Chasing King Of Fresh Water On Chautauqua Lake

The most difficult game fish in the world to catch lives right here in our backyard.

Somebody a few years ago made the statement, ”Some of the finest and most diverse freshwater fishing opportunities are within an 90 minute drive of Chautauqua County.”

Some folks have argued that point, but let me point out that from Dunkirk Harbor to the shoreline of Lake Ontario to Chautauqua Lake, anglers can catch everything from monster walleyes to lake trout to king salmon to both species of bass to line-busting muskies.

While there have been several species of fish that are more tasty or easier to catch, there is only fish that is truly the king of freshwater fish- the muskellunge.

Over the years musky hunters have seen the good, the bad and one of the most significant comeback stories in recent fisheries management on Chautauqua Lake.

The third Saturday of June, this year the 15th, signals the opening of the muskie season in Western New York, which means anglers will be rushing to Chautauqua Lake to chase some monster muskies. There may be fisheries that can produce larger muskies, but there isn’t a fishery that can consistently produce greater numbers of these toothy critters.

The current muskellunge daily limit of one fish per angler and a minimum of 40 inches is enforced on Chautauqua Lake. While the attitude of catch and release is encouraged and practiced on Chautauqua Lake, this season promises to be an excellent musky year.

Casting has been a popular method of catching muskie across the country and trolling has been quickly regaining its place as the No. 1 way folks chase these elusive fish. OK, trolling has been popular, but what has changed over the years is the type and style of baits that successful muskie hunters use to bend their rods.

While deep water or slow trolling has been the most popular method of trolling over the years on Chautauqua Lake, there have been more anglers fine tuning this old technique over the past couple of years than any in recent history. Slow or deep water trolling used to be a way anglers have used to find fish then they would use a little luck to put them in the boat.

What I used to call blind trolling would find anglers trolling in deeper water in the northern basin on a random path looking for hunger muskies. Attempting to get these finicky fish to bite using this method is like finding a needle in a hair stack. Types of bait using this style of trolling depended on whichever would match the forage base in the lake. While popular in the past, this style of trolling has been made better.

Today’s muskie hunters have the use of a whole bunch of new technology to find and catch these muskies. Between high-end depthfinders to underwater cameras, we have learned more about how muskie move and what they do once they get there. Deep water or slow trolling for muskies is more successful with the use of these new gadgets. While new high tech toys are great on looks, when used correctly, they can be a great learning tool.

Slow trolling is used to target deep muskies when they are holding off breaks, outside of deep weed edges or just hanging out around off shore structures. For those that believe there aren’t any offshore structures on Chautauqua Lake, then you’re missing some great angling opportunities. While they aren’t as easily found as deep water brakes or weed edges, offshore structures can and do produce some great muskies each year.

The first thing one needs to understand about muskies is they don’t get that size by not eating. Muskies hang around other fish always looking for their next meal.

With the use of a good depth fisher and map program, finding these offshore honey holes aren’t as hard to find as one would think.

Slow trolling deep water breaks and weed edges can very successful during midday hours. While it’s generally more popular to use this method in the northern basin, the southern basin of Chautauqua Lake has several great trolling areas.

Baits of choice for slow trolling are wide as one tackle bag, but there are a few that I have found that work best. I prefer crank baits and the wider the lip, the better for me. I prefer my baits move from side to side when I am pulling them. Underwater cameras have shown me that baitfish don’t swim in a straight line, but they move about and around, hence the larger the lip on the bait the better.

Colors are generally whatever has worked for you in the past, but a tried-and-true guideline is keeping with the popular forage-base baitfish. On Chautauqua Lake perch always is best, but new color patterns like silver and black, fire tiger and blue gill are good places to start.

A fairly-new method of trolling for muskies is what some call speed trolling. Just as the name says, trolling your baits at a faster speed is what sets this type of trolling part from the older methods.

Speed trolling works best with shorter stiffer rods then the longer limber rods of slow trolling. Speed trollers start trolling at 5 mph and work their way up from there. The most popular method of speed trolling on Chautauqua Lake is keeping your rod tip in the water with your offering working your baits in prop wash or just outside of it.

Trolling has changed over the years, but the idea hasn’t. It’s pulling baits around with a boat at a variety of speeds and covering a bunch of ground to catch fish.

While it may not be the most exciting way to catch a muskie, trolling produces a ton of fish every year and can be an exciting way to catch your muskie.

But as for me and mine, I still prefer casting and all the excitement that goes along with it.