- Chautauqua County, NY, is noted for mega-limits of Lake Erie walleye and monster musky from Chautauqua Lake.
- Great sunsets with a glass of microbrew beer or local vintage winery tastings are on the usual after-dinner menu.
- Our group learned a lot about the fun of camaraderie, effective fishing tactics and great walleye recipe ideas.
By David Figura
For many, a good time fishing is about how many fish one catches and/or the size of the ones reeled in.
Even more important, though, is getting out on a scenic, soul-soothing lake, river or stream and the company and conversation one experiences with fellow anglers. And if you’re lucky, it includes a great meal consumed from the day’s catch.
I experienced all that and more at a Chautauqua County Outdoor Media Fish Camp along with four other outdoor writers in early October in this southwestern corner of New York State. The four-day get-together was sponsored by the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau.
The purpose was to expose us to the celebrated Lake Erie fall walleye and perch fishery, the angling opportunities in nearby Chautauqua Lake where walleye, bass, perch and monster musky are plentiful — and a chance to fly fish on one of the tributaries that flow into Lake Erie this time of year that boast hard-fighting steelhead preparing to spawn. The Lake Erie tributaries along the eastern shore in New York are appropriately known as “Steelhead Alley.”
Much has been written about all three angling opportunities, and I was anxious to try them all. David Barus, the camp organizer, set us up in a quaint cottage on Point Chautauqua just off the eastern shore of Chautauqua Lake, scheduling us with experienced guides and “fishing hosts” for each of our three days of fishing.
Unfortunately, the stretch of warm, dry sunny conditions in the week leading up to our trip resulted in the streams being unseasonably low for the spawning steelhead who chose to stage out in the lake rather than running up the streams. That outing was scratched.
As things worked out, walleye and musky fishing were the offerings, and we had a good time wetting our lines.
I got out on Lake Erie the first day with fellow New York State Outdoors Writer Jerrod Vila, guided by charter boat Capt. Tom Yetzer of Reel Time Charters and his soft-spoken first mate, Randy Hinsken.
Lake Erie, which at times can blow anglers off with high wind and waves, was comfortably calm that day. The wind vacillated around 3-5 mph, the temperature was in the high 70s (unusually warm for that time of year). The skies were sunny and bright. We were bottom-bouncing spinners tipped with worms in 60-80 feet of water. The marks on the fish finder were plentiful, but the bite was slow.
Vila got us all excited as he hooked something big. “Feels like I’m reeling in a cinder block,” he said, straining with his pole as the fish had several pronounced runs.
We were thinking of trophy walleye. Vila, after first catching sight of the fish in the water, changed his mind and announced it had to be a huge lake trout. Once the fish was netted, though, we all laughed. It was a hefty, 30-something-inch blue catfish.
Shortly after, Vila hooked another big fish. This time, it was an appreciable 28-inch walleye, which turned out to be the biggest walleye of the day. We ended up boating several more, keeping a total of six for the tasty fillets. My biggest was a 22-inch ‘eye. I also lost three keepers right near the boat.
Meanwhile, writers Mike Joyner and Megan Plete Postol, also NYSOWA members, brought back two nice walleyes from their excursion on Chautauqua Lake, using a “snap jigging” technique with weighted lures. The remaining writer, John Childs of Texas, who went out himself with Captain Frank Shoenacker (Infinity Charters) on Chautauqua, caught some perch and silver bass, but no walleye.
When we got back to the Air Bnb, Barus was talking about going out to dinner or preparing a meal himself. But Vila, an expert cook when it comes to wild game/fish dishes, wouldn’t have it. He made a quick grocery store run with Plete Postol and came back with crab meat, celery and several other ingredients and spices
With the help of writer John Childs from Texas, Vila proceeded to slice the walleye fillets into strips and prepared a filler with the crab meat and other ingredients.
The filler was spooned onto the fillets. The fillets were then rolled up into little coils about 2-plus inches in diameter, placed on a huge frying pan, sprinkled with mozzarella cheese and white wine, and then baked.
I‘d be negligent if I didn’t mention the writers came up with a delicious sauce in a separate pan to drip over Vila’s creation, along with couscous in another pan as a side dish. It all made for a delicious, filling meal.
The following day Childs, Plete Postol and Joyner get out with Capt. Yetzer on Lake Erie with slightly rougher conditions. This time, the three-some boated around 20 walleyes and kept 10.
Vila and I spent our outing that day jigging with weighted lures for walleye on Chautauqua Lake with experienced angler Don Staszcyk. Despite the best efforts by Staszcyk, who repeatedly marked fish on his fish finder in more than 20 different spots, we were unable to hook a single walleye. However, we did boat a number of silver bass and small perch.
On the final day, Joyner had to leave early. The remaining four of us went out with Rob Oram, another experienced Chautauqua Lake angler. We began by trolling for three hours for musky but had no luck. We finished up jigging for walleyes, boating a 22- and a 17-incher,
In hindsight, the beauty of the three outings wasn’t about the catch, although it was appreciable and more than enough to prompt a return to Chautauqua County. It was the chemistry and conversation of the five writers.
I came home with several bags of walleye fillets and insight into several walleye jigging techniques — methods I intend to try out soon on a local lake near me.
I also picked up some cooking tips for fish, suggestions on improving the offerings of NYSOWA to its members, and solid advice on playing and purchasing an electric guitar and amp. Two of the writers had played in rock bands for years, they said.
Do you say you don’t have the time to get together at a fishing mecca such as Chautauqua County – or any other countless angling destinations in New York State?
Make the time! It’s there waiting for you. Do it with a friend or someone you’d like to befriend.
That’s how deep friendships in the outdoors world start and last.
For more info on lodging, fishing and the area, visit www.TourChautauqua.com.