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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Is Chautauqua Lake A Healthy Fishery?

It's been some time since we discussed the health of Chautauqua Lake and its affect on the residents of Chautauqua County.

OK, that may be a big statement, but let me explain.

Let's look at the facts: Chautauqua Lake is a 13,100-acre natural lake in Western New York. There are many who think that Chautauqua Lake is part of the infamous Finger Lake chain. A look at any map would lead one to believe that this statement would have to be true, but what is true is Chautauqua Lake was formed by glaciers thousands of years ago, give or take a few hundred years. As with most glacier lakes, Chautauqua Lake is deeper in the northern basin and shallower in the southern basin.

The origin of the name of our lake has been debated for years, but it's generally accepted that Chautauqua is an native Indian word for bag tied in the middle.

Whatever the origin of the name, all one has to do is mention the word Chautauqua to most folks within 150 miles of our county and it will bring a response. For some it means education, music or entertainment as in Chautauqua Institution. For others, the name Chautauqua brings thoughts of miles of vineyards and first-class wine. Some folks think of great fishing and water recreation when they hear the word Chautauqua.

No matter what one thinks about when they hear the word Chautauqua, it's based on water. The health of our fishery affects more then just sportsmen, but also all those who live in the county. It doesn't matter what business one is in, Chautauqua Lake is part of what makes our economy click.

For more years than I can remember, there has been heated debates about the health of Chautauqua Lake and it generally is based around vegetation growth on the lake. Over the years, thousands of hours have been spent debating the proper way to control vegetation. Plenty of money has been spent on studies and control methods.

Over the years, I have learned that when people are passionate about their beliefs, they will share their passion with others of the like mind. Now, once one or more gather in the name of a belief it becomes a news item and the passion grows. Without all the different interests of each segment of the population, the needs of the lake and its watershed would not be protected.

Recently there has been much discussed and written about the lack of weed growth so far this year on Chautauqua Lake. Some would like us to believe it has to do with a variety of past practices of vegetation control. Now, I have said many times I am not a biologist or expert on controlling water vegetation, but what I am a pretty good at is getting fish to bite a bait on Chautauqua Lake. I have learned that the lack of growth of vegetation on the lake has an impact on fishing.

I believe that many of the practices that we are using on Chautauqua Lake to control vegetation have had a positive effect on the weed growth in the lake. Between controlling the watershed, harvesting and the introduction of webbles and moths into the lake, they all have a positive impact on the lake and the fishery.

Chautauqua Lake is a complex body of water with many issues and just as many different users. Trying to balance all of the individuals that use the lake is difficult, and unfortunately, there is no model on how to be successful. One would think with all the lakes in the state, there would be another body of water and watershed that has gone through the same difficulties we are dealing with. Like many before us have said, there is no place like Chautauqua Lake and with that statement comes our own challenges.

Managing anything as complex as a lake is difficult, but, unlike some, I feel that the direction our lake is going is good.

I was told many years ago that a lake is like a business -it has its ups and downs. There will be good years and years when things aren't so good. Some feel that Chautauqua Lake should be like a huge swimming pool, but that's not healthy and its unrealistic.

There will be, for whatever reason, years when it seems that no matter where one goes on the lake there will be vegetation choking the life out of it. Then there are years when vegetation is under control and boaters, swimmers and anglers are all happy. For whatever reason, this year seems a good year for vegetation.

For anglers, this past weekend produced several muskies during the annual Muskie First catch-and-release tournament. Bass anglers have been enjoying good numbers and increased size this season.

While guiding this weekend and fishing a weed edge on the northern basin, my clients actually got into a nice school of crappie. That in itself is no big surprise, but the area where we got into the them was encouraging. Along with the number of crappie we caught, the quality was good for the time of year and water temperature.

For anglers who like to catch over weedbeds, there are dozens of areas on the lake where the tops of weeds are below the surface of the water. Casting topwater baits and shallow-running lures and working them over the tops of the weeds is a great way to pick everything from bass to muskie to pan fish.

Another plus is boaters are having no problems with their motors getting weeded up.

So far, this season has been a great one for all the users of the lake and only time will tell how the remainder of the season will be, but that's the exciting thing about having a lake in our backyard to enjoy.

Understanding the basic facts of any large natural body of water also mean understanding that often times there is little we can do to totally control any body of water.


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