Finger Lakes Fishing

Any of the eleven glacially-carved Finger Lakes can be considered a fisherman’s paradise for any number of reasons. Collectively, the long slender lakes harbor just about every species of freshwater fish that exists anywhere in New York State. Individually, any one of of the lakes may be more attractive to anglers who might pursue a particular species that does exceptionally well there. For the record, the eleven Finger Lakes from west to east are Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles and Otisco.

Because they are deep and cold, eight Finger Lakes support good populations of lake trout. Lacking any kind of thermocline, which is the layer of deep cold water that lake trout require, Conesus, Honeoye, and Otisco are the three lakes that do not. They are too shallow and get too warm in the summer. Instead, they are noted for producing good populations of warmwater fish species like largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleyes, and panfish ranging from bluegills and yellow perch to rock bass and bullheads. In addition, Conesus and Otisco support tiger muskies while Honeoye maintains a good population of chain pickerel. Conesus is legendary for giant northern pike that can tow your boat around if you’re lucky enough to hook into one. And Otisco is stocked with brown trout, which is the only salmonid that can tolerate somewhat warmer water temperatures.

The eight deeper Finger Lakes are known as “two-story fisheries” because they support good populations of most warmwater species as well as coldwater fishes that include trout and salmon. Landlocked Atlantic salmon can be found in Hemlock, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga and Skaneateles Lakes, and brown trout and rainbow trout—both of which are nonnative species—are stocked in nine of the eleven Finger Lakes. Brown trout were imported from Germany by the Finger Lakes Region’s own Seth Green, the father of American fish culture and founder of the nation’s first fish hatchery in Caledonia. He also introduced rainbow trout brought here from the Rocky Mountains.

Cayuga Lake is the only Finger Lake that contains a population of lake sturgeon. A 20-year effort by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to reintroduce this native species to the longest Finger Lake seems to be paying off given that five to six-foot sturgeon appear to be spawning successfully in at least one of the lake’s tributaries. Time will tell. Remember that the lake sturgeon is not legal game fish and must be returned to the water unharmed if caught. You can read more about this giant species here at this link: http://www.lifeinthefingerlakes.com/return-lake-sturgeon/.

Whether you enjoy casting from shore for panfish with a bobber and a worm or probing the depths for lake trout with a downrigger, you’ll find some of the best fishing in the state in New York’s Finger Lakes Region.


Story and Photo by John Adamski