Two years ago I paid my first visit to this lake and had such a great time with my brother Red that I wanted to share the experience some day with my son Izaak as well. That opportunity came at the beginning of June and as expected, the early bass fishing season New York has to offer did not disappoint! Each day we enjoyed plenty of thrilling bass action ... and like my son said, "You know you've done really well, when at the end of the day you've lost track of how many bass you've actually caught". Yah- we did get lots of big-uns but the best part is this was really my 26 year old son's first extended bass fishing vacation – where fishing 10-12 hours each day is par for the course and no other activities really get in the way from that.
About Lake Chautauqua and Area:
The lake is approximately 17 miles (27 km) long and 2 miles (3.2 km) wide at its greatest width. The surface area is approximately 13,000 acres (53 km2). The maximum depth is about 78 feet (23 m). While the lake has a similar geologic structure (a very long, narrow valley) to the famed Finger Lakes further east, it is not within the same watershed and therefore not considered one of the Finger Lakes.
At the southern end is the City of Jamestown. We stayed just south of the Village of Mayville at the northern end about 20 minutes south of I-90 Hwy. The trip from the Toronto area can be made in less than four hours; crossing at the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie and travelling thru Buffalo. Mayville has a grocery store, full service marina, large free public boat launch, and choice of several restaurants.
This is a popular tourist area ... so several cottage resorts are available. Despite some of the finest bass fishing of the year however the months of May and June are usually not crowded - either at the resorts or on the water – especially mid week. We chose to stay at We Wan Chu Cottages, a well established fishing resort right on the water and renowned for catering to anglers from all over the northern US and Ontario. To say we were happy with our choice would be an understatement as Peter Wiemer and his staff made sure everything was just right during our stay ... and it was!
In the village of Chautauqua you can visit the popular tourist attraction known as the Chautauqua Institution which was founded in 1874. Here visitors can enjoy concerts, opera, theatre and much more. The region is also recognized as prime wine country and several wine-related events occur throughout the year. Golf, nature trails, horseback riding, birding and cycling are some of the other most popular recreational activities in the County.
Bass Fishing Lake Chautauqua:
Although we caught bluegill and pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, black crappie, brown bullhead, yellow perch and even a white perch – our primary focus was largemouth bass ... with a few smallmouth thrown in to boot.
On day one I brought Izaak to some of the better areas that I still had marked on my Lowrance Unit from a couple of years ago. Interestingly enough, the docks that were marked still held fish but the other areas didn't. Some new docks were added to the way point list ... but it was becoming clear that many of the hundreds of docks that cover Chautauqua's shores were now void of any boats ... and those that held boats, especially of the pontoon variety, were especially productive. Like last time, the choice presentation was a weightless Trigger X Fluttering Worm, rigged wacky style. I used the new 6.5' medium heavy action Rapala Concept Series Rod (which really does minimize tangles) and Shift spinning real with Suffix 832 white braid and a long 10lb test Suffix floro leader.
Father with a Chautauqua smallmouth and son with a largemouth
Most of the docks on Chautauqua are aluminum with cross beams below the surface ... either on the sides or the front and back. As much as we tried to predict which type it was before our casts, there really was no way to know for certain unless the water was clear enough there to see those cross beams. Sometimes you could bring the bait up and over without getting hung up, but not always. Occasionally we had to make trips to the docks to free our baits and much to our delight residents who were around had no problem with this.
On the 2nd or 3rd day of our trip, I was hung up underwater on a rear cross beam far beneath the front of the dock and approached the dock to free my bait. I was on the bow of the boat with my head way below the front of the dock. I freed the worm, dropped it into the water, got back up, only to see a mother and daughter approach in their kayaks. We shared hellos and pleasant small talk while I picked up my rod and began to real in. Much to my surprise ... as well as the two ladies, I suddenly had a 3 ½ lb largemouth on – which jumped nicely in front of the locals before I quickly landed and released her. They were thrilled and quite amazed that such a fish would reside under that dock. Then they paddled alongside and disembarked onto that same dock! My son and I looked at each other in disbelief and he whispered "Holy cow dad- that's their dock and it's like they couldn't care less!" We said our farewells and were thankful they had no issues with my earlier shenanigans... Boy I wish dock fishing was always that pleasant back home!
The first day and a half saw many dock bass like this caught and released
Although we caught the occasional bass over 3lbs from docks ... it was not until late on our second day that Izaak discovered a key secondary pattern, that would prove to be even more productive. Until then though, we were kidding that this lake should change its name to Lake Chaudockwa because it seemed to be the only structure that held fish. He began casting out from shore with two different lures ...the new Rapala Scatter Rap Minnow and the trusty Rapala Husky Jerk; both in perch patterns. Although he couldn't cast as far with the new addition to the jerk-bait style lineup ... he was having some great action with bigger fish that would slam this bait – even close to the boat!
Recalling that back in 2012 my pink and white Rapala X Rap was the hot bait, I had one tied on since the start of our 2014 trip. Although I did catch a few with it, I wasn't even close to what Izaak was catching with his baits ... so with his fish averaging bigger than the dock fish, I too made the switch to a perch colored Husky Jerk and began enjoying consistent success.
As we developed this pattern, we learned it wasn't just any shore out from docks ... but one where new weedgrowth was beginning to develop in 4-5 feet of water. Any deeper or shallower and the same weeds weren't present and neither were the fish. Many shores had the right depth range but nary a weed to be found- so we soon didn't waste too much time in those spots.
Izaak landed the biggest bass of our trip ... this one pushing 5 lbs
During each day of our trip, we had perhaps an hour of calm weather in the morning, followed by northerly winds pushing in a cold front from nearby Lake Erie. One day though we had about two hours in early afternoon when all went calm so with overcast conditions, we brought out the topwaters ... Izaak with his Rapala X Pop and me with a Storm Chug Bug. For those two hours, the largemouth engulfed our baits from the same 4-5 foot areas and it was just plain fun!
Near the end of our trip we stumbled upon yet another very effective largemouth pattern that was about as entertaining as the top water deal. I headed to some new water at the extreme end of the lake only to find another bass boat already fishing the docks ... and another fishing out in that 4-5 foot zone. Instead of hightailing it outta there with our tails between our legs ... we checked out the 6-8 foot zone even further out from shore. "Hmm ... there are some sparse weeds down there Izaak ... and there are a lot of bluegills around for the bass to feed on- this could be good," I commented. Instead of throwing jerks, Fluttering Worms or topwaters however, we began casting swimbaits.
The 3" Storm Wildeye Live Sunfish would cast a mile on the straight Suffix braid and stout 7' Rapala Baitcaster combo and when our first bass hit it the strike was violent and decisive. The four pounder had totally engulfed the realistic soft swim bait so it was obvious he wanted it bad. On my next cast, a twin to the first whacked the bait with equal vengeance and for the next couple of hours we drifted along in the same zone for well over a mile down the lake taking turns between casting the Wildeye and its larger 4" cousin the Storm Kickin Slab – in a bluegill pattern.
That bait would not cast as far and has a shallow diving lip with just one treble on the bottom ... so you really have to let the fish load up for a second before you set the hook. It did account for several real nice bass though and rounded out our productive patterns and lures quite nicely.
A male white perch that apparently was quite happy to see Wil
Highlights of the Trip:
- No Bugs! As much as I love Northern Ontario, late May and early June can be prime mosquito and or black fly season. Here- whether on the water or back at the resort we can't recall seeing any of these flying pests.
- Keeping your boat in overnight. As a tournament angler, we get awfully used to trailering our boats and pulling them in and out of the water each day during pre-fish and the event. What a real treat it is to leave your boat safely in a nearby slip – with power to charge your batteries and ability to easily go in and out at lunch, back for dinner and out again for the evening bite.
- We Wan Chu is located one mile south of the Chautauqua Institute with its famed Bell Tower easily seen from most of the northern half of the lake where we did most of our fishing. Some great fishing occurs quite close to this resort.
- At We Wan Chu we enjoyed the luxury of a new 75' indoor salt water pool where we swim laps and got in some exercise.
- Listening to the Fan 590 AM radio station, coming in clear as a bell from Toronto! As avid Blue Jay Fans, Izaak and I listened to Jays related talk most of the day in the boat and the ball games at night back at the cottage.
- A clean, comfortable cottage – with color TV, hot shower, full kitchen, two bedrooms and big porch with charcoal BBQ.
Izaak casting in view of the famed Chautauqua Bell Tower
- Enjoying a lake where the afternoon bite was typically better than the morning bite. I can't say as I'm used to this – so it was a pleasant change than the normal deal back home.
- Having a private guided tour of the Chautauqua muskie hatchery just five minutes from We Wan Chu! After just completing our muskie egg collection for our hatcheries a few weeks ago (as part of my day job back home in Ontario) I was curious to see how they did things here south of the border. What an enormous operation they have here. Hatchery staff collect their own eggs with custom, specialized trap nets to capture muskie from Lake Chautauqua. 1.5 million eggs are collected right on the boats. Of these, the hatchery produces over 500,000 muskie fry and 185,000 fingerlings up to 10 inches for release in the fall. Thanks to the Hatchery Technician Brad Gruber for the tour!
- Finding three effective patterns that produced well and were fun to fish. Ironically enough ... we did not see one bass on a bed – something so many Ontarians immediately associate with early season bass fishing. We saw empty beds and many with big bullheads or sunfish on them but bass were either done spawning or haven't started yet. Regardless, nature never allows all bass to spawn at once and the choice to fish them on a bed during New York's early catch and release only season is yours to make, should you make the trip.
- Spending a few solid days fishing with my youngest son, enjoying our time together on and off the water... creating fond memories that will last a lifetime!
Storm WildEye Live series swimbaits like these, reel in with very little resistance – until a hungry largemouth attacks it and stops you dead in your tracks.
For more information on bass fishing Lake Chautauqua you can read about my first trip there here http://www.wilwegman.com/USA/early-season-bass-fishing-on-lake-chautauqua-in-new-york.html
For any Canadians anxious to get a head start on some tremendous early season bass fishing at a wonderful affordable fishing resort, please check out: www.wewanchu.com And ... if you are staying there feel free to get in touch with me thru my Focus on Fishing website at www.wilwegman.com for some direction on productive fishing areas.