Ice fishermen that are fortunate enough to live within 100 miles of Jamestown, New York, have a great day trip – or longer stay – waiting for them at Chautauqua Lake. This ice fishing paradise is easily accessible from points both east or west on Interstate 90 to Interstate 86, which quickly and conveniently will actually take you over the lake. There are exits to access the great fishing on either side of the bridge that bisects the lake.
It can be intimidating to fish a new body of water for the first time, especially one like Chautauqua which is a little over 17 miles long, but let’s cut that in half and focus on the northern basin which is where the best ice fishing is found. Perch, crappies, and bluegills are found in abundance in the shallows, while walleye are found in the deeper spots.
Access to parking areas can be reached from Route 394 on the west side and Route 430 on the east side. If your target species are perch, go to the Prendergast Point Fishing Access, if crappies and bluegills are your preference, find Lakeside Park at Mayville. Both are accessible from Route 394.
With the geographic information out of the way, let’s talk about the fishing, and I’ll speak from personal experience. I “rediscovered” Chautauqua Lake during the 2019 season as my home waters of Presque Isle Bay is subject to inevitable freeze/thaw cycles and all too early ice-outs. I conveniently purchased a New York license online, took the short trip and simply followed the crowds as local fishermen usually know where to go. While there are many species of fish available, including walleye, my target for fun and table fare is perch, and I found them in abundance!
I’m sure everyone has their favorite baits, but here is what caught limits of perch for me:
Ratso by Custom Jigs & Spins – This is my go-to bait at Chautauqua. I use the size 6 and do not tip it with bait. Tipping it with bait would hinder the lifelike movement of the super soft and slim tail. I try to impart the slightest action to it with my “guitar picking” method, which when holding the rod I drop a finger to the line and “pluck” it ever so gently to give an enticing action to the jig. You’ll want a variety of colors, as I have found the fish demand certain colors on certain days. The colors that worked best for me were Lemon Lime, Chartreuse, Pink, and Glow Brite
Rapala Jigging Rap – I keep a stock of most colors in the small sizes, but I’ve found the size 3 is perfect for perch at Chautauqua. For some reason, the Rainbow Trout color has worked extremely well, which is baffling since there are no trout in the lake. Also invest in the Glow Green Tiger, Green Tiger UV, and Silver Fluorescent Chartreuse.
VMC Flash Champ Spoon – I do tip this vertical spoon with Berkley Gulp Maggots. This bait deserves its name “Champ” as the dynamic colors do “Flash” and seem to attract fish and excite a bite when all else fails. The best colors are Glow Chartreuse Shiner, Glow Green Fire UV, and Perch.
Exploring new waters is half the fun of fishing. Sometimes your home water baits and techniques work, sometimes you have to try something new. And there is no better place to learn than Chautauqua Lake!