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Chautauqua Lake Annual Fall Walleye Survey

Bureau of Fisheries Technical Brief #2018045

View or print this technical brief (PDF, 227 KB)

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. A special regulation (3 fish/day, 18-inch min.) and the implementation of a walleye stocking program (2004-2015) helped to promote the recovery. Two of the most abundant walleye year classes on record in Chautauqua Lake were documented in 2014 and 2015, which has significantly increased the walleye population. As a result, walleye stocking was discontinued in 2016 and the special regulation was changed back to the statewide regulation to avoid an over-abundance of walleye having negative impacts on other fish populations. In early October of 2017, Region 9 fisheries staff conducted a fall boat electrofishing survey of Chautauqua Lake to evaluate the walleye population and monitor recruitment of those large year classes.

Fall electrofishing catch rates for walleye on Chautauqua Lake 2004-2017

A total of 371 walleye were caught during 7.5 hours of electrofishing for an electrofishing catch rate of 49.5 walleye/hour (Figure 1). This catch rate is almost double the 2016 catch rate (27.9 fish/hr) and is indicative of an extremely abundant walleye population when compared to the statewide average for high abundance (20/hr). Adult walleye ranged in length from 11 to 26 inches with an average length of 16.7 inches (Figure 2). The average length of 16.7 inches is much larger than the average length of 14.1 inches in 2016 suggesting that the large 2014 and 2015 year classes are recruiting into the current fishery and were well represented in the 2017 sampling. It is notable that over 55% of the walleye collected exceeded the legal length limit (15 inches). Although there is a high abundance of 13 to 16-inch fish in the lake, plenty of large walleyes between 20 and 26 inches are still being caught. Only one young of year walleye was collected during this survey, indicating that low levels of wild reproduction occurred in 2017. Large year classes of walleyes are not expected annually, however, if consistent low levels of reproduction continue another stocking policy will be considered.

Length frequency distribution of walleye from Chautauqua Lake - 2017

As anticipated, adult walleye numbers continue to increase with the 2017 electrofishing catch rate being one of the highest on record for Chautauqua Lake. The only catch rates comparable to this were documented during the last period of high walleye abundance in the late 1990's, which followed large year classes in 1993 and 1996. Statewide angling regulations should continue to be used for walleye in Chautauqua Lake. Angler reports during the 2017 season have been exceptional and high quality walleye fishing is expected to continue in Chautauqua Lake over the next 7 to 10 years. This survey will continue in the future to monitor the Chautauqua Lake walleye population.