Fish & Wildlife Management Area. On west side of lake. From Route 394, turn east onto Stow Road and then left at second intersection. Site offers 1,920 feet of shoreline access and parking for 8 cars.
DEC Bemus Point Launch: Located on east side of lake on Lakeside Ave. in the Village of Bemus Point. Hard surface boat launch with parking for 30 cars and trailers.
Cheney Farm: Part of DEC Chautauqua Lake Fish & Wildlife Management Area. On east side of lake off Route 430, about 2 miles south of the Village of Bemus Point. Site offers 3,446 feet of shoreline access and parking for 5 cars.
Stow Farm: Part of DEC Chautauqua Lake Fish & Wildlife Management Area. On west side of lake off Route 394, 0.5 mile south of I-86 intersection. Site offers 1,100 feet of shoreline access and parking for 6 cars.
The boat launches at Prendergast Point (DEC) and Long Point State Park (OPRHP) both provide accessible loading docks, bathrooms and designated parking. Stow Farm provides a paved pathway to an accessible waterfowl hunting blind that can also be utilized as a fishing deck. See above for directions.
Full listing of DEC's Accessible Recreation Destinations.
Chautauqua Lake supports a diverse sportfishery, with angling for walleye, muskellunge, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and several species of panfish. The shallower south basin has extensive weed beds and some productive shoals. In the north basin, weed beds are found in the shallow bays and in the very northern section. The north basin is also known for its numerous, deep, kettle holes. The north basin stratifies during summer with a thermocline occurring around 30 feet. There can be anoxic conditions below the thermocline from July through August. For current fishing information visit the Lake Erie Fishing Hotline or call 716-855-3474.
Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass: Chautauqua Lake ranks among the top bass lakes in New York State. The shallow, weedy areas and docks offer exceptional cover for largemouth bass. Boaters and shore anglers do best by keying on these areas where bass wait to ambush prey. Early morning and evening are the prime times for surface-type plugs. Anglers also have good luck using spinner baits, plastic worms, jig-and-pigs, crank baits and live bait, such as crayfish and shiners. Although less abundant than largemouth, smallmouth bass can offer good action for those fishing the right spots. Deep drop-offs, points, rocky shoals, gravel bars near creek mouths and the islands in the south basin have proven to be the most productive areas for smallmouth bass. When fishing over deeper structure, a drop-shot rig with crayfish, shiners or plastics work well.
Chautauqua Lake Muskellunge
Muskellunge: Chautauqua Lake is recognized as a premiere, world-class muskellunge fishery, with many fish in the 40-50 inch class caught each year. Anglers employ a number of productive tactics when chasing Chautauqua's top predator. Better catch numbers tend to come from shallower areas along weed edges, where trolling or drifting and casting are both effective methods. Trollers also see good action for larger, suspended musky caught over depths of 25-35 feet, in the north basin. Chautauqua's musky population is supported by an annual stocking of 13,000 fall fingerlings (8.5 to 9 inches), by the DEC Chautauqua Hatchery at Prendergast Point. A minimum size limit of 40 inches and a daily limit of one fish have been set to help maintain the high quality muskellunge fishing. Anglers are encouraged to release their catch without even bringing the fish into the boat. When muskellunge are handled carefully, the odds of surviving to be caught again are excellent.
Walleye: Walleye are a highly prized sportfish of Chautauqua Lake. Walleye are moderately abundant in the lake and exhibit a slower growth rate, reaching legal size (18 inches) by their 6th year. Early season anglers catch walleye along Chautauqua Lake's gravel shoals by casting or trolling minnow-imitating lures. The best fishing occurs from dusk through dawn during the early season. During
Fisheries technicians with Chautauqua
Lake walleye collected during survey
the summer months, fish in deeper areas of the lake where the water temperatures preferred by walleye exist. Anglers should concentrate their efforts in deeper water during the day, moving to shallower areas at dusk when the walleye move inshore to feed. During fall, try trolling a minnow-imitation lure along the bottom, or jig along sharp drop-offs. Good areas to fish include Mission Meadows, the Bell Tower, Prendergast Point, Long Point, Warner Bar, Greenhurst, Cheney's Farm, Bemus Bay and Tom's Point. Historically, walleye fishing quality depended on the presence of strong "natural" hatches. Declining abundance in the 1990s led to the initiation of a walleye stocking program in 2003. Currently, the walleye population is supported by annual stockings of 130,000 50-day fingerlings and 130,000 pond fingerlings.
Panfish: Yellow perch, white perch, pumpkinseed, bluegill, crappie and bullhead provide year-round fishing opportunity. These tasty fish are fun to catch for both the novice and expert angler alike. Weed lines are good spots to locate panfish, as they provide abundant food and security from predators. During the summer and fall, live baits such as minnows or worms produce the best perch and sunfish catches. Preferred gear is an ultralight rod and reel with 4-6 pound test line. Live minnows fished with a bobber is a popular technique, but fishing small jigs tipped with bait is also productive. Bullhead fishing is best during the spring and early summer. Fishing after dark with nightcrawlers, crayfish or scent-attractant baits on the bottom works well. During the spring spawning period, bullheads concentrate over areas of soft bottom. Crappie fishing is generally best in spring and fall in the shallow windward embayments, where warm surface water attracts baitfish.
Ice Fishing: Chautauqua Lake is a top "hardwater" destination in western New York, offering good opportunities for walleye and multiple panfish. Small jigs tipped with "grubs" works well for panfish. Yellow perch will also readily hit small jigging spoons tipped with a small minnow. Popular areas for yellow perch and other panfish include Mayville, Prendergast, Long Point, Dewittville, Ashville Bay and the Celoron area. Ice fishing for walleye is generally best during low-light periods. Jigging with minnow-imitating lures like jigging Rapalas, blade baits or jigging spoons are good bets. Add a small minnow or grubs to make lures more enticing. Tip-ups set with shiners also produce the occasional walleye catch. For walleye, fish Chautauqua's north basin. Good areas include the Warner Bar, Bell Tower, Dewittville, Prendergast Point, Mission Meadows, Long Point, Victoria and Magnolia. Public access during the winter months is available at sites listed in the "Public Access" section above, as well as at the City of Mayville Park and the Village of Lakewood Park. See the Ice Fishing Basics page for beginner ice fishing information.
Special fishing regulations apply (leaving DEC website to official Fishing Regulations Guide vendor website)
History of Muskellunge Culture:
Bemus Point Hatchery, 1908
The management and culture of muskellunge was born on the waters of Chautauqua Lake. The first efforts to culture muskellunge, in 1888, occurred in the vicinity of Greenhurst (south basin) but operations were soon moved to Bemus Point where the first permanent hatchery building was constructed in 1904. Culture of muskellunge at Bemus Point Hatchery continued until 1973 when all fish production was moved across the lake to Prendergast Point where more space for ponds and a better source of spring water were available.
Approx. 50 lb musky handled
by hatchery staff, 1937
Bemus Point Hatchery, 1918
Little remains of the original Bemus Hatchery except the garage which is now used for equipment storage by the Village of Bemus Point. Where the Bemus Point Hatchery once stood now sits the DEC Bemus Point Fishing Access Site, providing trailer launch access to Chautauqua Lake. Production of muskellunge at the modern Chautauqua Hatchery at Prendergast Point uses a combination of in-hatchery and outside/pond rearing to maximize survival of the 25,000 to 30,000 (eight inch+) fingerling muskellunge stocked out to Chautauqua Lake and other area waters. This is the only DEC hatchery raising pure strain muskellunge, which are obtained from netting and egg collections on Chautauqua Lake. The 12, one acre hatchery ponds are also used to rear approximately 250,000 fingerling walleye. These walleye are also stocked to Chautauqua Lake and other area waters.