Conesus Inlet is an 1,100-acre wetland located at the south end of Conesus Lake in central Livingston County. It is administered by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation as a Fish and Wildlife Management Area and it’s teeming with both. It lies in a flat valley flood plain bounded by steep sloping hills on the east and west sides. Vegetation is typical marshland flora surrounded by brush, swamp hardwoods, and some open land. A hiking trail along the west side of the marsh, which is easily accessible from several parking areas on State Route 256 and Sliker Hill Road, leads to two observation platforms where visitors can view waterfowl and other wild animal and bird species. But the biggest attraction at this time of year is the springtime migration of spawning northern pike and walleyes as they move upstream from the lake toward the marsh to lay their eggs.
Triggered by an increase in water temperature, northern pike are the first to start making the spawning run about three weeks after the ice on the lake goes out. Walleyes follow a week or two later and for a time, both species share the inlet stream together. The DEC has created excellent public accommodations, which are wheelchair accessible, that enable curious visitors to walk along a quarter-mile stretch of the inlet stream and marsh to watch the migrating fish.
A flooded section of wetland behind an earthen dike forms a shallow lagoon several hundred acres in size, the depth of which is controlled by a small dam where water from the marsh empties into the inlet stream feeding Conesus Lake. Pike and walleyes both congregate below the dam and are sometimes successful in making the 18-inch jump up over the spillway into the lagoon, thrilling spectators whenever they do. Both species of fish migrate in periodic waves of small schools and are sometimes accompanied by other species like carp, largemouth bass, and redfin suckers, which are there to feed on unattended and drifting fish eggs.
But spawning fish are not the only attraction here. Migrating songbirds and waterfowl also congregate on the waters and in the surrounding woodlands, making the Conesus Inlet Fish and Wildlife Management Area a destination for birdwatchers as well. Some ducks, geese, and great blue herons even nest here. Other resident creatures include deer, mink, muskrats, raccoons and a pair of bald eagles that has been nesting here for more than a decade. Seeing an eagle soar above the marsh in search of a spawning fish to eat is an occasional unexpected thrill for some lucky visitors.
Conesus Lake is the westernmost Finger Lake and its 9-mile length is lined with year-round homes and summer cottages. But the wetland at the south end of the lake is as wild a habitat as you could find anywhere. And at this time of year, you can get an eagle-eye view of spawning 30-inch northern pike and walleyes that are nearly as big.