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Lake Chautauqua

About Lake Chautauqua

Map of Lake Chautauqua

Chautauqua Lake, at 1,308 feet above sea level, is one of the highest navigable waters in North America. It offers exceptional fishing for walleye, bass, muskellunge and several species of panfish. Located in the southeast corner of Chautauqua County, Chautauqua Lake is about 17.5 miles long and has a surface area of 13,156 acres.

Chautauqua Lake is divided into two basins of nearly equal size by Bemus Point. The north basin of Chautauqua Lake averages 25 feet deep, with a maximum depth of 75 feet. The south basin is considerably shallower, with an average depth of 11 feet and a maximum depth of 19 feet.

Public boating access and shoreline fishing are available at the Prendergast Point boat launch, and Long Point State Park where a marina and day-use area exist. Public boating access is provided at the Bemus Point boat launch. Additional shoreline fishing access is available at Tom's Point Multiple Use Area, the recently acquired Cheney Farm (providing 1,100 feet of shoreline access) and the Stow Property (providing 1,100 feet of shoreline access). A universally accessible waterfowl hunting blind and observation deck was recently constructed at the Stow Farm site and is available for public use.

History

Bemus Point Hatchery, circa 1908
Bemus Point
Hatchery, circa
1908
Approximately 50 pound muskie handled by hatchery staff, 1937
Approx. 50 lb
musky handled
by hatchery
staff, 1937

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.

Bemus Point Hatchery, circa 1918
Bemus Point
Hatchery, circa
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 newly (2006) resurfaced Bemus Point Fishing Access Site, providing trailer launch access to Chautauqua Lake. Production of muskellunge at the modern Prendergast Hatchery facility uses a combination of in-hatchery and outside/pond rearing to maximize survival of the 25-30,000 eight inch+ fingerling muskellunge stocked out to Chautauqua Lake and other area waters. 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.

Strange and Unusal Events

Perhaps no event in the annals of Chautauqua Lake fishing history was stranger than the catch of a paddlefish off Bemus Point in 1872. According to the Jamestown Journal (July 15, 1872, A Big Thing At the Fish Market);

"Bemus Point yesterday was somewhat astonished by the appearance upon the surface of old Chautauqua Lake a mammoth fish who was terrible agitating the otherwise calm and placid waters. It was the largest fish ever caught in the lake, measuring six feet in length, and on its nose was a bill, very wide and flat, nearly a foot long. The fish weighed one hundred and twenty pounds....."

One can only surmise that this lone paddlefish specimen migrated under flood conditions into the lake from the Ohio River via the Allegheny, Conewango and Chadakoin rivers. The distressed fish was later stuffed and displayed at the Union School in Mayville and a photograph was apparently taken that has not been seen to date.

Fish of Lake Chautauqua

Perch, Pumpkinseed, Bluegill, Crappie & Bullhead

Yellow perch, white perch, pumpkinseed, bluegill, crappie and bullhead can be caught year-round in Chautauqua Lake. These tasty fish are fun to catch for both the novice and expert angler alike. Weed lines are often good spots to locate panfish-they provide security from predators and are an abundant food source for insects and other invertebrates. During the summer and fall, live baits such as minnows or worms produce the best catches. Preferred gear is an ultralight rod and reel with 4-6 pound test line. Live minnows fished with a bobber are a popular technique, but anglers fishing small jigs tipped with bait are also successful.

Fishing for bullheads is a popular activity during the spring and early summer. Since bullheads are most active after sunset, fishing during the evening hours with the aid of a lantern is usually the most effective way to catch these fish. Try still-fishing, using nightcrawlers, crayfish or scent-attractant baits. During the spring spawning period, bullheads concentrate over areas of soft bottom.

Recent DEC surveys indicate healthy numbers of bullhead, yellow perch, sunfish and white perch and fishing predictions are favorable for these species. Action has been variable for crappie which continue to experience cyclical changes in abundance. The best fishing for crappie continues to be in spring and fall in the shallow windward embayments where warm surface water attracts baitfish. Today, statewide regulations apply to these species.

Bass

Chautauqua Lake Smallmouth Bass
Chautauqua Lake
Smallmouth Bass

Chautauqua Lake ranks among the better bass lakes in New York State. Shallow,weedy areas and under docks offer exceptional cover for largemouth bass, while deep drop-offs and gravel bars often contain good numbers of smallmouth bass. Casting from shore or boat is are effective for Chautauqua Lake bass; it allows the angler to place a lure directly into structure 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.

DEC fisheries staff consider the fall, smallmouth fishing to be exceptional and underutilized. Recent fishing tournaments held in October regularly have winning weights exceeding 20 lbs for the 5 fish creel entries. Surprisingly, rocky shoals at creek mouths and islands in the south basin prove to be the most productive areas in fall for smallmouth bass. Although surveys indicate moderate numbers of "trophy" bass, fishing can only improve if more bass are released by anglers.

Muskellunge

Chautauqua Lake Muskie
Chautauqua Lake
Muskellunge

Chautauqua Lake is recognized as a premiere, world-class muskellunge fishery. Many fish in the 40-50 inch class are caught each year. Although not known for producing New York's largest muskellunge (the St. Lawrence River or Buffalo Harbor hold this honor) the action can be fast and furious and the lake is almost always fishable. While anglers use a variety of methods to catch musky, two proven techniques are trolling and casting in the shallow weedy bays. Trolling is generally more effective, but requires specialized techniques and experience. Speed trolling, or trolling in the "prop wash" has become in popular in recent years but specialized gear is needed to handle the strikes of trophy muskellunge on such short line. If you are interested in only the largest musky, a radio tracking study in the late 1990s showed the largest fish spent their time suspended over deep water rather than associated with structure. Smaller to moderate sized musky were normally associated with weed lines and drop offs. DEC surveys indicate a healthy musky population that has rebounded from declines in the early 1990s. More than 75% of the musky handled in the trap nets result from fingerlings stocked by the NYS-DEC Prendergast Hatchery. In 2006, the stocking rate will be increased from 10,000 to 13,000 pond-finished fingerlings averaging 8.5 to 9 inches in length with an even larger length achieved for ponds that receive minnows donated by the Chautauqua Musky Hunters, a local chapter of Muskies Inc. The minimum size limit for musky in Chautauqua is 40 inches and the creel is limited to one fish per person, per day. To maintain quality muskellunge fishing, anglers are encouraged to release their catch without even bringing the fish into the boat. Studies show that if muskellunge are handled carefully the odds of surviving to be caught again are excellent.

Walleye

Chautauqua Lake Walleye
Chautauqua
Lake
Walleye

Walleye, a non-native but highly popular sportfish in Chautauqua Lake, was introduced in the early 1900s but did not show a visible presence until the 1960s when several strong "natural"; hatches greatly increased their abundance and popularity. On average, over 30% of the angling days on Chautauqua Lake are in pursuit of walleye. Supported primarily by the strong 1993 hatch, Chautauqua Lake provided quality walleye fishing through the 1990s. Gradual declines in this age group and the lack of additional hatches has lead to a decline in walleye abundance. Declines in the mid to late 1990s resulted in the initiation of a stocking program in 2003. Since then fingerling walleye have been stocked annually with numbers varying dependent upon hatchery production. To provide protection to the remaining walleye stock, NYS-DEC increased the minimum length limit to 18 inches and reduced the daily creel to 3 on October 1, 2004.

Early season anglers catch walleye along Chautauqua Lake's gravel shoals by casting or trolling minnow-imitating lures. The best fishing occurs during the evening, at night and during early morning hours. During 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.

Ice Fishing on Lake Chautauqua

Chautauqua Lake offers "hardwater" angling opportunities for walleye and panfish. Ice fishing can be an enjoyable outing for the whole family and only requires a minimum of equipment. Clothing is key to an enjoyable ice-fishing experience-dress in layers and use a good pair of insulated pack boots.

Anglers will also need an ice auger, or spud, to cut a hole through the ice and an ice skimmer to clean the ice chips out of the hole. Ice fishing tackle should be geared toward the size fish you want to catch. Generally, lighter is better to catch sensitive-biting fish like bluegill and crappie. Use a short, lightweight fishing pole outfitted with 4-6 pound test line and smaller bait. When fishing for panfish, small jigs work well. Many anglers bait the jigs with "mousies", "oak leaf" grubs, or mayfly larvae (Michigan wigglers). For best results, fish the bait just off the bottom. Some ice anglers use a small bobber placed on the line just below the eater surface, to prevent icing up and to detect the slightest nibble.

Popular areas for yellow perch and other panfish include Mayville, Prendergast, Long Point, Dewittville, Ashville Bay and the Celoron area. 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. Since walleye in the 5-8 pound range are occasionally caught, anglers use heavier fishing tackle. Short, stout spinning rods with a reel that has a good drag system work the best. Minnow-imitating lures and "sonars" are a traditional favorite of Chautauqua Lake anglers. Lures are often baited with a minnow to make them more enticing. Tip-ups also work well, and anglers often set out their legal number of tip-ups and continue to use jigs with another rod.

Public access during the winter months is available at the Prendergast Point, Bemus Point, Long Point State Park, the City of Mayville Park and the Village of Lakewood Park.