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Outdoors Column: Chautauqua Lake a fishing haven

Rich Davenport with a Chautauqua Lake Father’s Day Surprise musky that measured 50 inches and weighed 33 pounds.
By Forrest Fisher, Rod, Gun & Game

“How’s the fishing?” I asked a fisherman just leaving the canal system located in the southern half of Chautauqua Lake near Vukote. It was obvious that the middle-aged angler was fishing for bigger fish, as he touted some hefty rods with foot-long plugs visible above the profile of his 17-foot Lund boat registered from Ohio. There were also boats from Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York on the water that day.

The angler answered with a nearly southern style drawl, “Yep, caught three musky earlier in the week before the cold front blew in on Sunday night, but none since then, but it’s been fun!”

Chautauqua Lake has been known for its great musky fishing for as long as I can remember. About the mid-1970’s the walleye fishing took off there and has been up and down since, peaking in the mid to late 90’s. The lake is also known for its spring crappie fishing, a tasty and popular panfish that also attracts throngs of early season anglers. Between the musky interest, the walleye fishing and the spring crappie, bass anglers have been left in the distance by comparison, though Chautauqua Lake offers some of the finest largemouth and smallmouth black bass fishing in the entire country. The only better place in New York? Lake Erie!

As I paid closer attention to the anglers fishing in the southern half of Chautauqua Lake, I counted at least six boats trolling for musky or walleye. The slower boats were looking to find walleye and speedier trollers were obvious musky hunters. On some occasions, it is the walleye fishermen that find the tiger toothed musky when they least expect it. With southern basin Chautauqua Lake surface temperatures at 80 degrees on Monday, it is obvious why anglers familiar with controlled depth fishing techniques would switch to sideplaners and lead core line, or slide-divers and Dipsey divers.

On opening day of the state’s musky season last Saturday (Father’s Day), with his line running 30 feet down in the deeper, summer-stratified water column of the northern Chautauqua Lake basin, New York Outdoor News contributor, Rich Davenport, found not just walleye, but an incredible monster musky fish that measured 50 inches in length and weighed 33 pounds. Running a spinner/worm rig with tandem black/orange size 5 blades, the computer wizard by profession fooled one of the biggest fish to be taken from Chautauqua Lake waters in my long term memory.

He headed to see Jim Block at Buck Stops Here Taxidermy in Tonawanda with the monster musky from Chautauqua Lake. More than one memory to remember this fish by. He added, “I was still shaking 24 hours later…I just could not believe the power of that big fish. I will never forget it and in a few months, I’ll be able to enjoy telling this “Father’s Day surprise” while looking at this incredible monster for the rest of my life.”

So many anglers develop a pure passion for fishing after catching just one fish for the first time. They can’t wait to try for another and another. It is something that is hard to explain to some folks who would rather read a book or go to a movie, but that’s for those days with 30 mile per hour winds.

My three-year-old granddaughter asked me, “Can you help me put a hook on my fishing pole?” With a giant grin and plenty of simple language, we tied a Palomar knot to the hook, added a split and clipped on a tiny rounds float that she won from the Tackle Treasure Box at a recent Teach-Me-To-Fish kids fishing clinic at Bison City Rod and Gun Club.

We headed for the refrigerator in the cabin where I had hid three dozen worms from the ladies of the clan and we were soon back outside. “Mommy, did you know that there was three dozen nightcrawlers next to the milk in the frig?” My cover was innocently in trouble. “Not anymore,” I quickly answered, “they’re here with us now and we’re heading over there on the dock to catch a fish.”

Saved by the excitement of the moment, we quickly reduced one of the seven inch mega worms we bought at Weekley’s Worms in Hamburg to a one inch piece and placed the other larger segment into a plastic cup for potential later use. We carefully threaded the worm onto the hook and I proclaimed, “OK, we’re ready to catch some fish!”. A huge grin erupted from ear to ear.

We dropped the line from the three-foot long fishing pole straight down by the dock. I explained, “OK, now we need to watch the bobber, when it goes down, we just pull up on the rod and reel the fish in.” The line no sooner hit the water and it continued to go straight down. “Pull the rod up and reel,” I suggested. She did and started screaming in joy, “I got one! I got one! I got a fish, mommy!”

That started chapter two in Fishing 101 class with my excited granddaughter. “Can we keep it?” The six-inch sunfish was admittedly a cute, finny critter. I explained that we could keep it for while and then “we would see.” “OK,” she answered. “How we gonna do that?” We got a five-gallon bucket and some water and told her that we can watch him for a while.

She was satisfied with that. It was a priceless moment. She said, “Wow, look at him just looking up here at us. Do you think he wants another worm?” About 10 questions later, the novelty of seeing the fish she caught surviving his temporary captivity, came the next question. “Can we get another worm?” I asked if she was going to feed the fish she just caught, “Nope, I wanna catch another one!”

See what I mean? The passion develops from that first fish! I loved that she was not afraid to try again. Maybe now that she knew she would be able to put the fish in a safe place after catching it made that easier. “I’ll get the worms,” she said. She wasn’t quite ready to clip off an inch of the last worm to try again, but this was a great start.

Three fish and 10 minutes later, this happy little bright-eyed youngster looked up at me and said, “I think I need to rest.” She was half asking and half telling me she had enough for the moment. I asked her if she wanted to let these fish go now and let them get bigger? “Nope, not yet, I want to watch them.” I agreed and there we sat. Another five questions later, we needed to go in for some water and a piece of red licorice, the good red licorice, while the fish “rested.”

When we returned, I sat there enjoying the last unforgettable half hour, replaying the moments, when I got a tap on my shoulder. “I think we should let the fish go now.” I smiled to her, then together we tilted the bucket and watched the four fish return to the lake as she said, “Bye mister fishy, I’m gonna catch you when you get bigger!” It kind of reminded me of the “If you care, leave it there” theme that we tell kids when they find a new fawn or a new baby animal that was lost from its mother. A difference was that my granddaughter did it without me telling her.

I couldn’t help but feel that our children’s destiny for the future, our leaders for tomorrow, they can all begin with just a little help and a tender ear at a very early age. There are some very special days in life, they are golden opportunities to share the outdoors and create remarkable bonds for all time. I slept very well that night, dreaming about how big fish dreams start out with the best little fish moments. God bless America!

WNY native chosen for USA Olympic Archery

WNY native archer, Jake Kaminski, a product of the Junior Olympic Archery Development Program (JOAD) conducted weekly at the old Leo’s Archery facility in Depew, later jn East Aurora, now at the West Falls Conservation Society, has been chosen by the USA Olympic team. Kaminski and five other teammates are headed for London to vie in the Summer Olympic competition. Credit to coaches Bob and Eileen Pfeil, and the late Harry and Mary Stabell of Leo’s Archery, for Kaminski’s early training regimen. Kaminski trained for nearly a decade with such high personal discipline to make it this far. Kaminski plans to visit West Falls Conservation Society this summer. We’ll keep you posted.

BassEye returns to Lake Erie

The 11th Annual Greater Niagara BassEye Celebrity Challenge will again take place on Lake Erie out of Buffalo on June 28 - 29. This Redbone Tournament, started by Bob and Mindy Rich of Rich Products, kicks off Thursday evening at the Rich Renaissance Atrium, One Robert Rich Way, Buffalo, with a reception, cocktail party and dinner featuring an amazing cuisine plus live and silent auctions. The catch and release fishing competition begins Friday morning at the NFTA Small Boat Harbor, with an awards reception held dockside. For information, call Gia Coone at the WNY Cystic Fibrosis Foundation office at 204-2535, e-mail, or visit online at

Outdoors Calendar

July 5 – 15: Erie Canal Fishing Derby, Niagara River to Main St. in Albion (Route98) – visit

July 7—8: NYS Walleye Assoc. Ameri-Can Lake Erie walleye tournament, call 875-8148

Send information 10 days in advance to


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2012-07-10 | 07:39:29
Davenport Musky
This fisherman should be ashamed for keeping this musky for a skin mount. It is common knowledge that skin mounts have become abolished by today's fishermen due to the low reproduction rate and fact that all muskies over 35-37 inches are female BREEDERS. This musky would have produced thousands of fry each year. Today CPR (Catch Picture and Release) has been nationally promoted and any fisherman who keeps a musky should bury their head in the sand. Furthermore, to claim this musky as one of the largest caught in decades is also ludicrous. Each year dozens of muskies this size or larger are caught.
2012-09-16 | 23:58:05
Davenport Musky Basher
He did not say the largest in decades so get your facts straight. As far as your "dozens" caught this size or larger each year is a bunch of crap. From around the country yes but not from this lake. Yeah catch and release is the norm but it is his choice he did not break any rules. I have to say back in the day (1970s) there was a 5 fish keep limit for the entire year and most back then kept their fish (30" minimum back then). The walleyes were mor of a threat to the lunge fishery than fisherman even back then.
2012-09-21 | 13:46:15
Unnecessary waste.
This isn't 1950 anymore. Most of us realize the rarity of a fish that big, not as an angling prize to stuff and hang on the wall as in days gone by but for its real value, perpetuation. There aren't going to be any more 50" Chautauqua muskies if we keep seeing the big breeders like this girl get killed. A fish that size is likely 25 years old and extremely rare. Females of this size (and that is most definitely a female) are exceptional in that they often spawn twice in one year, two clutches of eggs released a few weeks apart. Fish ten inches shorter and perhaps half that age spawn only once per year. Only those truly big girls reach the level of optimum maturity and very few lakes where muskies exist ever see this. Those are the big hens and it should be illegal to kill any muskie on Chautauqua anymore. Forget the old notion that "well, Chautauqua has a muskie factory and we breed them here"... Truth be told for the past few seasons the DEC has had their Fyke nets set not on Chautauqua but rather over on the Cassadaga lakes to secure enough breeding stock to keep the hatchery going. Chautauqua's muskies aren't doing so well. Nature goes in cycles while the learning curve of man is ever steeping down, it seems. Some people see a picture of a happy angler holding a tropy. I see a smiling idiot with a dead fish which actually represents 10,000 dead fish. If you want a fish fry go catch perch! This photo could have been part of a successful catch and release. That would have been a fantastic angling achievement. Instead we have another horror story and another nail in Chautauqua's coffin.
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