With the first hint of spring in March, New York anglers’ thoughts turn to walleyes. New York has some of the best walleye fishing in the country. A few places are well known; a few have yet to attract attention.
Even though walleye season is weeks away, now is the time to start planning. Reservations must be made for accommodations at motels or campgrounds near the more popular walleye hotspots. If you plan to fish with a guide, book early. The best dates with the top guides are often booked a year in advance.
EASTERN LAKE ONTARIO
Perhaps the best place to start the walleye season in New York, especially if you want really big walleyes, is the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Walleyes weighing more than 10 pounds are common here, and some go a few pounds more.
Fishing typically gets started in Black River Bay. Some early action takes place in the shallow water at the head of the bay. Later, the better fishing moves down the bay with the spawning schools.
Walleyes in Black River Bay are accessible in smaller boats. Trolling and jigging or bait-fishing over small points and other structure that project from the shoreline are popular fishing tactics. Early fishing might also be good in Chaumont Bay or Guffin Bay, particularly around Cherry Island.
The better fishing tends to be farther into Lake Ontario, but out here boats are subject to rougher waves. This is no place for smaller craft or inexperienced Aboaters. Check Everleigh Point and Pillar Point between Black River Bay and Chaumont Bay when fishing gets slow in the bays. Also, try the outside point of Grenadier Island, just outside Mud Bay.
Several public boat launches are scattered along this area. Guide services are available.
Traveling from Syracuse and other points south, take Interstate Route 81 north to exits 41 through 48 to access various points along this section of eastern Lake Ontario.
Information about places to stay and other local services is available through the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council, 43373 Collins Landing, Alexandria Bay, NY 13607; call (800) 8-ISLAND, or visit the agency’s Web site at http://visit1000islands.com.
Chautauqua Lake rivals any walleye fishery in the East. This 13,300-acre natural lake gets more fishing pressure than any other lake in the state, yet it produces good walleyes year after year.
Some of the best springtime walleye fishing takes place over and along the edges of the numerous rocky points and bars. Troll or jig deeper water around the bars and points during the day. At night, walleyes move into shallow water where they can be caught by casting stick baits.
Trolling in the shallower southern basin, south of the Interstate Route 86 bridge, can be effective. Maximum depth in this part of the lake is about 20 feet, but most of it is shallower. The northern basin is deeper, more than 30 feet in places, with several deeper holes. Stick to water in the 15- to 25-foot depth range early during the season.
Chautauqua Lake is in the southwestern tip of the state. From Buffalo, take Interstate Route 90 west to Route 394 at Westfield, and then southeast to the lake. The Prendergast Boat Launch is off this route.
Get information about local services from the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 1441, Chautauqua Institution Welcome Center, Route 394, Chautauqua, NY 14722; or call (800) 242-4569.
For the latest fishing information, call (716) 763-9471; or visit the Web site at www.tourchautauqua.com.
Oneida Lake is often billed as the best walleye lake in New York, and it might be. In any case, it is a great walleye fishery. This 51,000-acre lake has been a mainstay of walleye fishing in the state.
Hot springtime walleye action takes place in the shallows. Some anglers make their catches by wading near the boat launches and casting stick baits. Get there in the morning before sunup, or in the evening just before sunset. Walleyes will be close to shore during periods of low light.
Deeper water can mean oxygen problems during summer, so concentrate on depths of 15 feet and shallower.
Oswego Lake is north from Syracuse, with Interstate Route 81 crossing the outlet.
Information about places to stay and other local services is available through Oswego County Department of Promotion and Tourism, County Office Building, 46 East Bridge Street, Oswego, NY 13126; or call (315) 349-8322.
Honeoye Lake is the shallowest, with a maximum depth of about 30 feet, and second smallest of the Finger Lakes, with a surface area of 1,772 acres. Like most of these lakes, it is under-appreciated. Walleye fishing might not rate with the best New York fisheries, but it is worthy of mention.
One thing lacking at Honeoye Lake is classic springtime walleye structure. Look for schools of fish in the thinner outer edges of the weedbeds that surround the lake. Use weedless jigs tipped with bait or thin pork strips.
Honeoye Lake is south of Rochester. Take Interstate Route 390 South to Route 20A, then go east to the lake. The public boat launch is at the southeastern end of the lake.
Information about the area is available from Finger Lakes Tourism office, 309 Lake Street, Penn Yan, NY 14527; call (800) 548-4386, or e-mail them at email@example.com.
The Susquehanna is another hotspot that has yet to be recognized widely for its superb walleye fishing. Look for the best spring action around Binghamton and downstream to the Pennsylvania border near Sayre. The river is wide and deep here and is suitable for small boats.
Information about local services is available from the Broome County Convention and Visitors Bureau, 49 Court St., Metro Ctr., 2nd Floor, Binghamton, NY 13901; or call (800) 836-6740.
The Allegheny Reservoir produced New York’s state-record walleye, a 16-pound, 7-ounce monster. If that record is broken, it will likely be by another fish from the same body of water. This might seem contradictory because the walleye growth rate here is not that good. Often it can be difficult to find keeper-size walleyes.
The Allegheny Reservoir is shared with Pennsylvania; in fact, about two-thirds of it is in Pennsylvania. But it is well known among locals that the best walleye fishing is in New York. The only drawback with this part of the reservoir is that a fishing license from the Seneca Nation of Indians is required.
Early-season fishing success is largely dependent on the weather. Heavy rainfall will keep the reservoir high and make fishing difficult. This is a U.S. Corps of Engineers flood control reservoir, so water is held back to prevent downstream flooding. But that is usually finished by the start of walleye season, or soon thereafter.
The best walleye fishing during the first couple of weeks of the season is often toward the head of the reservoir. Trolling can be one way to find the fish. Many locals prefer to use electric motors to very slowly troll jig-and-bait combinations. Later in the season, the action moves closer to the state line.
Visiting anglers can get information about local services from the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau (see above).
Last, but certainly not least, Lake Erie is one of the top walleye hotspots in the country. Tournament anglers and charter boats regularly hit the docks with some impressive catches.
According to a report from the NYSDEC Lake Erie Unit, walleye survival continues to be high and exploitation low. Last year, fishing pressure was the second lowest it has been in 16 years of tracking, yet the walleye harvest ranked 11th.
Walleye fishing can be good anywhere from Barcelona to Buffalo. Stick baits and spoons that look like smelt and shiners can be effective when trolled, but many walleyes are caught on night crawler harnesses.
Look for walleyes in relatively shallow water during spring. Nighttime fishing can be good in depths of less than 20 feet. During the day, look for depth breaks.
Anglers may find more information about local services from the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau (see above).
Perhaps the best place to start the walleye season in New York, especially if you want really big walleyes, is the eastern end of Lake Ontario.