By Tim Huffman
My first time to fish in New York was this May at a Cast & Blast event held by the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Fishing sponsors included Frabill, Plano, CarbonX Rods, Hobie and others.
Erie was too cold and still had some ice floating around but Chautauqua Lake was firing up. Fishing included crappie and smallmouth fishing with walleye, perch, black bass and a musky being fringe benefits. The following are details for chasing crappie on this clear water lake.
Spring to Summer Movements
January to late March is the time crappie are covered with a blanket of ice. Fishermen get out each year, drill holes and fish ledges and other typical spots. Crappie, walleye and perch are all popular fish that cooperate under the ice.
Ice out is usually some time in March, although this year it was April due to the cold winter and spring. As soon as the ice melts, fish make movements to shallow, warmer water for a feeding spree.
May is a great time on the lake. All species are active with many being in a pre-spawn mode. Crappie can be in 1 foot of water up to 8 feet, depending upon the water temperatures and situations.
June crappie are cooperative but later in the month you have to look for edges of weed lines if you expect too have the best success and find the larger crappie. Weed edges are often 8 to 10 feet deep at the deepest edge.
Summer creates a different scenario. Fish will scatter and position in 10 to 30 feet of water. They become difficult to pattern and catch. Electronics are critical to find and target the right depths.
Hitting the Shallows & Weeds
Local fisherman, Don Staszczyk, has logged many hours on the lake. He fishes for all species and we sampled several of them. We learned crappie were not everywhere on the lake. Very specific spots were holding fish. One pattern we formed was dugout channels for homeowners’ boats. Fish were coming into the warmer water. They would be at specific spots and seemed to prefer areas with a lot of algae floating on the surface.
“June fishing should be good here this year,” says Staszczyk. “The fish will be relating to the edge of weeds. Weed lines where crappie are holding are usually around 10 feet out. The crappie will be 10 feet deep or less. Water should be up to the mid to upper 60’s early in the month, but it won’t take it long to warm up as the month progresses.”
Staszczyk’s equipment includes basic ultralight spinning with no specific combo preferred. His favorite bait is a Southern Pro Stinger. He says it is simple, has a minnow profile and a single tail that shakes a lot. Four pound test line might get more bites but he goes with larger 8-pound test line for strength because so many other species of fish are likely to be hitting the bait.
“It’s best to stick with a simple retrieve. I’m usually working the jig under a float so I give it a pop and stop retrieve. I keep it very slow. Most hits come while it’s stopped. One tip is to be sure and keep it in the strike zone once you locate the crappie. They’ll be at some specific depth.
“This time of year, in June, is when electronics is very important. It’s easy to find the weeds, the edges and the crappie. You can find weeds without electronics, but it’s quicker with a locator and you can see the depth of the fish.”
Holes in the Weeds
“Water is cold here,” says local expert, Randy Dustin. “Crappie will probably still be spawning here in June. Many of the crappie will go shallow but a good percentage will stay out in deeper water. Spawning depths may be anywhere from 2 to 12 feet. Remember this water is clear up here. Black crappie will spawn deeper than the white crappie.”
Dustin uses small jigs in a wide range of colors, but he says pink is one of his favorites. He uses an ultralight spinning outfit to cast the lightweight jig. A float keeps the jig at a precise depth.
“Fish will set up on any distinct feature like a rock, hard bottom or wood. There is very little wood cover in the lake because it is illegal to put it in. A few logs have made it into the lake but weed edges are usually a key. My best spots aren’t just weed edges, but they are holes in the weeds. A shale or other hard bottom area where weeds don’t grow creates these spots. The holes will stack up with crappie. Chautauqua has some good crappie in it. All you have to do is find them.”
Chautauqua Lake is 13,000 acres, 17 miles long and 2 miles wide. Its elevation is 1308 feet. The largest nearby town is Jamestown, NY. Chautauqua Institution was founded in 1874 and is a great historical site to visit. Long Point State Park is a good fisherman-friendly launch site.
Fishing trip info and guide service: Craig Robbins, firstname.lastname@example.org or 716-969-9059. Chautauqua County Tourism, tourchautauqua.com.