Western New York – Chautauqua County, more importantly – has many things to offer our visitors. I am not really that excited about the word tourists, but I do like the word visitors. It seems to me that some high-priced consultant came up with the word tourist many years ago and it has stuck. I prefer the word visitors because visitors is more personal. What could be more personal than the folks who spend their hard-earned money to travel to Chautauqua County and visit?

When growing up I can rarely remember a time when we didn’t have an extra plate set at the family dinner table for a visitor. You all remember the family dinner table. That’s when an entire family would gather at the end of their day and enjoy a meal and share the events of the day with other family members.

Like most things, time has changed the way we all eat our family meals. Often times it’s on the run going from one event to another or eating with a couple of family members while others are either off on their own or working. The family dinner table isn’t what it used to be, but what hasn’t changed is that a visitor still should always be somebody special.

The folks who visit our great county each year should be treated like a dinner guest – with respect and affection. I am a firm believer that just like the visitors to our county, the critters that roam the woods and swim in our lakes and streams are not property of just one person or one group of people. They are for everybody to share and enjoy.

Each year I hear the same folks saying the same thing – all the tourists and “tournaments” come into our lakes and take all our fish and shoot all our game. Well, I am here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. As a rule, visiting sportsmen give more back to our natural resources than they take. Now I am sure there are a few who bend the rules a bit, but generally visiting sportsmen do more for the lake and local businesses than we could do alone.

While the argument is rampant around the lake which species of fish is the most important, there is little resistance to what is the most popular species on Chautauqua Lake: It’s the bass.

During the 2012 fishing season, Chautauqua Lake averaged 3.2 bass tournaments each weekend from the third Saturday in June until Labor Day. This is an unofficial survey, but as my friend Lee Harkness says, “It’s pretty close.”

These tournaments and events are an economic major force for local businesses and folks around the lake. While not all of these events are “big” (50-plus boats) tournaments, Chautauqua Lake hosts more bass tournaments than any other inland water in the state.

Many have asked why is this and how can we get more from these events? Well, the why is easy. There are more bass in Chautauqua Lake than most fisheries twice its size and we offer more public access through launches than the others.

What about getting more from these anglers? Why should we even try? They spend money on gas, hotels, food and tackle; and often times they return to our area with family and friends.

As a lifelong angler of Chautauqua Lake and licensed New York State fishing and hunting guide, I watch folks each season catch their first and often times their largest bass on Chautauqua Lake.

The days of going to the tackle store and purchasing a few plastic worms and a couple stick baits to go bass fishing have gone to the wayside. Today, most enjoy custom boats, specialty rods and reels, and more colors of plastic worms than one can imagine.

To catch a bass, one could spend a bunch of money, but fortunately we don’t have to. With bass season now officially opened, anglers throughout the area and country will be finding their way onto Chautauqua Lake to chase their favorite freshwater species.

Here is a little-known secret: The No. 1 bait for catching bass not only on Chautauqua Lake, but also on any body of water is the plastic worm. More plastic worms have been sold than all other artificial baits combined. Why is that? Because plastic worms will catch bass anytime of the year, in most water conditions and are fairly easy to use. Generally, anybody can use them.

Today anglers are putting down their bait casting setups and are going old school with spinning outfits. A good medium to medium-heavy 6 foot or 6-foot-6 rod will do most of the plastic worm fishing one would want to do. Teaming the rod up with a good-quality reel like Shimano’s Sytemre 2500 and 10-pound Gamma line, you’ve got a great all-around worming outfit.

While there are many shapes and sizes of plastic worms on the market today, I generally throw a 6-inch worm with a curly tail. Using a 3/0 offset hook, you can Texas rig your offering to be almost weedless. The key to fishing a plastic worm is keeping it in contact with some form of structure, so a weight is important.

For years I have used what is called a bullet weight. I’ve never been a fan of pinching or pegging the weight. I prefer to let the weight slide freely up and down my fishing line. This allows the bait to feel natural when a bass picks it up, not like some 1/8-ounce worm.

When it comes to colors, there are more colors of plastic worms then one can imagine and even some that you couldn’t dream up. I use the KISS (keep it simple stupid) method when choosing colors. Match the color with the forage base in the lake or pond you are fishing, this will help in the selection process. Pumpkinseed, black, motor oil, red and black shade are great colors to begin with. Also, either dipping or buying worms with a yellow or orange tail will often times draw the tough bite.

Plastic worms can be thrown around any structure such as weeds, boat docks, wood or anything that holds fish. Like color selection, there are a zillion ways to work a plastic worm. I prefer pulling it or bouncing it along the bottom or off of a structure.

Learning the weight of your offering will tell you when you are getting a bite. Another way of knowing the fish are liking your bait is when the line moves. If either of those two things happen, it’s time to set the hook.

Much has been written and spoken about plastic-worm fishing for bass, and if you’re not using plastics when you go out, you are surely missing some great action.

So what makes Chautauqua Lake one of the best fisheries in the state? The people of the area, and of course an underwater critter that we call the bass.