Outdoors With Craig Robbins

With bass and muskie season opening yesterday, daytime temperatures in the mid 80s and weeds starting to reach the surface, it is a sure sign that summer has arrived in Chautauqua County.

Any angler worth his weight in fishing lures knows as soon as the heat of summer rolls in, fishing traditionally slows down. So far, this season has been different. With the cool, wet spring and late ice off, this season so far has been more productive for anglers.

Chautauqua Lake holds the honor of having three totally different bodies of water in one. The upper basin is known for its excellent smallie fishing. The southern basin is home of some of the best largemouth fishing in the northeast. The outlet offers anglers a step back in time and many different species to case.

The vegetation in the southern basin is custom made for largemouth bass. The many rocky points running close to weedlines are a great area to reach Chautauqua Lake’s largemouth bass. Cheney’s Point and Warner’s Bar are an excellent example of this type of quality structure the lake offers.

During a normal summer, mid-July generally sees surface water temperatures in the mid 80s. This season anglers have been finding it hard to get a consistent water temperature. One morning it may be in the low 70s and within a matter of a few days it may be hanging in the high 70s again.

Water temperature is one of the keys to where the fish will be holding. When the water temperature on any body of water is yo-yoing, fish aren’t consistently in the same areas. Freshwater fish like a consistent water temperature and they will change their feeding patterns with the water temperature. While there are several reasons for this, the simplest explanation is baitfish. Where the baitfish are hanging out you’ll find that the bigger fish won’t be far away.

Wind direction goes hand in hand with water temperature. When the wind blows out of the north/northeast on Chautauqua Lake, anglers are going to see a drop in water temperature. A west wind is generally good for fishing on Chautauqua Lake, but a southwest wind turns the fish on like no other.

Sun-up is an excellent time to throw a Zara Spook, buzz bait into the water. As the day heats up, move out of the shallows into the deeper weed pockets. Using a Texas-rigged plastic worm or jig/pig combination for bass will help beat the dog days of summer.

Any angler worth his weight in tackle wouldn’t come to Chautauqua Lake without a spinnerbait tied on to a rod. Working a spinnerbait over the vegetation and around docks will help fill your livewell with both smallmouth and largemouth bass.

With 3- to 4-pounders common and some more than 5 pounds being caught on a regular basis, Chautauqua Lake will keep your heart rate up with every cast.

Mid-summer walleye are being reportedly caught on Lake Erie in the 60 to 80-foot trolling range off Barcelona. Many areas of the Great Lakes have that magic 60-80 feet and are adjacent to 120 feet. Once found, these honey holes will produce glassy-eyed monsters throughout August.

Lighter line and longer leaders will produce quality fish in clearer water. Matching your bait with popular forage base is important. Between gizzard shad and yellow perch, Lake Erie walleye have a wide range of food sources available.

If preseason success is any indication, the 2014 season should be another good one. Whether one trolls or casts for muskie, lakes such as Chautauqua can deliver with both styles.

Casting jerk and oversized spinner baits and bucktails over the weed edges can, and will, produce strikes. Trolling the open water of the upper basin of Chautauqua Lake over large, deep running crank baits will make you reel clink off line.

I have found that as the surface temperature of the water increases, muskie will hold in areas where there is plenty of vegetation in 6-12 feet with deep dropoffs nearby.

Remember, the key to success of any muskie fishery is catch and release of this precious resource. Keeping that in mind, the longer one keeps his catch out of the water for pictures, it decreases the chances for a successful release. There are many keys to any successful release, but the three that are the most important in my option are:?keeping the time the fish is out of the water at minimum; never holding the fish by their gills; and when placing the fish back in the water, put them in belly first.

There are many videos online that show the proper way to successfully release fish back in the water and it’s worth the time for any angler to learn the right way to practice catch and release.