Here's a look at five of New York's top spring walleye waters for you to
consider as you anticipate the 2003 season opener.
By J. Michael Kelly
Early spring can be a trying time for New York walleye anglers because the statewide season for their favorite fish ends March 15 and doesn't reopen until the first Saturday in May.
To help New York Game & Fish readers get started when the season reopens, here's a look at five of our state's best early-season walleye holes.
SILVER LAKE Silver Lake in Wyoming County is a fertile body of water with a rich forage base. Bass and northern pike abound, but the crown jewel of this 760-acre lake is its thriving population of walleyes.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation's hatchery system rejuvenated Silver Lake's walleye fishery in the late 1980s and early '90s through repeated stockings of fingerlings. Today, the action is fueled entirely by natural reproduction. Catches of 15- to 21-inch walleyes are the norm in Silver Lake, but lucky anglers occasionally connect with some up to 6 or 8 pounds.
Statewide regulations apply to Silver Lake. The minimum creel length is 15 inches and anglers may keep five walleyes per day. Limit catches are rare for most of the season because Silver Lake's walleyes have no trouble filling up on yellow perch. May, however, is prime time because walleyes will be making up for meals missed during the spawning run.
To find Silver Lake, follow U.S. Route 20 west from Canandaigua through the village of Avon and the intersection of Route 246, which leads south to the village of Perry and the Silver Lake outlet. There is a state boat launch on West Lake Road.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
For a contour map of Silver Lake, contact the DEC's Region 9 office in Allegany at (716) 342-0645. The lake has a maximum depth of 37 feet and a mean depth of 25 feet.
Most walleye spawning takes place along the east shore, and that's a logical place to seek a limit in the early season.
The Wyoming County Tourism Promotion Agency at (716) 493-3190 can assist anglers in finding nearby lodging.
CONESUS LAKE Anglers who count the days until the May 3 opening of the 2003 walleye season can give themselves an emotional lift by walking the banks of Conesus Inlet in the first or second week of April.
At that time, the tributary of Conesus Lake is certain to be packed with spawning walleyes. Many weigh more than 10 pounds.
Bill Abraham, the DEC's Region 8 fisheries manager, said that the walleyes that spawn in the inlet "look like little pigs with fins."
Most of those whoppers will be back in Conesus Lake well before the season opens. The best time to hook one is from then until the end of May.
"Trolling near shore after dark is the way to go in Conesus Lake," Abraham said. "That seems to be the local secret."
Conesus walleyes are notoriously hard to catch at other times of the year because their bellies are usually stuffed with alewives. Unfortunately, alewives that don't get eaten exact revenge for those that do by gobbling down almost every walleye hatched in Conesus Inlet.
"We have almost no successful recruitment of walleyes from the inlet," Abraham said. "All the big walleyes in the watershed originated from the state hatchery on Oneida Lake, and were stocked in Conesus Lake as fingerlings."
To find Conesus Lake, take the New York State Thruway to the Route 390 (Rochester) exit. From there, take Route 390 south to Exit 9, and then proceed on Route 15 into Lakeville, which is at the north end of the lake. The inlet is at the south end and can be reached via Sliker Hill Road.
Conesus Lake spans 3,400 surface acres and has a maximum depth of 69 feet.
There are two state boat launches on its shore, one at the north end in Lakeville, the other about halfway down the east shore at McPherson Point.
The walleye creel limit in Conesus is three fish per day, and the minimum keeper size is 18 inches.
Abraham's office at (585) 226-2466 offers a basic map of the lake, while the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce at (585) 243-2222 can direct anglers to nearby accommodations.
OSWEGO RIVER Other bodies of water may have more or bigger walleyes, but I would be hard-pressed to think of any fishing hole that tops the Oswego River. The walleyes that leave Lake Ontario to spawn in the Oswego in May are able to travel only a mile before a high dam blocks them. The quarter-mile of water between the river mouth and Bridge Street in the city of Oswego may hold hundreds of 6- to 12-pound walleyes at the peak of the spring run.
That concentration of fish attracts hordes of anglers. Shore-casters work the water from park sidewalks on both sides of the 400-foot-wide river. In between, there's usually an armada of trolling vessels and drift boats.
Both casters and trollers rack up their best fish after dark, but considerable patience may be necessary to deal with tangled lines and frayed tempers. To avoid the crowds, some Oswego guides do their fishing between midnight and sunrise.
Because it's less than 15 feet deep in most spots, the Oswego can be fished effectively with shallow- to medium-running stick baits. Anglers also do well at times with night crawlers or bucktail jigs, but if you opt for the latter, be prepared to lose a few lures among the river rocks.
Lake Ontario limits apply to the Oswego, i.e., three walleyes per day, each 18 inches or longer.
To reach the lower Oswego River, follow Route 481 north from Syracuse. In the city of Oswego, turn left onto Route 104, and then take the first right after crossing the bridge. From there you can park adjacent to West Side Linear Park or continue north to the city launch site, Wright's Landing.
The Oswego County Tourism office at (315) 349-8322 is a good source of information for visiting anglers.
BLACK LAKE Black Lake in western St. Lawrence County was once one of New York's most productive walleye holes. But, in the 1960s and '70s, the lake changed dramatically. Expand
ing weedbeds cut into rocky shoals that were important spawning areas. Fishing pressure intensified. Most important, perhaps, Black Lake's crappie population exploded. While biologists are reluctant to put all the blame on the panfish, those calico fish-eaters surely enjoyed feasting on walleye fry.
Doug Carlson, DEC Region 6 biologist, said that the lake's walleye fishery is recovering. Several solid year-classes of walleyes are present, and anglers who target Black Lake's walleyes catch 18-inch keepers consistently, along with the occasional 5- to 8-pound lunker. Bass and northern pike anglers also supplement their stringers with the occasional walleye.
Black Lake is northeast of Watertown, off state Route 37 at Hammond. It's about a two-hour drive from Syracuse.
Several areas of the 10,000-acre lake loom large as walleye hotspots in the early season. The south end of the lake, where the Indian River meets Grindstone Bay, is a traditional favorite. Another hot walleye location is the area between the mouth of Fish Creek and Big Island. A tourism brochure published by the Black Lake Chamber of Commerce, R.D. 1, Box 125, Hammond, NY 13646, includes a detailed lake map, as well as information on boat launches, motels and other accommodations.
LAKE RONKONKOMA Who could have imagined, even a few years ago, that a busy fishing hole on Long Island would be worthy of mention among New York's top walleye hotspots? Thanks to enlightened management by DEC Region I officials, Lake Ronkonkoma now makes the A-list.
Off Smithtown Boulevard in western Suffolk County, Ronkonkoma spans approximately 230 acres and has a maximum depth of 69 feet. Until recently, it was plagued by stunted white perch. That began to change in 1994, when the state stocked the lake with 800 walleyes measuring between 8 and 9 inches. Recent stocking allocations have consisted of about 10,000 2- to 4-inch fingerlings annually.
Walleye growth rates in the lake are excellent, and catches of 18-inch keepers are now fairly common.
Lake Ronkonkoma has a public boat launch on its west shore. However, gas motors are not permitted.
The DEC Region I office in Stony Brook at (631) 444-0280 can provide a contour map. For information on accommodations, contact the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau at (800) 441-4601.
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