- 1 of 2 Photos | View More Photos
MAYVILLE, N.Y. -- Every once in awhile, you need one of those fishing trips where the destination is ripe with bass, musky and walleye, but the cultural activities, dining and accommodations also please the little lady in your life.
Enter Lake Chautauqua in western New York, just a 3-hour drive from Wooster, where you can fish during the day and attend the opera at night.
My wife, Jean, and I, spent last weekend at Chautauqua, which is definitely one of those places where 2 1/2 days just simply isn't enough time to see and do it all. However, we managed to cram in just enough during our stay to understand that it's a place we'll go back to.
Let's first start with the fishing, which I didn't get to do enough of, but I still managed to learn a little bit about the lake and catch some nice fish.
Chautauqua is some 17 miles long and at its widest, 2 miles across. The south end is shallow and weedy, while the north end is deeper and has less weeds, but still is choked with vegetation.
That's bad for the fishermen, but good for the fish. Chautauqua is considered a world-class musky fishery, and in the last two years the walleye population has rebounded and fishing for them has drastically improved.
With all the weeds, the perch are abundant and can be caught almost any time you drop a bait into a hole in the grass.
Some suggest, though, that the lake's best fishing is for largemouth bass. With all the weeds, most anglers target the lake's many steel docks. But, it takes a beefy trolling motor with Ginsu knives on your propeller to navigate the greenery.
What I was after, though, was the lake's smallmouth bass, which aren't as numerous as the bucket-mouths, but for some reason grow shoulders and fat bellies that win tournament anglers trophies.
The first day I fished with my wife and we battled wind and waves. We looked for easier places to fish, and caught a little bit of everything, but mainly perch and no bass to write home about.
The next morning I was on the lake at 5:45 and finally found some calm water with few weeds and a gravel bottom on the eastern shore of the north end, but again, struggled to catch anything other than rock bass and perch in 2 hours of fishing by myself.
On the second morning, I was on the water by 5:30, again fishing solo, and finally hooked into the fish I was looking for, a 19-inch smallie that bit a Ned Rig in 6-feet of water. The accompanying photo doesn't do the fish justice, as I tried to hold the camera and fish and snap a photo without dropping either in the water. I believe the smallie was pushing 4-pounds.
A little while later, I landed a 17-inch football-shaped bronze back in 11 feet of water at the weed line.
I tried dock fishing, but mainly I caught perch and rock bass. I had no trouble catching perch, and easily could have caught my daily limit of 50 had I targeted them (you do have to wade through many smaller fish).
Jean and I tried a fourth trip out on the lake, but was advised at the launch ramp by a pair of bass anglers in a big Triton just coming off the lake that it was so rough they suggested we wait to go out.
That just gave us more time to explore the area. We did the entire 56-mile loop around the lake, but in no way saw everything the region has to offer.
The highlight of the trip, without a doubt, was going to the Chautauqua Institution on Sunday morning.
While most people I know don't have fat enough wallets to take advantage of all that the Chautauqua Institution has to offer during it's nine-week summer run of educational activities, folks like me go on Sundays when it's free to get in.
If you're ever in the area, take advantage of the Sunday offer to get a taste of Chautauqua. Get there in time for the non-ecumenical church service at 10:45 a.m. It's held in the newly remodeled 4,000-seat amphitheater, and last Sunday, when the choir, pipe organ and 3,000 people joined in hymn, it was worth the trip to New York just to be a part of it.
The Chautauqua Institution is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, having been founded in 1874. The houses, buildings, hotels and landscaping on the 750 acres that sit on the shores of Lake Chautauqua are stunning, and will keep you gawking for hours.
And, there's even more to do in the region, including taking a ferry trip across the lake, visiting Lucille Ball Park in Celoron (she grew up there), playing golf, hiking exploring, gambling and shopping. There are plenty of camps for the fishermen, a selection of bed and breakfasts for tourists, and campgrounds and state parks for weekend travelers.
If you're fishing, you'll have to purchase a New York license ($50 for a non-resident year license, $28 for a 7-day, $10 1-day), and also be aware of the New York fishing regulations, as there is a season on bass, walleye and musky, as well as length limits. Otherwise, it's catch-and-release only.
Outdoor Writer Art Holden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org