January and February in Chautauqua County and all of Western New York generally means cold temperatures and strong northeastern winds. For hard-water anglers, Chautauqua County offers some of the most diverse fishing action during the winter months with four inland bodies of water contained in the county. With Bear, Findley, Cassadaga and Chautauqua lakes right here in our backyard, anglers can enjoy some of the best ice fishing in the state.
Cassadaga Lake anglers have public access at the lake's end and the New York Stare public launch.
Two good places to start to catch walleye is in front of Lily Dale in 10 to 14 feet of water and in front of the public beach in the lower basin in 8 to 10 feet of water. Jigging "gotcha-style" lures in perch and black/silver colors works best.
On Findley Lake, anglers can do well in front of the church camp in the 10-plus feet of water for jack perch and large blue gills, both of which are being caught in good numbers.
The New York Ice Pro-Am Tournament Series has chosen Chautauqua Lake as its second stop during the 2013 tournament trail.
"Chautauqua Lake has long been known as an excellent fishery and for ice fishermen that means bonus fishing opportunities," said Tim Thomas, New York State Pro-Am founder and CEO. "The choice to hold our second event for the 2013 season on Chautauqua Lake was a perfect fit, especially when the dates fell on the same weekend as Chautauqua Lake's Presidents Weekend Winter Festival."
The Chautauqua Lake tournament will be held Feb. 15-17 with the official weigh-in to be held at Mayville's Lakeside Park during the Winter Festival. The New York State Ice Pro-Am Tournament Series boasts $75,000 in cash and prizes for the tournament trail, making it one of the largest ice-fishing events in the Northeast.
Anglers can compete in three divisions: professional, amateur and open. The three separate divisions are designed to test every skill level for anglers.
For more information on the New York Ice Pro/Am Tournament Series trail, visit www.nysiceproam.com/Events.html.
Chautauqua Lake ice fisherman generally do well in the northern basin of the lake, off the village of Mayville, at the launch in 8 to 14 feet of water. Monster perch and evening walleyes are being caught on jigs tipped off with minnows.
Lower Basin anglers traditionally report good numbers of crappie, gills and perch around Rock Island just off the buoy makers, and at the point on the northeast side of the island, when there is good ice.
Using perch-colored jigs and keeping the offering just off the bottom of the lake seems to be the trigger to getting a better quality of fish around the island.
Anglers need to remember a couple of things when traveling on the ice. Safety is important and should always be at the top of their list.
Fishing with a buddy not only helps ease the pain of cold winds, but could also save your life if things go south. Having a pair of ice spikes within reach, preferably in your hands, is another safety idea. These little tools will assist if one goes in the water and needs to crawl their way out by digging the spikes in the snow/ice and pulling their way back to safety.
It's always important to follow New York State Conservation rules and guidelines in regard to season dates and limits. Following the rules and guidelines is also encouraged while ice fishing.
Also keep in mind that we can still enjoy a catch-and-release bass season until the regular season begins in June.