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Published: December 27, 2012

Out of Erie's Shadow

by Lynn Burkhead

When the conversation of serious bass anglers around the nation turns to the region near Buffalo, New York, the obvious choice for pre-dawn coffee shop discussions would seem to be the smallmouth bass rich waters of Lake Erie.

Given Erie's sterling reputation as one of the continent's best current locales for landing a trophy bronzeback bomber, that's completely understandable.

But it's also a mistake, mind you.

Because just a few dozen miles to the south, the 13,000-acre Chautauqua Lake lies literally in Erie's shadow as one of the Empire State's best kept bass fishing secrets.

Chautauqua Lake

  • Approximately 17 miles long
  • 2 miles wide at its greatest width
  • Surface area is approximately 13,000 acres
  • Maximum depth is about 78 feet
  • Shoreline is about 41.1 miles
  • All but 2.6 mi are privately owned

Chautauqua Lake - Fishing zone breakdown 1-6

Site of the Jack Link’s Major League Fishing General Tire Summit Cup competition, this natural water body lies in a narrow valley near Jamestown and is a 17-mile long natural lake that is 78-feet at its deepest point.

Surrounded by private cottages, summer homes and picturesque hamlets like Mayville, Chautauqua, Bemus Point, Ashville Bay, Maple Springs and Stow among others, the nearby terrain teems with wildlife, American history and recreational opportunities. Home to the world-renowned Chautauqua Institution lying on its western shoreline, the lake is typically clear except for an occasional late summer algae bloom.

Emptying into the Chadakoin River - whose water eventually ends up in the Ohio River, then the Mississippi River, and finally the Gulf of Mexico - the lake's native name reportedly means (according to at least one translation) a "place where fish are taken."

That's an understatement to say the least given that Chautauqua is full of sunfish, crappie, perch, walleye and muskellunge (the lake is perhaps New York's finest muskie fishery, annually producing a number of fish of 50-plus inches).

Chautauqua is also full of bass, including some industrial-size bombers according to veteran angler Randy Dustin, a Jamestown resident who has competed in dozens of local and regional tournaments on the lake over the years.

Local angler Randy Dustin and his dog Dakota show off a nice size Chautauqua Lake bronzeback.

"It has a number of good largemouths and plenty of good-size smallmouth too," said Dustin. "We don't have the same numbers of smallmouths as Erie, but they're just as big. We routinely catch 6-pound smallmouth on Chautauqua and it's nothing to catch a 7-pounder."

Dustin knows first-hand of what he speaks about, fishing the lake more than 100 times a year with his dog Dakota. He also has the angling goods to back up his claims, owning the benchmarks for both species including an 8-pound, 2-ounce smallmouth caught in the summer of 2009 and a 7-pound, 7-ounce largemouth caught just this past September.

"The Monday that I caught that 7-pound, 7-ounce largemouth (in September 2012), I had one of the best days I've ever had on Chautauqua," said Dustin "Believe it or not, I also caught a 6-3 largemouth; a 6-3 smallmouth; a 5-13 smallmouth; and a 5-8 smallmouth. I caught those fish in about two hours and those five fish would have gone over 28 pounds."

What will the 24 Major League Fishing pros find during their Summit Cup competition on the lake? Dustin says lots of cover, lots of structure and plenty of places for bass to hide.

"Chautauqua has a ton of docks, lots of vegetation, plenty of hard weed-lines, isolated patches of weeds, isolated rock piles, some points and drop-offs, and even a few sunken steamboats," said Dustin. "The best times to fish - in my opinion - are during the catch-and-release season of spring and then again in the fall up until the end of November. But the summer months aren't too bad either, especially for flipping and pitching weeds and docks."

What baits rule on Chautauqua? Dustin says topwaters produce early and late, followed by a steady diet of soft plastics, tubes and jigs pitched and flipped later in the day. And the pros shouldn't forget to pack a supply of frogs since the lake is home to plenty of lily-pad patches too.

In short, the Major League Fishing visit to Chautauqua - the first time a tournament of this magnitude with anglers of this caliber has visited the lake - should be a wide-open event from start to finish that can be anybody's game.

And it should be thrilling television to watch.

Even if the pros are about to blow the lid on Dustin's favorite fishing spot.

"It's one of those honey holes that you've been kind of glad isn't as well known as the others in the state are," said Dustin.

"Until now, I guess."