Catching Muskellunge in New York

Where to Fish for Musky in New York State

Experienced anglers know better than to make any guarantees when it comes to catching muskellunge in New York. Still, New York State waters offer excellent opportunities for catching your first muskellunge, and there is no better time than right now – autumn – to make that initial catch.

Man on a charter fishing boat holding fish after catching muskellunge in New York on the St. Lawrence River
Captain Bob Walters strains to heft the 58 lb. muskie in the St. Lawrence River.

The fall season sees decreasing daylight hours and dropping water temperatures, and these occurrences signal increased feeding activity on the part of muskellunge. Actively feeding fish give autumn anglers an edge that doesn’t exist at other times of the year. Prime places to pursue that first muskellunge are the state’s “Big Three”, where minimum size lengths vary from 40 to 54 inches – now those are some big fish! Some of the state’s stocked waters and the dozens of other waters are also home to tiger muskellunge.

The Muskellunge Fishing “Big Three”

The St. Lawrence River, Niagara River, and Chautauqua Lake are the Empire State’s “Big Three” muskellunge waters.  Not only are these large water bodies, but also they are home to monster muskellunge.  In fact, each year these waters yield some of the largest muskellunge taken anywhere in the world.

Find a Guide Who Knows Muskies

The best approach toCatching Muskellunge in New York on any of the “Big Three” is to hire a fishing charter guide.  When using the expertise of a local guide, the odds for success skyrocket.  These fishing charters have the proper equipment and know-how.  They will fish in the best areas and utilize time-proven techniques for that particular waters’ muskellunge populations.  Don’t hesitate to ask questions during the outing.  Even if a muskellunge isn’t caught, the experience should be a learning one, and it should give you enough know-how to go after New York muskellunge on your own. Don’t be discouraged if your firsts attempt at catching a muskie isn’t successful – it is the fish of 10,000 casts!

St. Lawrence River

Deep-water trolling is the primary technique on the St. Lawrence River where traditional fish-producing areas can be found along the entire river’s length from Cape Vincent to Massena.  Setups vary from flat-lining diving plugs from a 14-foot boat to operating multi-rod arrangements on downriggers and planer boards from a craft with a heated cabin.

Niagara River

Trolling diving plugs is also a popular technique on the Niagara River whether anglers are fishing the Buffalo Harbor, the Upper River, or the Lower River.  The Upper Niagara River also sees a lot of fish taken by casters, while the Lower River is producing an increasing number of fall muskellunge for anglers drifting live suckers.  

Chautauqua Lake

Both trolling and casting work well on the 13,100-acre Chautauqua, a lake with a deep-water, north basin and a shallow-water, south basin.  Unlike the slow, trolling speeds used by St. Lawrence and Niagara river fishers, Chautauqua anglers routinely speed-troll.  Also, unlike the two rivers which rely on natural reproduction, Chautauqua Lake looks to the NY Department of Environmental Conservation stockings to maintain a healthy muskellunge population.  In 2009, DEC placed over 15,000 fingerlings in the lake.  While Chautauqua does yield some big muskellunge, the lake has more of a reputation for producing numbers of fish.  

Stocked Waters

Smaller Lakes and Rivers for Muskie Fishing

A good bet for catching that first muskie is to head to the Cassadaga Lakes, Great Chazy River, or Waneta Lake.  These are smaller waters that see annual stockings of muskellunge and that lend themselves to do-it-yourself fishing trips, although hiring a guide would certainly up the odds for fishing success.  Bass and pike outfits are okay for tossing spinnerbaits, jigs, and surface baits on these waters, but a better bet is to go with a stouter outfit that will cast Suicks and Mepps Muskie Spinners and will troll crankbaits such as the Swim-Whiz and Depth Raider.  

Cassadage Lakes

The upper, middle, and lower Cassadaga Lakes cover a combined total of 210 acres so they are excellent spots for small boaters and casters.  The lakes are located in Chautauqua County six miles south of Fredonia, and muskellunge here typically are taken from weedy stretches.  DEC stocked 1,070 fingerlings here in 2009.

Chazy River

The Great Chazy River, a tributary of Lake Champlain, lies at the opposite end of the state in Clinton County.  Both casting and trolling are popular on the river where anglers fish from the river’s mouth to the dam at Perry Mills.  As a rule, the lower river stretches produce the better fishing.  DEC stocked 1,400 fingerlings in the river in 2009.

Waneta Lake

Located in the Finger Lakes Region of Schuyler County, Waneta Lake covers 780 acres.  Prime spots to cast or troll for muskellunge here are the lake’s points and deep weed edges.  Over 4,000 muskellunge fingerlings were stocked in Waneta in 2009.  

Tiger Muskellunge

Thanks to a robust, tiger muskellunge stocking program, anglers don’t have to travel far from home if they want to try catching muskellunge in New York.  The tiger muskie is a sterile, hybrid cross between a northern pike and muskellunge, and the New York DEC annually stocks these tigers in 50 or so waters across the state.  For the most part, tiger muskies are stocked in waters that are accessible to small boaters, most muskies are actually taken incidentally by anglers targeting bass.  These stocked waters offer do-it-yourself opportunities to catch a tiger muskie.  

Catch, Photograph, and Release

Hooking into that first muskellunge is the ultimate thrill in freshwater angling, a thrill that is matched only by watching the muskie swim away after a successful release.  The memory of these thrills can be captured by adopting the modern muskellunge angler’s practice of CPR: Catch-Photograph-Release, rather than bring home the trophy fish when you are catching muskellunge in New York State. 

Where to Try Catching Muskellunge in New York State

Here is a listing by county of the waters where you can try your hand at catching muskellunge in New York – waters that were stocked with tiger muskie last year: Albany (Mohawk River), Cattaraugus (Lime Lake), Cayuga (Duck Lake, Lake Como, Seneca River), Chenango (Chenango Lake, Long Pond), Columbia (Kinderhook Lake),  Essex (Lincoln Pond), Green (North-South Lake), Hamilton (Lake Durant), Herkimer (First Lake, Mohawk River, Moshier Reservoir, North Lake, State Barge Canal), Jefferson (Grass, Hyde, Moon, and Payne Lakes), Lewis (Soft Maple Reservoir, Whetstone Marsh Pond), Livingston (Conesus Lake), Madison (Lake Moraine, Lower Lelands Pond), Oneida (Kayuta Lake, Mohawk River, State Barge Canal), Onondaga (Jamesville Reservoir, Otisco Lake, Seneca River), Otsego (Canadarago Lake), Putnam (Middle Branch Reservoir), Schenectady (Mohawk River), St. Lawrence (Horseshoe and Yellow Lakes), Tioga (Oakley Corners Pond), and Washington (Cossayuna Lake). 

Original Article written by Mike Seymour 

About the Author

Captain Mike Seymour is a licensed Coast Guard and NYS guide who has guided extensively on The St. Lawrence River, Black Lake, and in western Alaska.  He is past president of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association and is an active writer for many publications.  In addition to fishing the St. Lawrence River, he is actively fishing Lake Ontario, the Adirondacks, and other waters of the state. 

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