Chautauqua Lake Fishing (Complete Angler’s Guide)

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Located entirely within Chautauqua County in Western New York, Chautauqua Lake consistently ranks as one of the best fishing lakes in the state for a variety of species. Walleye, bass, muskellunge and panfish offer anglers a wide range of options.

Chautauqua Lake is a natural lake that spans 13,156 acres. It’s a long, narrow lake with two distinct basins of nearly equal size, which are connected by a narrow bottleneck formed by Bemus Point.

Though similar in size, the northern basin and the southern basin have distinct characteristics that make Chautauqua Lake, in a sense, two lakes in one. 

The northern basin is deep, clear, and has an abundance of rocky structure. It has a maximum depth of 75 feet and includes several deep kettle holes.

The southern basin is just 19 feet at its deepest point and features prolific weed beds punctuated by a handful of shallow shoals. 

With such diverse habitat, it should come as no surprise that Chautauqua Lake offers four-season angling opportunities for a wide range of game fish.

Walleye Fishing

Chautauqua Lake has long enjoyed a reputation as one of New York’s best walleye lakes. As soon as the season opens on the first Saturday in May every year, anglers can start catching fish along shallow shoreline areas.

Both basins of Chautauqua Lake can be excellent for spring walleye fishing. As a general rule, the best bite takes place after dark. 

Successful anglers start in the evening, trolling along outside weed edges and transitioning towards shallow weed lines, gravel bars and rocky shoreline structure as the sun goes down and walleyes head toward nighttime feeding grounds close to shore. 

Stickbaits like Original Floating Rapalas are popular for trolling. Depending on how deep walleye are holding at any given time, adding a split shot or two is a good way to get your lure down to the right running depth. 

Worm harness rigs with spinning blades are also excellent choices. Gold, copper and fire tiger blades work best, and anglers typically bait the rig with a nightcrawler.

Downsizing to a smaller spinner blade and just a piece of nightcrawler is often even more effective than a larger presentation on these rigs.

That said, you’re likely to catch a mixed bag that includes some perch and sunfish along with walleye when using real nightcrawlers. When plagued by these smaller bait-stealers, switching to a plastic worm can be helpful. 

Some of the best areas to troll or cast from shore for spring walleye include Bemus Bay, Tom’s Point, Prendergast Point, the Miller Bell Tower area, the area south of Dewittville Creek, Long Point, Cheney’s Farm and Warner Bar.

Deeper areas of the lake offer the best walleye fishing when the lake warms up in summer.

Later on in the fall, there is often great shallow walleye action after dark, when anglers jig and troll for walleye along weed edges and many of the same areas that had produced in spring.

Walleye exhibit slow growth rates in Chautauqua Lake, and the DEC stocked walleye here for many years. Stocking was discontinued in 2015 after several years of successful natural reproduction, and today the population is entirely self-sustaining.

Chautauqua is generally more of a numbers lake than a trophy walleye fishery, but there are big ones out there.

Most years, anglers catch excellent numbers of 16- to 20-inch walleye, along with some larger fish over 24 inches.

Catch More Walleye

Chautauqua Lake ranks among the top walleye fishing lakes and rivers in New York. You’ll want to see what else is on the list. Any near you?

Once you find them, you’ve got to catch them. Read our easy-to-follow guide to walleye fishing techniques, tackle and tips.

Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass

Few, if any, Western New York lakes can match the bass fishing at Chautauqua Lake. Largemouths and smallmouths are both quite abundant here, and the lake is known to produce individuals over 6 pounds of both species.

New York’s bass season is catch-and-release only until the third Saturday in June, but some of the best bass fishing of the year takes place during the month prior. Warming shallows attract a lot of bass in early May, and the spawn is usually in full swing by Memorial Day. 

Though both bass species can be found in both basins of Chautauqua Lake, the shallower, weedier southern half of the lake is generally more favorable to largemouths.

Smallmouths, on the other hand, have more rocky structure to choose from in the northern portion. 

In spring, bass are likely to be in less than 6 feet of water. Riprap areas, shoreline brush and newly-sprouting weeds attract bass to the shallows in Shermans Bay and Burtis Bay in the southern basin, and Whitney Bay and the Pendergrast area in the northern basin.

The central part of the lake in and around Bemus Bay is a year-round bass hot spot. Spawning bass are also drawn to tributary mouths, marina docks and residential canals in the spring. 

The lakeshore is highly developed, and dock fishing is a fairly consistent pattern on Chautauqua Lake, especially for largemouth bass. Pitching and flipping soft plastics around docks is a great way to rack up some solid largemouths early in the day. 

By early summer, weed beds really start to proliferate in the southern basin. This is a great time to twitch a Zoom Fluke along weed edges or burn a spinnerbait or buzzbait over the tops of the grass. Try walking the dog with a topwater as the sun approaches the horizon.

By mid-summer, the southern basin becomes choked with weeds, and attention turns to the northern basin. There are some very productive weedy flats at the north end of the lake around Mayville, with a distinct drop-off to deep water.

Rocky points, bars and ledges in the northern basin are great places to nab some feisty summer smallmouths on tube jigs and drop shot-rigged soft plastics.

Chautauqua Lake stratifies in summer, so you won’t typically find bass deeper than 25 or 30 feet.

Catch More Bass

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Muskellunge Fishing

Chautauqua Lake is a legendary New York musky fishing lake dating back to the 19th century. To this day, it’s the sole source of muskellunge brood stock for the DEC’s statewide stocking operations. 

It has, at times, been a producer of trophy muskellunge, and elusive 50-inch muskies do still turn up from time to time. But for the most part, Chautauqua Lake is known for kicking out 30- to 45-inch muskies in impressive quantities.

Local anglers who know the lake intimately can often boat several fish in that range within a day. That’s pretty impressive for a species known as the “fish of 10,000 casts,” but it also drives home the point that patience is a prerequisite to being a muskie angler.

The summer months, when muskies are highly active, offer prime fishing. But muskies are also spread out in deeper water this time of year. The best way to put fish in the boat is to cover as much water as possible. 

Trolling as fast as 4 to 6 miles per hour, local guides mostly focus on deep weed edges. Areas where weeds intersect with a point or a bay mouth are often best.

Muskies are semi-nomadic, following food sources like white perch, yellow perch and golden shiners.

In the northern basin, muskies may suspend over 25- to 35-foot depths in summer, but they usually aren’t too far from some sort of vegetation.

The southern basin can be easier to fish because it’s so much shallower, but the northern basin often yields more and bigger muskies.

Key areas include the Mayville flats, Prendergast Point and the Bell Tower area. Anglers also sometimes catch nice fish around the pilings that support the I-86 bridge at the lake’s central bottleneck. 

Fall is a great muskie season too. Some of the biggest fish of the year are caught in November, when they’re bulking up for the long winter ahead.

This time of year, consider abandoning the run-and-gun tactics of summer and work each potential spot more methodically.

By late fall, the best spots are often anywhere that has fresh, green vegetation.

Oversized crankbaits like Bagley Bang O Lures and Rapala Super Shad Raps are effective, but giant spinners and bucktails account for some solid ‘lunge as well. 

Crappie Fishing

Chautauqua Lake crappie fishing isn’t quite as reliable as the species mentioned above due to the boom-and-bust nature of their populations. There are always crappies in Chautauqua Lake, but numbers and sizes fluctuate quite a bit.

Black crappies are the dominant species, but white crappies are also available. During a good year, the lake produces prolific numbers of 9- to 13-inch crappies, and anglers catch a few 16-inch fish most years.

The best crappie fishing starts in April, as shallow, dark-bottomed areas in the southern basin start to warm up. Crappies seek out the warmest water available this time of year. If you find water temperatures around 55 degrees, crappies are likely nearby.

The best spots include residential canals and dredged-out marina canals. Unfortunately, private land borders many of the best areas, but some marinas on the lake will let anglers fish on their property for a modest fee.

Tributary mouths and any of the shallow bays in the southern basin can also produce in April, including Ashville Bay and Burtis Bay.

Crappies don’t spawn until mid-May most years, and there is often a great bite around nearshore brush, docks, and newly emerging weed beds.

Live fathead minnows are the bait of choice, but practically any small soft plastic body on a 1/16-ounce jig head can tempt crappies to bite. Live bait tends to work best beneath a small float.

Catch More Crappie

We rank Chautauqua Lake among the best crappie fishing spots in New York. What are the others?

Check out the lures, baits, tackle and techniques we use in our simple how-to guide to crappie fishing.

Yellow Perch Fishing

Chautauqua Lake offers excellent fishing for yellow perch. Lots of 9- and 10-inch perch are caught here, especially during the ice fishing season and immediately after ice-out.

During the hard water season, which usually includes most of January and February, anglers catch perch on ice jigs tipped with spikes or wax worms. Small jigging spoons are also effective, especially when tipped with a live or salted minnow. 

Top areas to find perch in Chautauqua Lake include the Mayville flats, Prendergast, Asheville Bay, Dewittville Bay, Long Point, and the area right around the outlet at the south end of the lake.

Yellow perch spawn in weedy, protected shallows almost as soon as the ice is off the lake in March.

Many yellow perch continue to be caught year-round, though the larger perch school up on deeper shoals and flats while smaller individuals remain in shallow water. 

White perch, technically more closely related to white bass than to yellow perch, are also common in Chautauqua Lake. Though few anglers target them specifically, they are commonly caught through the ice alongside yellow perch and sunfish.

Catch More Perch

What are the best yellow perch fishing lakes in New York?

Check out our simple guide to the yellow perch fishing tackle, tactics and tips that put these tasty fish in your bucket.

Planning Your Trip

Chautauqua Lake offers fishing year-round, including a solid ice fishing season most years. Spring and early summer are arguably the best times to fish the lake, though recreational boat traffic can become a nuisance on summer weekends.

Several small towns and villages are located on or near the lakeshore, including Mayville at the north end, Chautauqua on the west side, and Lakewood to the south. Jamestown, a small city at the southeast tip of the lake, offers the widest range of amenities. 

Getting to Chautauqua Lake

Chautauqua Lake is about an hour south of Buffalo via I-90 West and NY-60 South. The lake is bisected at its midpoint by I-86, which makes it easy to reach from anywhere in New York’s Southern Tier. 

Bank & Boat Access

A wide range of bank and boat access is available on Chautauqua Lake. In addition to privately owned marinas (of which there are many), some of the best places to get on the water include: 

  • Bemus Point: Located at the midpoint between the two basins of Chautauqua Lake, the Bemus Point boat launch site offers concrete ramps and parking for 30 vehicles and trailers. The DEC operates this site, which is free to the general public.
  • Prendergast Point: The DEC operates another free public boat ramp at Prendergast Point, on the western shore of the northern basin, with bank fishing access and parking for 50 vehicles and trailers.
  • Lakeside Park: Near the northwest end of the lake in Mayville, Lakeside Park offers bank fishing, lakeside hiking trails, picnic areas and a public boat launch.
  • Long Point State Park: Boat rentals, launch facilities, bank fishing and a swimming beach are available at Long Point State Park, on the east side of the northern basin just north of Bemus Bay. 
  • Lakewood Community Park: Located on the southern basin of Chautauqua Lake, Lakewood Community Park offers a public boat launch, a limited amount of bank fishing access, and parking for 50 cars and trailers.
  • Lucille Ball Memorial Park: Jamestown’s Lucille Ball Memorial Park provides excellent bank fishing access at the south end of Chautauqua Lake. In addition to boat launch facilities and ample parking, the park includes a fishing pier and a long stretch of riprap bank.
  • McCrea Point Park: A boat launch, accessible kayak launch and fishing platform are at McCrea Point Park, at the Chautauqua Lake outlet at the southeast tip of the lake. 

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