The Best Of Seneca Lake Fishing

Seneca Lake Fishing
John Lincoln doubles up with two Seneca Lake yellow perch

Seneca Lake is referred to as the Lake Trout Capital of the world, and it is the site for the annual National Lake Trout Derby. However, to perch anglers Seneca Lake is also the source of “yellow gold.” This gold is not a high-value mineral; it is the extremely large yellow perch in the two to three-pound class that is found in the lake. What would be considered a very large or “jack” perch in most lakes would be an average size perch in Seneca Lake. Seneca Lake’s large perch are sometimes referred to as “elephant” perch.

Seneca Lake Fishing, or Why is There Larger Perch?

Brad Hammers, Aquatic Biologist for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Bureau of Fisheries in Region 8, attributes the larger size perch in Seneca Lake to three factors:

  1. Large size of the lake
  2. Excellent food source in the lake
  3. Difficulty of how to catch yellow perch

Seneca Lake is the largest and deepest for perch fishing in the Finger Lakes. The lake is 38 miles long and 3 miles wide at its widest point and has an average depth of 300 feet with a maximum depth of 681 feet. It spans Ontario, Seneca, Yates, and Schuyler Counties with the City of Geneva located at its north end and the Village of Watkins Glen at its south end. In addition to its size, the water in the lake is well-oxygenated at all depths enabling fish to occupy both shallow and deeper water.

Perch feed on various organisms including aquatic insects, crayfish, and fish. Another food source for the yellow perch found in the lake is the scud or side swimmer.  Hammers states that “The weed beds are loaded with scuds.” He attributes the scud food source as a key to the larger-than-average size yellow perch in Seneca Lake.

The scud is a member of the bottom-dwelling class of crustaceans that includes aquatic sow bugs, crayfish, and shrimp. They have a comma-like body shape which is flattened from side to side. The scud is 5 to 20 millimeters long, has two long antennae, and seven pairs of legs. They feed on both decaying plant and animal material.

Some Seneca Lake Fishing Tips

Generally, yellow perch are easy to catch and often are the first fish that beginners catch. This is not necessarily true with Seneca Lake yellow perch. Granted, if you find an active feeding school of perch, you can fill your daily limit of 50 fish in no time. However, Seneca Lake’s yellow perch can be finicky and unpredictable. Getting skunked for perch can happen on this lake if you don’t know how to fish for them.

You can drift yellow perch through large schools of perch all day and not have one bite. Or, you can be taking perch one after the other, and all of a sudden the action ends completely. Minnows may work one day, or even one hour, and worms, spikes, grubs, or bucktail jigs the next. For example, a change in the weather from overcast skies to a clear, sunny day and calm waters will turn the bite off.

Also, another angler operating his outboard motor within a couple of hundred feet of the school you are fishing can have a negative effect. Some anglers will not even use their electric trolling motor to power over a school of perch. They locate upwind and drift over the school. Because these perch are so leery, some anglers will go to the extreme and turn off all electronics once a school has been found.

Brewer, Seneca perch 2
Doubles of nice sized yellow perch are common when you find a school of perch that are actively feeding.

When and Where Do You Catch Seneca Lake Perch?

The best perch fishing in NY starts after Labor Day and continues through late May on Seneca Lake. One of the best Seneca Lake fishing spots is the one that has an active feeding school, which can be anywhere along the shore of the lake between 10 to 80 feet depths of water.

There is no open and closed season for taking perch. However, when the perch bite starts at the north end of the Seneca Lake after Labor Day that is usually a signal for perch anglers to head to the Lake. The north end of the lake is the first location anglers concentrate on for perch fishing.  As the season moves from fall through winter to spring, there are other areas in the lake that perch anglers will concentrate on.

Glass Factory Bay and Kashong Point on the northwest portion of the lake and the stretch of the lake between Sampson State Park and Reeder’s Creek on the east side of the lake are top Seneca Lake fishing spots. Dresden, located on the west shore across from Sampson State Park, is another favorite area for perch anglers. Fishing off Lodi Point on the east side of the lake and Severne Point a little further south on the west side of the lake are two other areas where you will find boats anchored.

For the shore angler, fishing from the marina at Sampson State Park and the fishing pier at Watkins Glen can produce perch.

To locate perch, some anglers will just look for other great fishing boats and try near them. Other anglers strike out on their own to find perch. The first thing these anglers will do to locate a school of perch once they have chosen an area to fish is to use their electronics. Once a school is located they will drift-fish through it to determine whether or not the perch are feeding.

If they are feeding and the bite is concentrated, the anglers will anchor. Remember to drop the anchor very slowly and quietly. Don’t just toss it overboard or this perch bite may end quickly. If the school is large and good numbers of perch are being taken during the entire drift, some anglers will continue to go back and forth and drift rather than drop anchor.

Bait and Tackle to Catch Yellow Perch

Ultra-light to light tackle with four to six-pound test line is recommended when enjoying some Seneca Lake fishing for yellow perch.  These perch may be big, but their bite can be extremely light. They are very efficient bait thieves.

The most common setup used to fish for these perch consists of two # 6 hooks and a three-eighths to half-ounce sinker. Tie the sinker to the bottom of the line and attach the first hook 12 to 18 inches above the sinker. (The distance between the sinker and the first hook depends on the height of the weeds you will be fishing in.) The second hook is 12 to 14 inches above the first hook.  Each hook is baited with a fathead minnow, which is the primary bait used.

Whether anchored or drift-fishing, or using yellow perch fishing rigs, some anglers drop their line straight down below the boat. Others toss their lines several feet from the boat and bounce them off the lake bottom as they slowly retrieve them. In areas where the bottom is very weedy or covered with snags, a slip bobber is used to hold the bait one or two feet off the bottom. The slip bobber rig is often used by anglers fishing from docks, piers and breakwalls.

Small jigs, yellow perch lures, grubs, and spinners are sometimes fished slowly just off the bottom to trigger perch to bite. Often these lures are tipped with a minnow or piece of night crawler.

There are days when perch will not touch a minnow but will hit worms, spikes, or oak leaf grubs.  Small bucktail jigs will also work in lieu of minnows.  It is a good practice to bring alternative live bait and lures on your perch trip to Seneca Lake.

Fishing for yellow perch on Seneca Lake can be a challenge. Success may require patience and stamina but it will be well worth all your efforts when you find that active feeding school of large perch. It is a thrill that causes anglers to return to Seneca Lake trip after trip and sometimes endure freezing, nasty weather and large waves from high wind.

The excitement of landing perch after perch can be overwhelming, particularly when there are two “elephant” perch on your line at one time. However, the enjoyment of the fishing trip does not end on the lake. It offers the opportunity to enjoy a meal of one of the most delicious fish found in our lakes.

Bait Shops Closest to Awesome Seneca Lake Fishing

At the present time, there are only three bait shops operating near Seneca Lake. It is recommended that you contact one of these shops before traveling to this lake to make sure that they have bait available. If coming to a long distance, anglers may want to pick up bait at their local bait shops before leaving for their Seneca Lake fishing trip.

Roy’s Marina is located just south of the City of Geneva off Route 14 on 4398 Clark Road. The contact number for the marina is 315-789-3094.

Mar Jon Bait Shop is located at 335 Routes 5 and 20 in Waterloo on the north end of Seneca Lake. This shop does not have minnows during the winter months. It may have spikes, worms and grubs available. (Call 315-789-3445.)

Brewer’s Sporting Goods is located on Main Street in the Village of Ovid. The shop is on the east side of the lake about halfway between Geneva and Watkins Glen. (The store number is 607-869-5890.)

These last two bait shops are not in close proximity to Seneca Lake; but if obtaining bait becomes a problem, you may have to use them.  Coming from the southeast, Bear’s Bait and Tackle is located on 29 Hector Street in the Village of Trumansburg. (The shop number is 607-387-5576.) From the northeast, Bearwood Bait and Tackle is located on 695 Crow Hill Road in Skaneateles. (The store number is 315-685-7243.)

Boat Launch Sites on Seneca Lake

Geneva Chamber of Commerce launch site is located in Geneva on the north end of the lake on Route 5 and 20. It is operated by the City of Geneva. (Contact the Chamber of Commerce at 315-789-1776.)

Roy’s Marina launch is located off Route 14 a few miles south of the City of Geneva. This launch is open during the winter.  (Contact Roy’s Marina at 315-789-3094.)

Seneca Lake State Park launch at the north end of the lake just east of the City of Geneva is being repaired and may be closed. (Contact the Park office at 315-789-2331.)

Sampson State Park launch is located on the east side of Seneca Lake 12 miles south of the City of Geneva off Route 96A. (Contact the Park office at 315-585-6392.)

Lodi Point State Marine Park launch is located in the Town of Lodi on the east side of the lake off County Road 136. (Contact number is the Sampson State Park office at 315-585-6392.)

Severne Point launch is located on Severne Point Road off Route 14 on the west side of the lake about eight miles south of Dresden. This is a good winter launch and is operated by the DEC. (Contact DEC Region 8 at 585-226-2466.)

The Watkins Glen boat launch is located off Route 414 on the canal portion of Catherine Creek. This launch is located on the south end of the lake and is operated by the Village of Watkins Glen. (Contact the Village of Watkins Glen at 607-535-2736.)

Some of these boat launches may not be maintained and accessible during the winter months. For great Seneca Lake fishing access, it is recommended to call before traveling to the launch.

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. Waybe Brewer passed away in 2019.

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