Fishing the Finger Lakes: Tips for Waterwolves and Walleye

An angler shows his successful attempt at Fishing the Finger Lakes for walleye
Kid Corbett of Syracuse with three nice walleyes he caught night fishing on Otisco Lake with Mike Kelly.

“Waterwolves” are one of the most aggressive freshwater fish species, they fight hard when hooked.  They have voracious appetites and will patiently wait in the concealment of vegetation or another cover to ambush their prey, striking both artificial lures and live bait making both viable options while fishing the Finger Lakes.

Characteristics and Behavior of Waterwolves

The adults of this group of fish are generally solitary, highly carnivorous, and piscivorous (fish-eating), and will even eat frogs, mice, ducks, and muskrats. Members of this group of fish generally prefer one large food item over several smaller items. Their large mouths enable them to eat larger fish which may be one-third to one-half their own length.

When the prey fish is too large to swallow whole, these predator fish will swim around with the tail protruding out of their mouths until the head is digested, allowing room to eventually swallow the fish.

6 Members of the Waterwolf Family

There are six members of this group of waterwolves in New York State, some common and some uncommon.  They are:

  1. Northern Pike
  2. Chain Pickerel
  3. Grass Pickerel
  4. Redfin Pickerel
  5. Muskellunge
  6. Tiger Muskie

Fishing the Finger Lakes for Walleye, Northern Pike and Chain Pickerel

Northern pike and chain pickerel fishing the Finger Lakes Region.  Fishing for walleye is also addressed. Often referred to as the “walleye pike” or “yellow pike”, the walleye is not a pike.  Instead, it is a member of the perch family. Walleye is a very popular game fish in New York because they are exciting to catch and great to eat – “the fillet mignon of fish”.

Walleyes get their name because of their unique eyes that have a reflective layer of pigment called the tapetum lucidum, which gives them the ability to see very well at night and during low-light periods. For that reason, fishing for walleye at low light or night can be very productive.

Walleye can be found in a variety of habitats in New York, from large lakes to small rivers. Finger Lake walleye fishing can be more challenging because of the various locations that can “hold” the fish. Walleyes may be in shallow areas in weed beds, on flats, humps, drop-offs or in deep water basins. Because of the diversity of locations, trolling can be an excellent method to use to cover more water to locate active walleyes.

Types of Lures for Walleye

There are numerous types of lures used to take walleye. A black, brown, or purple bucktail jig tipped with a minnow, leech or night crawler is the old walleye standby. When fishing deeper water; gold, silver or fire tiger blade baits tipped with a minnow or piece of night crawler will work. Black and silver, blue and silver, and shad and yellow perch-colored crankbaits also do the trick for walleye anglers.

Choose the crankbait for the depth of water you are fishing so it will occasionally hit the bottom. Walleye seem to prefer steady retrieve, but it may pay to add pauses or sweeps. Stickbaits or jerkbaits can work well for walleye. Using the same colors, they can be cast or trolled like crankbaits.

Popular Live Baits for Walleye

Popular live baits for walleye are night crawlers, minnows, and leeches.  They can be fished in a variety of methods such as using spinner rigs, bottom bouncing, or on a jig which can be fished directly on the bottom or suspended under a floatOne of the best choices in the Finger Lake Region for catching walleyes is Otisco Lakes in Onondaga County.  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Region 7 Senior Aquatic Biologist Jim Everard recommends trolling outside the weed edges with stickbaits or crankbaits.

For the shore angler, casting stickbaits from the causeway just before and after dark will produce walleyes. Drifting with worm and spinner rigs or trolling with stickbaits works well for catching walleyes, especially off Fitzgerald Point and Lader’s Point.

“Fishing the Finger Lakes” by J. Michael Kelly

In his book, Fishing the Finger Lakes, author, and local angler J. Michael Kelly writes that walleye are the top game fish in the lake.  He reports that in the Spring, from the season opener until mid to late June, alewives spawn near shore and walleyes come in to feed on them.  Alewives may show up along shore at any hour of the night, but they seem to arrive earlier and stay longer when the moon is dark or at least obstructed by clouds.  According to Kelly, as the alewives swarm in circles often in less than ankle deep water, the swirling and slurping sounds of the walleyes feeding on them can be heard.

The weed beds at the south end of Owasco Lake, which is located in Cayuga County, will provide anglers with good northern pike fishing. Large stickbaits, spoons, spinnerbaits and live minnows under a float will all produce northern pike action.  Charlie, at Bearwood Bait and Tackle in Skaneateles recommends drifting with large shiners under a bobber at the extreme south end of the Owasco lake for fishing pike.

Northern Pike Fishing Tips from Mike Kelley

The pier at Emerson Park produces fair to good walleye action after dark during the Spring of the year (not year-round).  Mike Kelley recommends getting to the fishing pier before dark and “hurling skinny stickbaits into the darkness”. Anglers in boats will also fish for walleyes at night just off the pier. Tossing a minnow under a bobber off the pier in the Spring can also produce a northern pike.

A typical northern caught while fishing the  of the Finger Lakes

Fishing the Finger Lakes: Where Northern Pike and Walleye Abound

Cross Lake

Cross Lake, which is located on the border of Cayuga and Onondaga counties, is basically a widening of the Seneca River. The lake is best known for producing some large northern pike that can reach 15 pounds. Live minnows and stickbaits and spinnerbaits are recommended for taking the pike.

Of interest to the walleye angler, Cross Lake is annually stocked with 33,500 walleye fingerlings. The best place to catch them when they grow up is in the Seneca River where it enters the lake and downstream from the lake in the area called Jack’s Reef.

Oneida Lake

Oneida Lake is well known for excellent walleye fishing. It refers to larger lakes (Oneida Lake is the largest lake in NY). During the Spring, walleyes can be found adjacent to spawning areas and tributaries. According to DEC biologist Jim Everard, the lake also has a lot of nice-sized pickerel; many are 24 plus inches. He says that any bass-type lure work on the pickerel including spinnerbaits, chatterbaits and swimbaits.

Cayuga Lakes – The Best Location for the Northern Pike

The best location for the northern pike on Cayuga Lake is the north end of the lake, which has extensive weed growth. Large stickbaits, spoons, spinnerbaits and live minnows under a float will provide good pike action. Pike are also scattered in and along the weed beds along the shore of the rest of the lake and casting spinnerbaits, Johnson spoons and stickbaits will produce a few pike. The north end of Cayuga is loaded with nice-sized chain pickerel with some up to 25 inches in length.

Also Seneca Lake

Seneca Lake will produce some nice-sized northern pike in the Spring. According to the DEC Region 8 Fisheries staff, the pike population has fluctuated quite a bit over the last decade, but it appears to be increasing over the last few years. Pike anglers should try casting spoons, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and minnows around the weed bed along the shores of the lake, particularly near Dresden, Severne and Glass Factory Bay.

Shore anglers pull these “toothy critters” out of the lake from the municipal pier at Watkins Glen on the south end of the lake, the pier at the City of Geneva at the north end, and halfway between on the east shore from the breakwall at Sampson State Park. Pam, owner of Brewer’s Sporting Goods in Ovid (607-869-5890) says that the red and white daredevil spoon has traditionally been a pike catcher in Cayuga and Seneca Lake.

Keuka Lake

Northern pike and pickerel are not extremely abundant in Keuka Lakes. However, forein and local anglers catch the two Finger Lake fish species in the shallow weedy areas in both the Branchport and Penn Yan arms.

Cayuga Lake – Continued

Cayuga Lake is a small lake located in Schuyler County and according to DEC Region 8 Fisheries staff, it is loaded with walleye as the result of years of stocking in the late 2000’s. The walleye may be abundant, but because of an abundant alewife population, they are hard to catch. However, if you do catch one, it is likely to be a nice-sized fish. The lake also offers excellent pickerel fishing opportunities.

Canandaigua Lake

Canandaigua Lake is known for producing some of the largest chain pickerel in the region. Fishing near the weed beds at the south end of the lake provides the best opportunities for catching some of these nice-sized fish. Blaine, at The Bait Barn in Naples (585-374-9765), recommends fishing off the Vine Valley area for pickerel using a blue and silver or orange and red spinnerbait .

Honeoye Lake

Honeoye Lake, located on south-west side of Ontario County, is not well known for pickerel fishing. However, numbers have been increasing in recent years. Any of the weed beds throughout the lake hold pickerel. Northern pike are also caught occasionally and are usually quite large.

What is the Best Time to Troll for Walleye with Stickbaits?

In his book, Kelly reports that the second half of May is one of the best fishing times to troll at night for walleye with stickbaits around and over emergent weed beds. Fishing the Finger Lakes can be difficult because of the heaving weed growth. Shore fishing after dark with stick baits or using a slip sinker and a floating jig head tip with a worm can be productive.

Best Techniques for Walleye Fishing

The south end of the lake near the State Park boat launch usually holds good numbers of walleye. Ted, the owner of Ted’s Tackle Shop in Lakeville, says that slow trolling a bottom bouncer with a worm harness on the edge of the weed beds is an excellent method to produce walleye in Honeoye Lake.

Located in eastern Livingston and western Ontario Counties, Hemlock Lake is known for some of the largest chain pickerel in the region. The extensive weed beds along most of the shoreline of the lake hold chain pickerel. Those at the south end of the lake provide excellent fishing.

A shiner fished a couple of feet below a bobber works well as does casting spinnerbaits, buzzbaits and stickbaits. There are not a lot of walleyes in the lake, but there are a few remaining from the last stocking in 2008. Shore casting at night is the most popular method and if you connect with a walleye it will be a nice-sized fish, possibly up to 10 pounds.

Casting a spinner bait from shore over the weed beds in Canadice Lake, which is in western Ontario County, can produce pickerel weighing from two pounds and maybe a couple up to four pounds.  Also, the weed beds in the south end of the lake provide excellent pickerel fishing.

Located in central Livingston County, Conesus Lake is said to be loaded with 10 pound northern pike that enjoy slamming stickbaits. According to Ted’s Bait Shop, fishing the south end of the lake with live sucker chubs or pike minnows works well for pike, as does trolling with jointed rapalas.  Whopper walleyes can be caught after dark for three to four weeks after the season opener in the Conesus Inlet. Fishing from Long Point Park, midway along the west shore, is another excellent place for walleye.

Many of the lakes in the Finger Lakes Region provide excellent northern pike, pickerel or walleye fishing when the season opens in the Spring. To experience some great Finger Lake walleye fishing action, give them a try.

Original Article By Wayne Brewer

About The Author

Wayne Brewer was an avid outdoorsman. At one point he was the Director of Law Enforcement for the NYS DEC. He was the author of a fish and game cookbook Enjoying Nature’s Bounty and a freelance writer for several publications. Wayne Brewer passed away in 2019.

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