Life on the Lake


Article Contributed by
Stephanie McCraw

A dad wakes before the first glimmers of sunrise to find a prime fishing spot on Chautauqua Lake. Today he’s bringing his eight-year-old daughter, Lily, on a fishing adventure. In the long morning hours between bites on the line there’s plenty of time to talk perch and walleye, and to outline the virtues of different baits for each fish. The temperature of the water, that’s important too.

Relaxed and easy summer days are upon us. We can trade daily pressures for picnics on the beach and build memories with our loved ones. Living near Chautauqua Lake, a variety of other inland lakes, and close to the Lake Erie shoreline promises a summer of recreation, outdoor sports, and gorgeous views of the glassy water.

Whether it’s a dad and daughter fishing trip, an extended family excursion to a state park, or a solo trip in a kayak, residents and vacationers who return seasonally to the area know there are so many ways to make new memories on the lake.
Guided Tours and Musky Fishing

Mike Sperry is a licensed guide and owner of Chautauqua Reel Outdoors. He grew up fishing in Lakewood, remembering that as a boy he fished from a small rubber boat.

He says Chautauqua Lake is special because it’s natural, glacial, and very fertile, as opposed to a man- made reservoir. The Chautauqua Fish Hatchery near the lake is a great benefit for stocking, and people come from all over the country to fish for world class musky. Muskellunge are native to the lake and known for their size and strength.

His business offers fishing charters on Chautauqua Lake and specializes in Musky. According to Sperry, “The season for crappie starts late April, walleye is the first Saturday in May, and musky opens the last Saturday in May.” To this seasoned fisherman, the Lake “is a vital resource for the area. We depend on a healthy lake for tourism and small businesses.”

Get Close to Nature in a Kayak

Kayaking is another great pastime with the area’s variety of waterways and inlets. Megan Arnone of, says that kayaking is “a great opportunity to explore your own backyard but from a new perspective.” Kayakers enjoy the peacefulness of the water and observing local wildlife like heron, deer, and eagles.

Connected inland lakes collectively referred to as “Cassadaga Lake” offer an NYSDEC boat ramp and free
parking and is said to be a quiet and remote place for canoers and kayakers to get out on the water. Basic amenities make it easy to focus on paddling or fishing without a lot of distractions.

Kayakers looking for a spot near Jamestown can anticipate a new kayak launch to be installed at McCrea Point Park in July, part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant program.
Several free NYSDEC boat launch sites are provided on Chautauqua Lake, with locations in Lakewood, Mayville, and at the popular Long Point State Park. They are also provided at Findley Lake, Bear Lake in Stockton, and along Lake Erie in Westfield and Dunkirk.

Music in Mayville

For a night out, dining and entertainment opportunities with a view of the Chautauqua shoreline come alive in the summer. This is an exciting year for the newly named Chautauqua Lake Pops, By the Shore.

The floating stage was installed in Mayville this June after a year on hiatus, during which the owners researched to find a new location for the beloved concert series. Formerly Bemus Bay Pops, a name synonymous with fun and entertainment for twenty-one years, their goal of bringing the arts to the people continues.

“It’s going to be wonderful, with more space and more general admission seating” said chairman and co-creator Dan Dalpra. The first show was June 29 th and the 2019 summer schedule includes twenty-five shows, six movies, music in the park and food truck appearances. The concert series is a popular attraction that brings people out to local restaurants and provides an amazing economic benefit to the area.

Wildlife Walks

Fascinating wildlife surrounds the lake and its inlets. Most often seen on a local wildlife tour, provided by Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, are different species of birds, along with turtles, waterfowl, dragonflies, damsel flies, plants, and wildflowers.

Interested parties of all ages can join summer interns from R.T.P.I or President Twan Leenders on a wildlife walk. It meets on Wednesdays at 9am at the Chadakoin Riverwalk, located on the new section of the bikepath in downtown Jamestown.

Leenders has an eye for things that most people wouldn’t observe, according to Melanie Smith, the communications coordinator at R.T.P.I.

Life in the Lake: Protecting Our Resources

There’s another way to think about this natural resource: as a living organism. Anyone who has spent time on the lake has likely noticed green growth and vegetation and wondered about the effects on water quality.

R.T.P.I. collaborates with the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and the Chautauqua Lake Watershed & Management Alliance to offer public programs and volunteer opportunities regarding the issue of “weeds” in the Lake.

“It’s a misconception that everything that grows in the Lake is a weed. Many plants that grow are native plants that are part of the ecology of the lake,” according to Melanie Smith, who also says that many invasive species have been around a long time.
The focus of the series is to offer training for those interested, so they can differentiate between beneficial vegetation versus invasive species from other locales, and to establish a volunteer network.

The program started in May and has dates scheduled through September. It includes both information sessions and “Citizen Scientist” field surveys.

Find Your Own Adventure

Tourists, conservationists, music lovers, and outdoor sportsman, and of course amateur fishermen and their kids can join in the many traditions surrounding lake life. Chautauqua County is teeming with water sources. For Lily and her dad, being on the lake means a chance to catch up with each other. When asked what she remembers most, it’s “the excitement of a bite, and spending the day with my dad.”

For More Information

Readers can visit Several free boat launches exist along the Lake Erie shoreline and the handful of inland lakes of Chautauqua County to accommodate boaters and fisherman.

For a full program list of R.T.P.I.’s volunteer program, readers are encouraged to visit