The Ultimate Spring Hat-Trick Turkey Destination…Plan Now for Next Year: Hunting, Fishing, Eating!

Chautauqua County turkeys, lots of 'em in spring.

  • Look for these Critical Elements to assure a great Turkey Hunt:
    • Woods, Waters, Streams, and Forage Resources
    • High-Harvest Average 
    • Lots of Public Hunting Land – it spreads out the hunters
    • Chautauqua County in New York meets the List!

By Mike Joyner

My Hat-Trick Gobbler – thanks to Jake Ensign for this photo.

Ultimate destination – a bold claim for a resource-laden state such as New York. To be clear, New York boasts many vibrant outdoor adventure meccas, but you’ll want to plan your next turkey hunting and spring fishing getaway to the outdoor paradise in Chautauqua County. Hunting and fishing interests are easy to satisfy and that’s the honest goal for every sportsman.

My recent hat-trick getaway to Chautauqua was memorable and was just what the doctor ordered to decompress and rejuvenate my busy business life. The excursion found me spring turkey hunting in the mornings with Jake Ensign, followed by an afternoon of fishing with Captain Frank Shoenacker of Infinity Charters. In the evenings, after the outings, I could choose from a smorgasbord of places to visit and explore. My base of operations would be at the Comfort Inn Hotel in Jamestown – it was close to Chautauqua Lake and the turkey woods. Perfect for the extra minutes of sleep needed when chasing gobblers.

I met up with Jake Ensign, a supreme hunting friend that lives nearby.

Jake provided an eye-opening personal tour of his game room, as he is one of only a few dozen archery hunters to successfully hunt all of the North American Big Game Species. It was evident to me, Jake had spent many years of dedicated preparation to be so successful. Jake goes the extra mile, the extra 10 miles, in making each hunt an exercise in due diligence. It is impressive even to a veteran turkey hunter like myself.

Jake Ensign hosted us on a private tour of North American Big Game critters that he took with his bow.

My introduction to the Chautauqua County turkey woods came early the next morning and did not disappoint. We started out just above a vineyard on a ridge top with plenty of roost trees. Plenty of sign was present.  Feathers, tracks, scat and dusting bowls were scattered about during our walk in and out. With the exception of two clucks further up the ridge behind us, we were greeted with a whisper quiet, yet beautiful morning. You could hear every sound and if a turkey gobbled, we could easily locate the bird and make an approach.

As the sunrise greeted us, a chorus of trains blasted their air horns providing shock gobble inspiration from nearby highway crossings far below us. The gobblers, however, opted to be of the strong and silent types. We gave it some time to let the place reveal itself and after several setups, we backed out to not disturb the location. Running and gunning was not the game plan that so many engage in when the action is at a lull. Jake had mentioned they have had many successful hunts in that spot. Assessing the area with such ample sign, I would agree. Of course, when you have plenty of Intel on an area, courtesy of Jake, you conduct each hunt more patiently.

Collin Voss, a young local outdoorsman, is sizing up this giant bear. He did admit, “Geez, he’s huge!”

After checking a number of properties in the southern region of the county we came upon a parcel not far from Route 86 and got an eager gobble in response to our pleas. With a flat ridge top that lay between us, we settled in to see if we could persuade him across. The wind had come up and it was a solid “maybe” as to whether or not the bird answered us after that. Thirty minutes later a report of something lesser than a 12ga shotgun rang out ahead of us, but much lower on the ridge on another property. We decided to back out. Consistent with other properties we checked, we would come across plenty of turkey sign including sets of gobbler tracks. We were in the middle of great turkey country

The first morning concluded with sightings of a few hens out bugging in the fields, as we searched for more gobblers to keep track of for the next hunt tomorrow.

Having hunted gobblers in nearly half of New York’s 62 counties, I would point out that the turkey woods of Chautauqua County are among the nicest woods I’ve ever set foot in. A quick review of the past 10 years of harvest data reveals Chautauqua as #1 in New York for turkey hunting harvest. In any given season, Chautauqua is always in the top echelon. With over 20,000 acres of public forests and a mix of land types and food sources, it would be a sound recommendation to add Chautauqua County to your annual spring and fall gobbler chasing vacations.

Before heading out for an afternoon of fishing with Captain Frank Shoenacker on Chautauqua Lake, Jake suggested that we have the best sandwich to be had anywhere (i.e. North America) for lunch. I naturally agreed. My sampling verified his suggestion. A trip to the Ashville General Store is must do stop during your time in the area. The “Jester” spicy turkey sub served hot is a turkey hunter-approved menu item (https://ashvillegeneral.com).

After that great lunch, I met up with Frank at the Bemus Point boat launch. The launch was easy to find and not far from the exit off Route 86 for Bemus Point. With eight boat launch sites available on Chautauqua Lake, there is ample access for all boaters (https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/23907.html).  The Lund Tournament Pro-V was perfect on this beautiful, sunny afternoon. The Lund had a heavier hull and was stable, even in the slight chop we had.

Perfect boat for our day on Chautauqua Lake.

On this outing, Frank and I would both fish and that set the table for a relaxing time on the water. We fished simple, drifting live worms along weed beds and enjoyed lots of fun conversation. As Frank spends more time guiding than fishing, I invited him to fish too and our trip became perfect fun. We were using a killer rig, a homemade double-hook worm harness with a butterfly spinner made by Frank. It’s sort of a secret rig.

We were one of just a handful of boats on the water as you might expect at mid-week of the early season. We caught walleye, perch and a surprisingly large bullhead.  A perfect afternoon.

Captain Frank Shoenacker with his secret troll/drift rig to catch walleyes.

In his larger boat, Frank also guides on Lake Erie: Infinity Charters https://www.infinitycharters.com/. It is a fantastic way to plan an essential part of your Chautauqua Hat Trick.

Having fished Lake Erie in the past, it is also on my ‘A’ list to visit frequently.  I plan to return with my bride of nearly nineteen years to modify the hat trick concept, this time, to be a fishing and lazy-tourist combo. Lee, my wife, loves to fish, and I have promised her to revisit the region.

For the evening, I needed to visit the Southern Tier Brewing Company for a craft beer tasting and a pulled pork sandwich. Accompanied by their “Nitro Stout,” a great beer product, they earned my attention for another “must-do” stop while in the region. Their friendly staff and personal service were 5-star. 

Author’s favorite…Southern Tier Nitro Stout microbrew.

I caught up with Jake after dinner to plan the morning hunt and received good news. As Jake scouts at sunset periods, he has endless energy, he found two different turkeys roosted. This is the best kind of news to get when chasing gobblers. Again, another short night, but I would wake up 10 minutes before the alarm clock sounded. Excited? A little bit.

One prime spot we found in Chautauqua turkey country.

This last morning of my hunt, I would come to appreciate the dedicated strategies that Jakes executes. Our walk to the first roosted bird was in total silence, not a twig nor a dried leaf to reveal our progress. Jake routinely rakes and grooms his paths for stealthy approaches to known roosting areas. It is this extra effort that ups the odds for a successful hunt.

As daylight approached, a hen began to yelp on the limb, not sixty yards from where I sat. Jake mimicked her and I would also respond with muted tree yelps. No gobbling nearby, but one volley of gobbles came from the second location that Jake had marked the night before. It was a little over 250 yards from us. Once the hen flew down, she walked right past Jakes’ location as he sat motionless. She fed away. Once she left, we moved up about 100 yards toward a low swampy area where we had heard the gobbling.

We got a quick response from four different gobblers once we sat down and began calling from our new position. They had closed the distance, spotting them moving to my left around the swamp at 80 yards. They were circling and closing fast. As seconds seemed far too long, the most aggressive and vocal of the birds marched in and would stop within range to survey for the hen. The brilliant red, white and blue heads of the gang of four was impressive. The boom that followed sent the other three back as quickly as they came. Maybe a little faster, as I think of it.

The turkey woods was picturesque with a lush green canopy newly emerged. It was a great hunt in a beautiful hardwood forest. It also reaffirmed the wisdom for scouting, roosting, letting the hunt play out, and having patience. All of these hallmark attributes describe Jakes’ approach to turkey hunting.

My hat-trick gobbler was right on time, thanks to the good scouting of my buddy, Jake Ensign, who snapped this photo. Jake Ensign Photo

We concluded the hunt with a hearty breakfast which always tastes a little better after a successful hunt! We’ll catch up again in the near future to hunt next year when I am sure to return!

There are so many places to visit here. Great eateries, wineries, breweries, entertainment venues – something for everyone.

I have planned a returned visit for next year, stay tuned!

© 2019 Mike Joyner- Joyner Outdoor Media

Fishing Chautauqua County, NY – as an Outdoor Writer LOOKING TO LEARN

Wade Robertson with a nice walleyue whopper, one of 30 nice 'eyes hooked that day.

  • Lake Erie offers access to schools of giant walleye from May to October
  • Chautauqua Lake provides opportunity for Monster Musky, Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, and Walleye
  • Local Wineries and Microbrew Houses provide after hour and weather options that are unforgettable
Rob Oram, Fred Dwaileebe and Don Staszyck (L to R) with some nice size Chautauqua Lake walleyes.

By Wayne Brewer

Chautauqua County is located in the southwest corner of New York State. Lake Erie is on its’ northern border and Chautauqua Lake is located in the center of the county. Both Lake Erie and Chautauqua Lake are premier walleye lakes and also have excellent musky and bass fisheries.

Andrew Nixon, Director of the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, and Dave Barus, Fishing and Hunting Promotions Consultant for the Bureau invited me to participate in the Chautauqua Outdoor Media Fall Fish Camp. Dave organizes and hosts the fish camps. The goal of the Outdoor Media Camps is to introduce visiting outdoor media members to the fishing and hunting opportunities in Chautauqua County.

Our “Fish Camp” on Point Chautauqua at 6060 Orchard Road was a great campsite.

Although the camp focus is on fishing, there is a lengthy list of other activities to do such as deer hunting, winery tours, visits to state fishing access sites and hatcheries, hiking nature trails – like those offered at Panama Rocks Scenic Park, touring museums such as the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and sipping tasty beer at local micro-breweries. The 4-day camp is a great get away to fish, communicate with other outdoor writers to share ideas and enjoy some excellent homemade meals, all the while taking so much that Chautauqua County has to offer.

Our campsite was a private home located on Point Chautauqua, just off Route 430 at 6060 Orchard Road. It is a year-round heated two-story cottage with four bedrooms that could sleep nine or ten individuals. It has a fully equipped kitchen, dining room, living room, two bathrooms, a screened porch and washer/dryer. The cottage is located one street from Chautauqua Lake and had a path down to the lake where there was a dock and an available 14-foot aluminum boat for our use. Anyone that wants to bring their own boat can launch it a few miles down Route 430 at Long Point State Park and maintain it on a mooring buoy near the dock. The cottage is available to rent and anyone interested can visit: www.chautauqualakerental.com or email to: kvtabor@yahoo.com.

Upon arrival at the camp I met our host, Dave Barus, and the other attendees. They were Jim Proffitt, an outdoor columnist from Ohio, Wade Robertson, an outdoor columnist from Pennsylvania and his guest from Olean, New York, Fred Dwaileebe. After “meeting and greeting” we decided to have dinner at Guppy’s Restaurant and Tavern a couple of miles down Route 430. The restaurant has a full menu that ranges from wings and pizza to burgers, soups and salads, along with nightly specials. I had a great platter of mussels steamed in garlic butter wine sauce and topped with fresh tomatoes. I highly recommend stopping in Guppy’s anytime you’re in the area.

The fishing itinerary for the first day had Jim Proffitt and Dave Barus fishing for walleyes on Chautauqua Lake with Chautauqua Bassmaster Don Staszyck. Wade Robertson and Fred fished for walleye on Lake Erie with Captain T.J. Yetzer (Reel Time Charters, 585-764-2006). I fished Chautauqua Lake for musky and walleye with Frank Shoenacker (Infinity Charters, 585-406-5764 or http//www.infinitycharters.com). Frank uses a 17-1/2 foot Lund when he guides on Chautauqua Lake, though he also guides on Lake Erie with a 25-foot Pro-Line.

After enjoying Dave Barus’ “hole in one eggs,” sausage, toast, home fries and hot coffee for breakfast, we all made our own box lunches for ourselves and guides before heading out.

Captain Frank Shoenacker (Infinity Charters) holding one of several healthy white perch we caught on jigging Rapala lures.

I met Frank at Long Point State Park Marina on Route 430, located just a few miles south of our camp. We trolled for musky on the north end of the lake at about 3.5 miles per hour. We used Shimano rods with Penn reels strung with 80-pound braided line, and tipped with a couple of feet of 80-pound fluorocarbon line. The lures we used included RW Smith homemade musky lures, perch-colored Wiley musky lures and very large green spoons with black dots. We trolled several areas where Frank had been having success catching muskies, but the big lunkers were not feeding as a cold front was heading in.

We then switched to some lighter tackle and drifted for walleye using one-ounce perch-colored mooneye shimmer minnows and Rapala jigging raps. We were marking all kinds of fish, but like the musky, the walleye were also suffering from lock jaw, however, the white perch kept us busy. Some of them were nice size, so we focused on catching them. Frank told me that, “You fish for what’s biting!” So we did and had a great day catching one white perch after the other, bringing a few dozen home for a great fish fry.

Frank and I talked about walleye fishing on Chautauqua Lake and he told me that he considered the best time of the year to catch walleye was mid-May to mid-June. That time of the year he trolls along the outside edge of the weeds along shore with a slip-sinker worm rig because the bait stays in the cover of the weeds. Then as the bait moves out into deeper water, the walleye follow. He then drifts and jigs for the walleye using jigs. His preferred jigging lure is a Rapala jigging rap.

Don Staszyck with a couple of the walleyes he, Jim Proffitt and Dave Barus caught.

When Frank and I returned to the marina, we met Don Staszyck, Dave and Jim. We discovered that Don had a couple of secret hot spots for walleye, as each of the three anglers had limited out with 15 walleye, though they had also released at least that many again. Wade and Fred had a great day on Lake Erie and had limited with 24 walleyes as well.

Lunch and dinner each day was provided by Dave Barus and most of the delectable meals (secret recipes) were prepared by his wife Rosalie. Our meals included venison chili, homemade potato salad, chicken Alfredo, walleye cheek chowder, Sahlen’s grilled hot dogs and Rosalie’s mouthwatering homemade apple pie. During and after dinner, our outdoor clan invited our guides to join us as we shared excellent wine from Johnson Estate Winery, Merritt Estate Winery and Liberty Vineyards, all of these just a few minutes away.

Mother Nature threw us a curve on the second day of the fish camp. Wade Robertson and I were to fish Lake Erie for bass and walleye with Captain Yetzer, but the lake had six to seven-foot waves. It was just too rough to fish, but this was not an issue because when Dave Barus plans these events, he always has backup plans and alternative activities lined up. Dave had made arrangements for us to fish Chautauqua Lake for bass with Chautauqua Bassmaster President, Mike Russo.

Mike Russo and Wade Robertson with a couple of smaller Chautauqua Lake bass. 

Mike checked out a few areas earlier that morning before he picked us up and caught a couple of bass. Not long after, we headed back to fish these areas, but the wind picked up and the lake became angry. We threw everything in the boat at the bass, including spinnerbaits, jigs, grubs, crankbaits and even live bait, but could not entice even one hit. The bass had shut down completely. We tried different locations all over the lake until we entered a small channel that Mike said had put tournament anglers on the winner’s podium. It looked and felt promising, but we had no luck catching bass.

Julie Szur showing us one of the flies she makes and uses on Chautauqua Creek streams.

Half way down the channel, where it widened out, Mike and Wade were tossing spinnerbaits when a “cloud” of nice sized yellow perch swarmed up chasing them. We immediately decided to fish for the perch. Mike and Wade used the minnows and I used a small white plastic grub below a bobber. We caught perch on practically every cast. Not all the perch were keepers, but Wade and I ended the day with about 70 fish.

That night Julie Szur, a local fly fishing consultant and guide on stream fishing tutoring, joined us for dinner and gave a very interesting presentation that included a discussion different fly varieties and various fly-fishing techniques. Julie is an extremely knowledgeable and accomplished stream fishing expert. View her website at: www.flyfishingjulieszur.com and contact Julie at flyfishjulie@gmail.com or call 716-481-6619.

The next day Lake Erie continued with high seas, so instead of fishing for walleyes, Dave, Jim, Wade and I met Julie at Chautauqua Creek to check out the steelhead fishing. Dave and I were photographers while Jim, Wade and Julie fished. The creek was low and clear with very few fish, but Julie did entice one fish to strike her speckled streamer.

Julie Szur with her dog “Brookie” and Wade Robertson fishing for steelhead in Chautauqua Creek near Westfield, NY.

The Chautauqua Fall Fish Camp was an exciting and unique experience. All of us caught a lot of fish even though the wind kept some us off Lake Erie. It’s terrific to fish in Chautauqua County because there are several bodies of water to and no matter the weather, the waterways support a variety of different species of fish. There are six lakes in the county and 50 miles of Lake Erie shore line. There is no place in the county more than a few miles from open water. So, if you cannot fish one lake, you can fish another. If one species of fish is not co-operating, there are always other species to fish and if you cannot fish, there are plenty of other activities in the county to enjoy and have a great time. I highly recommend putting Chautauqua County at the top of your “places-to-visit” list.

For more information go to: www/tourchautauqua.com or call at (716) 357-4569. Be sure to request a Chautauqua County Visitors Guide to use as a reference for planning your getaway to Chautauqua. To keep updated on news and events, sign up for the monthly e-newsletter. For day-to-day news, join in the conversation on the Chautauqua County Facebook.

You can also check out Visit Chautauqua, to receive a downloadable APP for helping plan your trip.