By Rich Creason
My better half, Susie, and I have enjoyed numerous trips to the land of Chautauqua, an area located in the far western end of New York State, and about eight hours from our home in central Indiana. To get there, we leave home around five in the morning and arrive at our destination with time for an afternoon of fun to start our visit.
Chautauqua County in New York has a lot to offer anyone interested in the outdoors. Our favorite spot is Chautauqua Lake. It is 13,000 acres, being 17 miles long and about two miles wide with a depth of 78 feet. We have fished it on numerous occasions catching many panfish, walleye, smallmouth bass, and one musky. On one trip, we were fishing for musky. The weather wasn’t cooperating, being cold and windy, so we cut our fishing short. As always, I had a backup plan. We got our metal detectors out of the truck and spent several hours on the beach digging bottle caps, pull-tabs, and coins. No jewelry, but we will look again on our next trip.
On another trip with a group of outdoor writers, I was fishing for smallmouth and we were using light tackle rigged with a four-pound test line. I was dragging some kind of rubber worm and had caught a dozen or so bass, all in the four to five-pound range. I had another hit and started reeling. I told the guide I had a good one on, maybe six or seven pounds.
With the light tackle, I had to be careful. When I finally got the fish to the boat, we looked down and it was a large musky. He saw the boat and immediately took off, taking most of my line with him. I slowly worked him (or her) back again, and the fish once again took off after seeing the boat.
On the 5th time, the fish was tiring and the guide grabbed the net. Unfortunately, the net was a small, one-handed thing, suitable for bass. He tried to net the musky, but only half would go in and the fish slipped out and ran again. The 6th time was a repeat. The fished slipped the net and slowly swam away. Finally, on the 7th return to the boat-side, the guide placed the net under the fish and flipped him in the boat.
Immediately, the lure flew out of his mouth. The guide said he saw the hook just barely in his mouth on the 4th or 5th visit to the boat, and he knew I would lose him if I tried to horse him to the boat. Fortunately, I have been catching muskies for over 40 years and have had some practice. Our guide picked up a measuring stick that was only 16 inches long and normally used for bass. I reached in my pocket, where I always carry a 39-inch tiny tape measure and got it out. That wasn’t long enough. The fish was 41 and a half inches — no way to weigh him.
That same morning on Chautauqua Lake, two other writers caught muskies, both over 40 inches. One was fishing from a Hobie kayak, and a nearby pontoon came over and netted the fish for him. We all took pictures and released them. The musky season was not open yet.
On another trip to Chautauqua County, we were fishing the eastern end of Lake Erie, near Buffalo. The weather was expected to go downhill in a few hours, so the guide didn’t take us very far into the lake, but we immediately started catching some fine smallmouth bass. All were over four pounds. We could look west and see a storm heading our way, so the guide moved the boat back closer to shore. We continued fishing, catching, and moving closer toward shore. We finally decided to head in before the storm arrived. That was the best smallmouth fishing day I had ever had, even though it was a short one.
Many tributaries are available for fishing in Chautauqua County. Autumn and winter steelhead are numerous and are great fun to catch.
While I haven’t done any hunting in the county yet, turkey, deer, and bear are plentiful. Archery season for deer and bear is open there in October and runs through December, and while I am a bowhunter (for black bear), I won’t be able to go this year.
If you have extra time while after fishing or hunting, Chautauqua County has many attractions to help fill your visit. We have hiked Panama Rocks, a scenic park with million-year-old rocks that are 60 feet high, with trails running through them. This park is only 15 minutes from Chautauqua Lake. For more details, go to www.panamarocks.com.
We also spent a few days at Peek and Peak Mountain Adventures. This resort offers a treetop course with 69 obstacles, including cargo nets, ladders, ziplines (one 1400 feet long!), and eight different difficulty levels. Segway trails snake through the woods with instruction provided before heading out. Great amenities including pool, spa, and outstanding lodging can be found here and at www.pknpk.com.
Double D.A.B. Riding Stables (www.doubledab.com) has been in business since 1982, local wineries and breweries attract many visitors, and roadside stands offer grapes from nearby vineyards in season. If you visit the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau website at www.tourchautauqua.com, you can find much more information about where to go and what to see.
The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.