You may recall that during the 1970s there still were several of the old-time muskie fishing boats along Chautauqua Lake. Most were in well-manicured lawns lying upside down on racks. People who owned those wooden boats held them in high regard. They had been hand crafted, probably by some long forgotten boat builder somewhere around the lake.
Chautauqua Lake muskie fishing boats were built to be rowed. With one stroke of the oars they would glide for quite some distance. They were pointed at both ends which minimized drag. Bottoms were rounded which made them quite stable, and able to withstand the waves of any fall storm that might catch a fisherman several miles from his dock.
Ordinary muskie fishermen could still own camps along the lake in those years before most of the lakeshore property became millionaire-land.
During fall, starting at about this time of the year, those boats were used to troll large baits, usually suckers. Some were more than a foot in length. They were trolled along the outer edges of the weed beds, which were marked with jugs. When this was still a very popular method, wooden pilings were driven into the bottom along the edges of the weed beds, and sometimes lanterns were hunt from the pilings.
The method began to lose popularity when electric motors became so popular that just about every serious angler had one. Trolling live bait with electric motors is not nearly as popular as trolling live bait with oars because electric motors do not give the bait the rising and dropping action that comes with each oar stroke.
My point in telling you about this now is that so far 2010 has been one of the best years in memory for muskie fishing at Chautauqua Lake. Beyond that, I have never heard of so many huge muskie being caught there. Just about every week through summer I got a report of a muskie that measured at least 50 inches in length.
During the decades when signs and books proclaimed that Chautauqua Lake was the best muskie lake in the world, 50-inch muskie were unusual.
Through the latter half of this summer, casting or trolling relatively small plugs has been effective. By relatively small I mean about 6 inches to 7 inches. These were lures that would dive to about 10 feet, maybe 12 feet, which is roughly the depth of the outer edge of the weed beds in the northern basin. Actually the water might be a couple feet deeper, but keeping muskie lures within a couple feet of bottom is close enough.
Now with fall nearly upon us and the water temperature is dropping, we may be in for about a week of lousy fishing while the lake turns over.
Turn-over if what happens when the lake water becomes about the same temperature from top to bottom. At this point a lot of material from the bottom will appear at the surface. The lake takes on a different greenish color and you may see a lot of floating green matter that is much different from the chopped weeds you saw through summer.
Muskie fishing should be very good just before turn-over. I expect that might be right about now. Then again after turn-over muskie fishing will get very good.
After turn-over it is time to switch to larger muskie lures. If this summer was better than average for big muskie, then this fall might be a season that can make a muskie angler's lifetime all worthwhile.
Stick with the outer edges of the weed beds, for a while at least. If you troll you want an edge that breaks off cleanly. Usually this is an area with a drop-off along the outer edge of the weed line.
I prefer to cast along edges that do not break off cleanly, places where there are clumps of weeds outside the weed line. Maybe I like these areas best because I hooked the biggest muskie I have hooked to date in such a place. Its head was so big I think it could swallow a Canada goose whole. Visions of that muskie come to mind at odd times.
Also, it is time to switch to larger lures, 12 inches or longer. I can not cast big muskie lures for long, so often I abandon my favorite weed edges and troll along edges that break cleanly, where snagging weeds is not such an annoying problem.
If ever you have had thoughts of catching a big muskie, do not miss fishing at Chautauqua Lake this year. I expect that many local anglers who had bought New York fishing licenses in the past stopped when the price went to $70. That is absurd. I wonder how much it cost the tourism industry this year. Could it be that they are trying to get Pennsylvania fishermen to pay their wasteful government?