Cayuga Lake is an incredible two-story fishing lake that supports bass, pike and panfish in its weedy shallows, as well as several species of trout and salmon in its colder depths.
There are excellent fishing opportunities at Cayuga Lake in every season.
Among the 11 Finger Lakes in Central New York, Cayuga is second in size only to Seneca Lake. Cayuga spans 42,956 acres, stretches just over 38 miles from end to end, and reaches depths up to 435 feet.
Long and narrow, Cayuga Lake is oriented from north to south and features steep drop-offs along much of its long eastern and western shorelines. At its north end is an extensive area of productive flats and weed beds spanning several square miles.
Although it has several notable points and tributary mouths, it lacks traditional shoreline structure. Instead, most anglers focus on ledges when fishing for trout and salmon or target docks and shallow weed beds for bass and pike.
As we give you tips for each of the major gamefish species, we’ll share the best fishing spots on Cayuga Lake.
While a boat is a big advantage for some species, we’ll also point you to several of the best shore fishing areas and share a bunch of fishing tips for the lake.
Lake Trout Fishing at Cayuga Lake
Lake trout are among the most sought-after game fish in Cayuga Lake. Sustained through a combination of stocking and natural reproduction, lake trout in this lake are healthy and abundant.
Fish weighing between 4 and 8 pounds are common, and larger individuals are frequently caught.
Cayuga Lake is deep and cold, allowing year-round lake trout fishing opportunities for anglers who can keep track of these nomadic open-water dwellers.
Finding fish typically comes down to finding the right temperature range and locating the baitfish lake trout feed on. Alewives are the top forage species, and where they go, lake trout follow.
The ideal temperature for lake trout is right around 45 degrees, and they’ll seek out water close to that mark whenever possible. They’ll leave their comfort zone in pursuit of forage when necessary, but seldom will they be found in water warmer than the high 50s.
When in doubt, trolling between 80 and 100 feet is a good starting point. Cayuga Lake’s drop-offs are somewhat less steep than those at neighboring Seneca Lake, making it easier for trollers to get into the right zone and stay there.
Jigging takes precedence over trolling once you’ve found a productive area. Start by looking for baitfish and jig right below them using jigging spoons, bucktails or swimbaits.
While boaters have a strong advantage across much of the calendar, anglers can occasionally catch lake trout from shore, particularly in early spring.
Most lake trout fishing happens on the northern half of Cayuga Lake, with areas around Long Point and the Dean’s Cove area being some of the best.
Taughannock Point is another good spot farther south. Lake trout can be caught here from shore during the colder months, whereas they’re often in 100-foot-plus depths in summer.
Spring and fall are the best lake trout seasons, and if you had to pick one month to fish for lake trout in Cayuga Lake, pick May. This month finds lake trout actively feeding all over the lake, often at a wide range of depths.
More: Cayuga Lake’s abundant and big lake trout are a major reason we’ve rated it so highly in our rundown of New York’s best trout fishing lakes.
Cayuga Lake Salmon Fishing
After lake trout, landlocked Atlantic salmon are the second most dominant salmonid species in Cayuga Lake.
Salmon measuring 15 to 22 inches are typical, though the size and abundance of these fish does tend to be somewhat cyclical here.
Atlantic salmon favor slightly warmer water than lake trout and are typically caught closer to the surface.
The best salmon fishing tends to be in the lower third of the lake. The Taughannock area is especially popular. Salmon often congregate off the point at the mouth of Taughannock Creek in April and May, drawn into shallow water by agreeable temperatures and abundant baitfish.
Salmon feed heavily on alewives, but since round gobies were first found in Cayuga Lake in 2013, these invasive bottom-dwellers have become part of the food chain as well. At times, landlocked salmon will key in on gobies, staying closer to the bottom than they normally would.
Fly-fishing for salmon is popular on Cayuga Lake, especially from January through May.
Fly anglers use streamers like Grey Ghosts and Raptor Smelt when salmon are feeding high in the water column. When the fish are more bottom-oriented, wooly buggers tempt a lot of bites.
Unlike lake trout, which spawn on gravel beds in the main lake, Atlantic salmon make an annual spawning run up Cayuga Lake’s tributaries in the fall. October is a great month to target salmon at the lower ends of these streams.
Salmon Creek, on the east side of Cayuga Lake, is a prime salmon spot, as are Fall Creek and the Cayuga Inlet, both of which flow into the south end of the lake in the city of Ithaca.
Cayuga Lake Bass Fishing
Cayuga Lake has earned a reputation as one of the best bets for bass fishing in the Finger Lakes. Largemouth and smallmouth bass are both available, with largemouths becoming more common in recent years.
Nearshore areas all around Cayuga Lake can be good for bass, but the extensive flats at the north end are the best place to start. The northernmost 6 miles of the lake are shallow, weedy, and offer prime bass habitat.
Cayuga Lake’s bass fishing picks up steam in May most years and continues to be excellent right through summer into fall. The lake hosted Bassmaster Elite tournaments in 2014, 2016, and 2019, gaining a lot of attention for its heavy limits.
Casting to boat docks is a productive spring pattern, especially for largemouths. Thousands of docks line the lake’s 106-mile shoreline, and flipping soft plastics under them is a great way to score some chunky bass.
By late June, thick mats of hydrilla and other vegetation form at the north and south ends of the lake, and fishing the deep edges of weed beds becomes the go-to tactic.
We’re so confident in the bucketmouth fishing here, we’ve rated Cayuga Lake among the top largemouth bass fishing lakes anywhere in New York.
When it comes to Cayuga Lake smallmouth bass fishing, the best approach is fishing rocky ledge structure in the 20-foot depth range.
Smallmouth bass are less common than largemouths, and the presence of round gobies seems to have had a mixed effect on the smallmouth populations.
Overall smallmouth numbers are down, likely due to gobies eating their eggs. But gobies are also becoming smallmouths’ main food source, fattening the bass up to larger sizes than ever before.
An 8-pound, 4-ounce state record smallmouth was caught in Cayuga Lake in 2022, which would have been highly unlikely prior to gobies’ introduction.
Fat, football-shaped smallmouths weighing over 5 pounds are becoming the norm, even though fewer smallies are being caught overall.
Given the high quality but lower quantity of this species, we’ve included Cayuga Lake as an “honorable mention” among the top smallmouth bass fisheries in New York. Check the link for all of the recommended lakes and rivers on the list.
More: See our simple bass fishing techniques and tips to catch more largemouths and smallmouths
Cayuga Lake Perch Fishing
All of the eleven Finger Lakes contain yellow perch, and Cayuga Lake offers some of the best perch fishing in the chain. Perch fishing is an option year-round and is most popular during the colder months.
Yellow perch are especially favored by Cayuga Lake’s ice fishing crowd. Though the lake almost never freezes over entirely, the shallow flats at the north end of the lake usually offer a window of safe ice in February.
That’s a great month to jig up some perch.
Most of the water at the north end of Cayuga Lake is less than 15 feet deep, and green vegetation persists under the ice in many areas.
The boating channel that runs north to south through this section of the lake is a prime target.
Jigging spoons, Jigging Rapalas and larvae baits are all great options for ice fishing for perch. There’s a good chance you’ll hook a few sunfish too, and maybe the occasional pike or pickerel.
Throughout the rest of the year, live shiners are the perch bait of choice, and most anglers fish them close to the bottom, two at a time on a double drop-shot rig. A wide range of jigs and mini crankbaits will also tempt perch.
Spring and fall offer some of the best perch fishing opportunities of the open-water season. Schools of perch move around a lot, often in between 10 and 20 feet of water.
Anglers frequently catch perch from shore, but the bigger fish are typically a little deeper. Cayuga Lake produces some beautiful 11- to 13-inch perch, and big perch seem to be more common since gobies found their way into the lake.
Points, ledges and rock piles are all good areas to look for perch, and some vegetation is always a plus. There’s a lot of good habitat along the west side of the lake, north of Sheldrake Point, and around Dean’s Cove.
More: Find the best perch fishing lakes in New York and then catch more of them with our top yellow perch fishing tips and techniques (including the best baits).
More Cayuga Lake Fish Species
Cayuga Lake supports incredibly diverse fish populations.
In addition to the species mentioned above, many other types of fish are common. These include carp, sheepshead, longnose gar, bullhead, and these additional gamefish:
Rainbow Trout & Brown Trout
Along with lake trout and landlocked salmon, both rainbow and brown trout make up a significant part of Cayuga Lake’s cold-water fishery. They’re often caught alongside salmon, as they share forage and enjoy a similar temperature range.
Rainbows, in particular, have become increasingly common in recent years. The DEC stocks about 50,000 rainbow trout fingerlings in Cayuga Lake’s tributaries every spring, and the fish return to these streams to spawn every year as adults.
While rainbow trout spawn in spring, brown trout run up tributaries in the fall. Fall Creek, Taughannock Creek, Salmon Creek and the Cayuga Inlet are a few of the best trout fishing areas.
Taughannock Point is also a popular spot on the main lake to fish for trout from the bank in springtime.
Fly anglers catch their fair share, but spinners, spoons and soft plastics also tempt quite a few trout.
Out on the open lake, jigging is the most popular tactic for catching rainbow trout in summer, with 30- to 40-foot depths often productive.
Brown trout, less common, are typically seen as a bonus catch at Cayuga Lake, and some may weigh over 10 pounds.
More: Learn to catch more trout in our comprehensive trout fishing guide.
Northern Pike & Pickerel
Cayuga Lake supports a healthy population of northern pike. Fish weighing between 5 and 10 pounds are the norm, but there’s always an outside shot at a 20-pound northern here.
Pike prefer weedy habitats and can be found practically anywhere weeds grow around the lake.
Areas along the shoreline from Taughannock southward offer prime pike habitat, especially in the abundant vegetation that grows at the south end of the lake.
Top Cayuga Lake pike fishing spots change from year to year because the configurations of weed beds are ever-shifting.
The period from spring into summer produces a lot of nice pike, especially in the hours around sunrise and sunset, when pike are more likely to hunt in 10 feet of water or less. At midday, weed edges around 15 to 25 feet have potential.
Arguably the best time to fish for pike is October into November, when the fish feed heavily leading up to winter. Rapala X-Raps are great pike lures, along with traditional spoons and spinners.
Chain pickerel, closely related to pike but seldom exceeding 5 pounds, are also common in Cayuga Lake. Historically, anglers have caught most pickerel in the shallows at the north end of the lake, but they appear to be increasingly widespread.
More: Find the best northern pike fishing lakes in New York
Bluegill and sunfish are abundant in shallow areas all over Cayuga Lake. They are commonly caught at the north end through the ice in winter, especially along the edges of the boat channel.
In June and July, they spawn in vast colonies over shallow flats. Bluegill and sunfish are some of the most commonly-caught fish from the bank, and some good-sized fish measuring over 8 inches are available.
Small baits such as mealworms, redworms and crickets as well as small jigs and other lures are among the best techniques to catch bluegill and other sunfish species.
Cayuga Lake was once known as an excellent crappie fishing lake as well, but crappies are less abundant today. Still, some quality fish are caught every spring at the north end of the lake using the typical crappie tactics.
Rock bass are also common in shallow, rocky areas all along the shoreline.
Planning Your Trip
The best overall seasons to fish Cayuga Lake tend to be spring and fall, though summer can also be excellent.
Summer is also the tourist season in this part of New York, so expect a fair amount of recreational boat traffic. In winter, the only boats you’re likely to see are other anglers.
Numerous small towns are on or near either side of the lake. The largest population center is Ithaca, located at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, which offers a great range of lodging and dining options.
Getting to Cayuga Lake
Cayuga Lake is roughly an hour’s drive from both Syracuse and Rochester. The northern end of the lake is just a few minutes south of Exit 41 on I-90, though it takes an additional 45 minutes or so to reach the south end.
Bank & Boat Access
You’ll find no shortage of places to launch a boat or wet a line from shore on Cayuga Lake. The following are some of the best areas to get on the water:
The Mud Lock DEC Boat Ramp is a free public ramp at the northernmost tip of Cayuga Lake, where it flows into the Seneca River. Bank fishing is available along the adjacent shoreline.
Bank fishing and a kayak launch are also available about two miles down the east side of the lake at Harris Park in the village of Cayuga.
Camping and additional boat ramps are available on the opposite side of the lake at Cayuga Lake State Park.
The Ithaca area includes several excellent access options, including Stewart Park, which offers bank fishing on the south end of the lake and along the east side of Fall Creek. Kayaks can also be launched at this site.
On the west side of the Cayuga Lake Inlet, Allan H. Treman State Park offers the largest inland marina in New York, with launch ramps, bank access and dockage.
Additional bank access and an informal paddling launch are just 5 minutes from Ithaca at East Shore Park.
Anglers wishing to launch on the west side of Cayuga Lake have a couple of great options. On the northern half of the lake, your best bet is the state-operated Dean’s Cove Boat Launch, a public launch site with bank fishing access. There is a $7 fee to launch.
Down on the southern portion of the west side, Taughannock Falls State Park is the primary access site.
This state park offers boat ramps, kayak rentals, and ample shore fishing access. Camping is also available, and check out the beautiful hiking trail to the 400-foot Taughannock Falls.
Frontenac Park in Union Springs offers bank fishing and boat launch facilities toward the upper end of Cayuga Lake’s eastern shore.
A few miles farther south, Long Point State Park is a very popular spot that provides boat ramps and excellent bank fishing.
Continuing southward, two parks in the town of Lansing offer access. The more developed site is Myers Park, which includes boat ramps and shore fishing at the mouth of Salmon Creek. The nearby Salt Point site is more rustic, with a cartop boat launch and bank access.
Fishing the Finger Lakes
Before you go, there are 10 other Finger Lakes in this chain, and every one of them has some good to flat-out great fishing.
Check out our complete guide to fishing the Finger Lakes for the full picture.