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New York's Top Five Pike Lakes

New York's Top Five Pike Lakes

Are you looking for lunker pike up to 20 pounds? Any of these proven lakes will do the trick this month. Our expert explains where to find them. (July 2008)

Photo by J. Michael Kelly.

What's not to like about pike?

Northerns smack surface lures and shallow-running stickbaits with reckless abandon. They put up a great fight on light tackle, and they can grow to be as long as a canoe paddle.

Whether you yearn for a couple of small pike to fry, or a big one to cover that blank space on your den wall, July is the month to make your dreams come true in New York.

Northerns feed all summer in hundreds of the Empire State's rivers, lakes and ponds. But the following five fishing holes are especially worth visiting in the next few weeks:

Joe Evans is a New York Department of Environmental Conservation Region 9 biologist. He touts Silver Lake in Wyoming County as the best place in the state to catch large numbers of pike.

"It's not really known for big ones," Evans said, "although every once in a while, somebody fishing Silver Lake will catch a fish in the 40-inch class, which would be 10 to 15 pounds.


"But if you're a knowledgeable fisherman, you can catch a bunch of pike there, with most of them running between 18 and 30 inches."

A small body of water, Silver Lake covers approximately 761 acres and 40 feet down at its deepest, and receives fairly heavy fishing pressure. Not all of its anglers are after northerns -- the lake also holds ample numbers of walleyes, bass and panfish. But if you want a bit of privacy while you fish, Evans suggests that you try Silver Lake early on a weekday morning.

Fish a large shiner or troll with your favorite stickbait along the outer edges of the weeds that ring the lake to a depth of about 12 or 15 feet.

To reach Silver Lake, take the Thruway to the Batavia exit, and then go southeast on Route 63. Just before the Genesee-Wyoming county line, turn right onto Route 246, which leads to the village of Perry. The lake is about half a mile west of there. The state park on the south end of the lake has a serviceable launch ramp.

Anglers can download a contour map of Silver Lake from the DEC's Web site at Click on "Fishing," and then look for the heading "Lake contour maps" on the screen. Lakes are listed by county.

For information on lodging in Wyoming County, try the county tourism unit at (716) 493-3190. Camping is also available at Letchworth State Park, which lies a few miles east of Silver Lake.

The park's phone number is (716) 493-3600.

The public pier at Watkins Glen, in the southwest corner of Seneca Lake, is a year-round pike hotspot.

Even in the July heat, northerns sometimes cruise so close to the pier that tourists boarding for a dinner cruise can see them suspended in the crystal-clear water. Shore-bound anglers are most likely to find pike within casting range at dawn and again in the evening.

Fishermen who encounter no pike near the pier may find them swimming close to shore in the weedbeds in the southeast corner of the lake, as well as outside the Watkins Glen village limits and on the east shore of the lake at Sampson State Park, off Route 96A. Other good locations include Glass Factory Bay, in the northwest corner in the city of Geneva, and Dresden Bay, off Route 14 about one-third of the way down the west shore from Geneva.

Northerns in Seneca Lake average between 4 and 8 pounds. But William "Billy Bob" Lusk -- who sells thousands of big shiners annually to pike anglers at his Seneca Marine bait and tackle shop in Watkins Glen -- has photos of customers with some northerns in the 15- to 20-pound range.

Seneca Lake, at 43,281 acres, is the largest of the Finger Lakes and the deepest by far, bottoming out at 618 feet. It demands respect from small-boat anglers, as its waves can kick up in a hurry. Fortunately, the lake can be accessed at several public launch areas, including sites at Sampson, Seneca Lake State Park at the north end, Lodi Point Marine Park on the east shore and the DEC's Severne launch on the west.

Finger Lakes Tourism, at 1-800-530-7488, will supply visiting anglers with information on accommodations around Geneva and Watkins Glen.

Jeff Robins, a DEC Region 7 biologist, knows well the fish with knife-sharp teeth that swim in Cross Lake and adjacent parts of the Seneca River -- longnose gar, tiger muskellunge and northern pike.

Of the three species of predators, pike are most abundant in the system and grow the largest on average. Robins has seen 15-pounders during electro-shocking forays in the lake

"I would not say northerns are especially common," said Robins. "But when you catch one, it's apt to be good-sized."

Cross Lake is basically a 2,100-acre bulge in the Seneca River, straddling the border between Cayuga and Onondaga counties between routes 31 and 370. Robins describes it as "very weedy" and loaded with white perch. The maximum depth is about 60 feet, with the average closer to 20 feet.

This year, access to the lake is a little less convenient than it used to be because the only fee-launch marina on its shores closed in 2007.

Trailered boats may be launched at the DEC's Mosquito Point launch, off Route 38 about four miles north of Port Byron. From there, it's about a nine- or 10-mile ride east (that is, downstream) to Cross Lake.

The river between Mosquito Point and the lake harbors a fair number of pike. So does the six-mile stretch from the lake to Baldwinsville, where canal locks enable boats to bypass a dam. Below that barrier, anglers who embark at the Lions Park launch will find good pike fishing in deep pools below the Onondaga Lake outlet.

For information on accommodations in the vicinity of Cross Lake, contact the Cayuga County Tourism office at 1-800-499-9615.

Frank Flack, the DEC's Region 6 fisheries manager, said the pike fishery in the St. Lawrence County lake resulted from "bait-bucket biology" -- the professional's term for illegal fish stocking.

Flack said that pike were introduced to Cranberry Lake

sometime in the early 1990s. Although not plentiful, the surviving northerns now run to an exceptional average size. DEC officials have confirmed reports of 20-pounders being caught.

The DEC isn't happy with the new species on the block because they may dine on native brook trout, which only recently have made a comeback.

"We encourage anybody who catches a legal pike there to take it home," said Flack.

Prospects for a Cranberry Lake lunker are best in the weedy bay near Wanakeena, which lies on the southwest arm of the lake, and in the Brandy Brook Flow in the northeast corner. Both have decent spawning habitat for pike and tend to hold fish into the summer months, Flack said.

Cranberry Lake is off Route 3 in Clifton. The St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, at (315) 386-4000, will provide list of nearby motels and campgrounds.

Whether you yearn for a couple of small pike to fry, or a big one to cover that blank space on your den wall, July is the month to make your dreams come true in New York.

Among dozens of pike hangouts in the Adirondacks region, Lower Saranac Lake might be considered a sleeper, since most anglers who fish it are seeking smallmouth bass, not northerns. Yet the lake swarms with 4-pounders. A friend of Rich Preall, DEC Region 5 fisheries biologist once hauled a 15-pounder out of Pope Bay, the foot-shaped cove on the southeast shore.

Other lunker lairs on the lake include Loon Bay at the south end of the lake and Ampersand Bay at the north end.

The trick to catching northerns in Lower Saranac consistently is to stick close to the weedbeds. Where the weeds end, the lake quickly plunges to depths of 30 to 60 feet. Pike may suspend in those areas, but are more likely to be concentrated in and around the watery jungle.

Lower Saranac, part of the Saranac Lakes chain, is about six miles west of the village of Saranac Lake in Franklin County. Access can be problematic on weekends because the state launch on Route 3 is popular with both anglers and campers, who use the ramp to get to island campsites on the lake.

The only alternative to shoving off at the Route 3 ramp is to carry in a canoe or small cartop boat at the small state launch off Route 18 on Ampersand Bay. That launch closes before dark to discourage after-hours partying, Preall warned.

Franklin County's tourism office, at (518) 483-6788, will provide a list of lodging opportunities in the Saranac Lake area.

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