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.

Chautauqua Lake, NY – 26 Walleye FUN, Rod-in-Hand Fishing…Memorial Day Treat

Frank Shoenacker gets the net for another one of our 26 walleye caught in daylight the Friday before Memorial Day.

  • Simple Fishing, Simple Fun, NEW METHOD
  • Peaceful Fishing Fun with Time to Share Conversation
  • Braided Line, Fluorocarbon Leaders, Sharp Hooks 

By Forrest Fisher

My fishing friend, Captain Frank Shoenacker (Infinity Charters), gets the net for another one of our 26 walleye caught in 3-4 hours of daylight fishing on Chautauqua Lake the Friday before Memorial Day.  Forrest Fisher photo

“There’s one!” Frank shared, “Can you get the net Forrest.” It was actually, to be more correct, “another one.” 

We started at 7 in the morning on the Friday before Memorial Day, the sun had not yet made it over the eastern hill at Bemus Point.  Through about 10:30AM, we landed 26 walleye. Not joking.  My fishing buddy and friend, Captain Frank Shoenacker (pronounced “sha-na-kir), enjoys fishing for walleye with rod in hand.  “It’s real fishing,” he says.

When he’s not guiding for fun with guys like me to catch walleye to 6 pounds, he likes to work on his rigs, experiment with new baits, learn from other experts – like at the seminar series at the Niagara Outdoor Show every year, and also share what he knows too.

Our catch included a good number of throwbacks that were 1/8″ under the 15″ minimum, but being honest, I filled my limit fishing with fish to 24 inches long while spending a peaceful morning of conversation with this incredible fishing expert and friend. Secrets abound, some of them you need to find out from Frank himself, but think about it, 26 walleye. An amazing morning!

The future for great walleye fishing at Chautauqua lake looks really good if the 14-7/8″ fish landed are any indication. Minimum size limit is 15″, 5 fish bag per day. Forrest Fisher Photo

I felt like I was fishing in a throwback time. You remember those old days when going fishing meant leaving the rest of the world behind and just hoping to find some fish that would bite? That’s how it is was with Frank. We’ve been fishin’ friends for a few years now because we share a passion for the fun and legacy of catching walleye in Chautauqua Lake (and Lake Erie), especially with rod in hand. 

We leave the fancy toys, riggers, boards and all that behind when it comes to early season walleye fishing. I like to cast toward evening and into the night, but Frank prefers to catch fish in daytime hours (who doesn’t?) and shares his secret tactics with those folks that use his guiding services for charter fishing on Chautauqua Lake, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Frank says, “For the newbie fishing folks to enjoy the day and really have fun, I have learned the lesson that keeping it simple gets that done. Customers go home happy and with fish for the table if they want to keep ‘em.” When I saw how simple his tactics were, how savvy and coy they were at the same time, I was not just impressed, I was blown away. 

An 8HP, Four-Stroke trolling motor and wind sock combo allow total, fish-catching, boat control with the Shoenacker method. Forrest Fisher Photo

As we moved from spot to spot collecting three or four walleye from each fishing zone, we shared conversation with 9 other boats out there vying for a fish-catching moment. In all, there was only one fish among them! Surprising to me? Yes! We were killing ‘em. Why? Stealth. Proper colors. Proper presentation. Fishing were the fish were (perhaps the biggest reason).

Cut weeds, floating weeds, short emerging weeds, all were also present in the water, but no algae or moss. Seeing the weeds, you might agree, trolling is not an option. At least not an option that most folks might take. For Frank, it’s the one situation he likes the best. “No boat traffic this way,” he says with a smile. 

He likes to use a modified troll using his 8HP/four-stroke engine with a drift bag to make the type of motion control possible that he wants for his 17-foot Lund fishing boat. Very slow forward motion in particular places, almost negligible motion…but there is motion, fish-catching motion. 

Frank understands this motion thing quite well and can explain it. He puts the presentation on the fish where they are and then tantalizingly appeals to their sense of scent, visual attraction, lure motion and hunger using small baits. The scent of live nightcrawlers on his assortment of artificial worms in combination with vivid colors, stealth bead rigs and a unique catch-no-weeds arrangement, makes Frank rig effective on Chautauqua Lake. Quite amazing really.

The motor was running, though I couldn’t hear it. As Frank reached for a Tim Horton’s Timbit he looked over his shoulder at me and said, “It’s so good to be out here just fishing for fun today, ya know?” He tossed his line out about 40 feet behind the boat and told me to follow suit. He had the right side, I had the left looking back toward the transom. We caught one freshwater clam before moving to the next spot. “Lots of spots to fish,” Frank shared with a grin.

In similar depth water, we repeated the cast-out routine using his 7’ high tensile strength graphite St. Croix rods and Daiwa reels filled with 10-pound test Seaguar 832 braid and terminated with a fluorocarbon leader to the lure. You could feel every pebble, every bottom sensation and every nibble, tap-tap and anything else that contacted the lure. The rig provides the perfect rod-in-hand experience for every angler.

Rod feel is important when fishing simple. This St. Croix “Eyecon” rod works well. Forrest Fisher photo

Over the next two hours, we landed dozens of walleye, but we also hooked or caught other fish species too, including musky.

I raised my rod tip, there it was, one tap and a slight movement left, dragged the rod forward and wham, the fish slammed the lure, just like Frank said they would. This guy likes to share fun, that’s all I can say about this trip.

“Get the Net” was a frequent expression that morning. The net is important to keep big fish from falling of and to keep little fish getting injured. Forrest Fisher Photo

Frank catches walleye using a method with lures that he alone has perfected. Since I’ve been doing this for 60 years I can say that.  The results are amazing on even a short day of fishing. Imagine 26 walleye, a 4-foot musky and so many other fish from a lake 17 miles long that thousands of anglers fish each year.

It pays to have some secrets, right? If you’re looking to share in this fun, look him up, Google Chautauqua Lake, Captain Frank Shoenacker (585-406-5764), Infinity Charters (www.tourchautauqua.com/Go-Fishing/Charters-And-Guides/Infinity-Charters-LLC.aspx?mid=15798&c=76) for simple fishing, rod in hand. 

I enjoyed hearing that one expression we used so often, “Get the net!”

A most relaxing day!

Unforgettable.

Thanks Captain Frank.