Our Western Region's Ice-Fishing Bonanza!

From perch to pike, western New York boasts some of the nation's best, most diverse ice-fishing opportunities. Sharpen your auger, and let's get started! (January 2009)

In western New York, the dilemma facing winter fishermen is selecting a place to go, simply because there's so much variety. Throughout the region, lakes and ponds provide superb fishing for every species from panfish to pike.

For example, just to sample the shoreline shallows of lakes Erie and Ontario would take winters a lot longer than we currently have these days.

Then there are the other large lakes, each with its own ecosystem offering various species -- and usually something special, such as walleyes or crappies. Not so well known are the smaller lakes, where the fishing for bluegills and trout can be hot on even the coldest of winter days.

Most ice-fishermen have their certain species and target favorite spots, such as perch in Lake Erie or walleyes in Chautauqua Lake, but this could be the year to try a couple of new locations.

If perch fishing has become routine for you, hitting the weedbeds for trophy pike can provide a needed jolt of excitement on the ice.

If you're finding walleyes tough to locate, switch to a different lake where a bucketful of hand-sized panfish can make your day.

Other changes that have occurred in recent years include the shorter winters and warmer temperatures, causing anglers to be more flexible.

Ice conditions remain the critical safety factor. One thing that will never change is the minimum thickness for safe ice-fishing -- at least three inches of hard ice.

This year, lack of safe ice may prompt some anglers to focus on new locations such as the shallow bays of larger lakes, or to shift to smaller lakes when ice conditions are questionable elsewhere.

Whether you're trying ice-fishing for the first time or just looking for a change, here are some top locations for a productive outing this season.

Let's start with the recommended smaller lakes in western New York:

CUBA LAKE
Walleyes, pike and panfish are the attractions at this 445-acre lake north of the village of Cuba in western Allegany County.

The maximum depth here is 46 feet at normal levels, but the lake is drained several feet during the winter.

Walleyes are considered to be the dominant predators in this lake, but even with a plentiful food supply, they have slow growth rates. Most fish are in the 15- to 20-inch range. In recent years, pike have been coming on strong, with some lunkers up to 36 inches reported. Good numbers of perch, bluegills, sunfish and crappies are also taken through the ice.

Cuba Lake lies north of Olean. From Route 17, take Exit 28 to Route 305 north for 1.5 miles. Turn west on Route 25, which leads to a boat launch and access site at the south end of the lake.

LIME LAKE
Located in the northeast corner of Cattaraugus County, Lime Lake is a 154-acre impoundment created by damming three natural spring-fed ponds. Panfish species here include perch, sunfish, crappies and rock bass, which occur in large numbers and therefore, exhibit slow growth rates. Though the panfish run small, they make up for it with plentiful numbers.

Walleye fingerlings have been stocked in Lime Lake for about 15 years. To give them a chance to become established, the minimum-size limit is 18 inches, and the daily limit is three fish.

Most ice-fishermen concentrate on the edges of the lake's extensive weedbeds. In the deeper water, primary structure is provided by the tree stumps left when Lime Lake was impounded.

Lime Lake also lies north of Olean. Take Route 16 to the crossroads communities of Machias and Lime Lake, where the road brushes the west shoreline. A cartop boat launch access site is off Route 70 on the eastern shoreline.

CASE LAKE
Case Lake lies between Lime and Cuba off Route 16 outside of the hamlet of Franklinville. Abbots Road runs the length of the western shore, and on the east shoreline is an unimproved boat-launch access site.

Public access is permitted anywhere around the two miles of shoreline.

Trout fishing is the main attraction at Case Lake, which was built in 1970 for flood-control purposes in the Ischua Creek watershed. The lake is 71 acres in size and has a maximum depth of 40 feet.

Yearling brook trout and brown trout, and 2-year-old brown trout are stocked every year n spring. Surplus hatchery breeders -- including some real wallhangers -- are usually available for fall plantings. (Continued)

New York Department of Environmental Conservation fisheries managers consider this a put-and-take trout fishery, since there is little holdover potential. Bluegills and sunfish are the primary panfish species here, though perch and crappies are also present.


Ice conditions remain the critical safety factor. One thing that will never change is the minimum thickness for safe ice-fishing -- at least three inches of hard ice.
 

ALLEN LAKE
This ice-fishing destination in 2,421-acre Allen Lake State Forest lies northeast of the village of Belfast and east of the Genesee River in the north-central sector of Allegany County.

This is another small lake with great trout-fishing potential. It's a manmade impoundment on a tiny tributary of the Genesee River, with 58 acres of water and a maximum depth of 19 feet.

The best access is by way of Route 19. From the crossroads at Caneadea, take East Hill Road easterly to the state land. Turn south on Town Line Road, and then east on Muckle Road to the small parking lot at the lake.

Each spring, the lake is stocked with yearling brookies and 2-year-old brown trout. Surplus breeders from hatcheries are usually stocked in fall. Bluegills and sunfish round out the ice-fishing catch here.

RED HOUSE LAKE
This popular lake in Allegany State Park completes the trio of top winter trout fishing locations. Red House Lake receives plantings of yearling rainbow trout and brown trout each spring, with regularly scheduled

plantings of yearling browns in fall.

Also stocked are adult rainbow or brown brood fish that are no longer needed at hatcheries.

A variety of panfish inhabit the lake, with bluegills and sunfish being the most common species.

Red House Lake has 110 acres of water with a maximum depth of 20 feet. Its 1.8-mile shoreline is undeveloped and open for fishing access.

Allegany State Park is at Salamanca. The quickest route to Red House Lake is via Exit 19 from Route 17. Proceed to the park entrance and the lake.

CASSADAGA LAKE
Cassadaga Lake is a little off the beaten path. It is actually three interconnected lakes, and together they offer a dynamite location for a variety of panfish, and pike.

The lakes are in marshy areas, and the ecology of all three is similar -- expect plenty of weedy shallows. The abundance of fish seems to be about the same throughout the individual basins, with bluegills, sunfish and crappies leading the panfish group.

Local anglers report plenty of perch in their catches. Pike fishermen report fish exceeding 30 inches in length.

Walleyes are also present in the lakes, but it's considered a bonus catch to land one of legal size.

The upper lake covers 102 acres, with water depths down to 35 feet at three locations. The middle basin is a narrow connector to the others, with 24 acres of mostly shallow water, though one deep hole in the southern half of the channel is 35 feet deep.

The lower lake is similar to the upper one, covering 91 acres with two locations dropping down to 50 feet deep.

Cassadaga Lake lies south of Fredonia in northern Chautauqua County. It's on Route 60 at the junction of Route 58 at the hamlet of Cassadaga. Glasgow Road runs along the western shoreline, where a public boat launch provides access at the north end of the middle lake.

LAKE ERIE
We're moving along from some of the smallest lakes in our region, headed to what many consider to be some of the largest, best ice-fishing destinations in the country.

Ice-fishing opportunities on Lake Erie's are nearly unlimited, but an excellent example to include here is Sturgeon Point -- a popular ice-fishing location that provides access to some great perch and walleye fishing.

Most anglers use 4WD or snowmobiles for their two- to three-mile runs to the ledges and dropoffs at 50-foot depths that hold schools of perch and occasional runs of big walleyes.

The most productive rocky bottom structure tends to run northwest of Sturgeon Point toward the Evans-Angola Bar. These waters are a magnet for perch and walleyes. Huge schools of both species will be found here well into the spring fishing season.

The east end of Lake Erie is noted for its rough weather throughout the year. During winter, tricky currents may cause ice conditions to change at various locations as water begins to funnel toward the Niagara River.

Newcomers are advised to stay on the vehicle trails and drill their holes where the veterans are concentrated.

Strong winds can move large blocks of ice on Lake Erie, and while rescues are rare, they have been necessary at times.

Finally, if a heavy fog drifts in here, it's good to have a compass along. These safety precautions may sound daunting, but if you're up to the challenge, these productive waters are probably the best place in the state to catch a trophy walleye -- or your limit of 50 bragging-sized perch.

Sturgeon Point lies west of the village of Hamburg at the end of Sturgeon Point Road off Route 5.

SODUS BAY
As just stated, the embayments on Lake Ontario can keep an ice-fisherman busy all season, but the center of winter fishing activity is Sodus Bay, a pike paradise with approximately 3,000 acres of mostly weedy shallows.

There's plenty of open water, however, with dropoffs around the islands and other bottom structure that holds perch and walleyes.

Sodus Bay is also noted for producing huge bluegills. While pike and panfish favor its weedline locations, schools of perch and walleyes are usually found in deeper water, such as off the west sides of Eagle and Newark islands.

Sodus Bay pike are not noted for their size, but fish up to 8 pounds are taken regularly.

Walleyes can be difficult to locate here, but some real wallhangers are reported every season.

Sodus Bay lies east of Rochester in Wayne County. The best access at the north end is from the state boat launch at Sodus Point off Route 14. At the south end, fishermen may access the ice from the bridge on county Route 143, where there is a bait store.

Irondequoit Bay in Rochester is the metro version of a Lake Ontario embayment, with similar fishing conditions.

CHAUTAUQUA LAKE
Chautauqua Lake, in southwest Chautauqua County, is a noted ice-fishing lake that needs little introduction to most fishermen. During the winter season, walleyes are the main attraction, though good numbers of perch and crappies thrive here along with tasty white perch and sunfish.

A decade ago, walleye numbers had been on the decline for a number of years, but in 2003 the DEC started an aggressive stocking program.

Today, most ice-fishing is concentrated on the northern basin because of the deeper water. Rocky dropoffs are prime locations for walleyes and perch. Favorite locations are the Bell Tower, at the Chautauqua Institution; Warner Bar, north of Long Point; Dewittville Bay and Mission Meadows, south of Point Chautauqua; Prendergast Point, at the fish hatchery; Long Point, at the state park south of Warners; and Victoria Bar, across from Long Point.

Special regulations for walleyes are three fish per day, with a minimum length of 18 inches.

Tip-ups baited with live minnows are effective for both walleyes and perch. But most fishermen prefer to jig, using a great variety of lures usually tipped with a minnow, mousie or grub. Swimming lures are also popular. Lures with fins produce a darting motion on the lift and drop.

Route 17 crosses Chautauqua Lake at Bemus Point. Access sites include Prendergast Point boat launch, Long Point State Park, Bemus Point boat launch and the Toms Point Multiple Use Area, where the DEC has recently acquired 1,100 feet of shoreline.

SILVER LAKE
A contour map of Silver Lake reveals that it's mainly a pike-panfish lake. Its gently sloping bottom indicates plenty

of weedy shallows and little other structure, if any.

The DEC reports that most pike in the lake range between 18 to 25 inches, but some lunkers exceed 35 inches.

\Walleyes are being restored in Silver Lake with a stocking program using both fingerlings and fry. The project has produced good numbers of fish ranging from 15 to 25 inches (minimum legal length is 16 inches).

A few fish up 8 eight pounds have been reported. Jigging for panfish is very popular here with bluegills, sunfish, perch and crappies showing up in mixed bags.

Silver Lake's 836 acres lie west of Letchworth State Park in eastern Wyoming County near the village of Perth. A boat-launch site on West Lake Road provides access.

CONESUS & HONEOYE LAKES
Ice-fishing opportunities in the western Finger Lakes could also include Canadice and Hemlock lakes. Here are the essentials to get you started on these productive waters.

Conesus Lake is eight miles long and averages about a mile in width. With a maximum depth of 66 feet, it was formerly a red-hot fishery for walleyes and perch. But these species are greatly diminished due to a population explosion of alewives, which eat perch fry and otherwise compete with sport species for food.

Walleye numbers are increasing with annual stockings. Perch seem to be increasing slightly as well, but ice-fishermen now concentrate on the lake's excellent pike and panfish populations.

The lake lies 25 miles south of Rochester in Livingston County, west of the village of Livonia. Route 256 and local roads provide access to Conesus Lake, with boat-launch access sites on the south end and east shoreline.

At 4.5 miles in length, Honeoye Lake is the shallowest Finger Lake with a maximum depth of 30 feet. Abundant beds of eelgrass, pondweed and milfoil extend out from shore into the 15-foot depths.

Annual stockings of about 8.7 million fry maintain a good population of walleyes. These fertile waters also produce jumbo-sized panfish, which attract fishermen here year 'round.

The lake lies 28 miles south of Rochester and about 11 miles north of Naples, in Ontario County. Route 36 runs along the west shore, and East Lake Road follows the other side.

Boat launches provide access at the south end (off East Lake Road), and north end at Sandy Bottom Beach (off Route 36).

For maps, accommodations and other information about winter fishing in western New York, call Visit Rochester at 1-800-677-7282, the Finger Lakes Visitors Center at 1-877-386-4669, the Chautauqua Visitors Bureau at 1-866-908-4569, Discover Allegany County at 1-800-836-1869, the New York State Tourism office at 1-800-CALL-NYS or the Lake Erie Fishing Hotline at (716) 855-FISH.

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