Seneca Lake 50th Annual Memorial Day Weekend Lake Trout Derby


After winning this derby last year, needless to say my buddy Jarrod and I were very excited to get out and see what we could do this year. Last year, the bite was tough due to the water and weather conditions (strong winds and very cold water) and we made the right calls and with a good portion of luck, we wound up in the right place at the right time, finding a hot bite window in deep water. In 2013, overall the jiggers dominated the laker division of the derby, with 3 out of 4 of the biggest lakers coming via jigging, and all at the north end of the lake.

This year started very off-kilter for me. First of all, around 2 months ago my buddy Jarrod informed me that he wouldn't be able to fish on Monday, due to a family vacation that he couldn't skirt around. So from the get-go we'd be fishing at around 66% effort – since I only want to fish 1/2 days in the AM for this contest. I wasn't about to arrange a derby partner for the last 1/2 day of the derby – that wouldn't be fair to my partner. Secondly, the jigging bite has been very tough thus far this season. High water with turbidity makes for tough jigging. We want clear water! Lastly, normally I'm guiding on Seneca Lake a bit just prior to the derby, but this year due to some weird timing, I had to visit my Mom in Arizona the week before the derby, so I hadn't done any scouting.

But I know the lake well and we fished hard on both Saturday and Sunday. We put in long, slow days which I don't like doing anymore. I want to fish 6 or 7 hours in peak form and with peak intensity, not sit out and bake in the sun with a slow to non-existent bite. But that's what we did, and we didn't catch much. I landed one 9lb 1oz laker on Saturday in around 85' FOW. It lasted on the board for a few hours before getting knocked way down! That was it for us apart from a nice smallmouth and even a bullhead I caught while trying for some shallow trout/salmon! We had a few other hits on the lakers but no hookups. Overall fish were caught shallow and deep. Jiggers did better at Sampson overall than on the north end. And as of this writing, my prediction of a brown possibly winning the overall derby has been dead-on. I was wrong about the debris affecting the trollers – they did great as far as I could tell.

Kudos go out to my past clients, who for the most part all did better than we did! My great guitar teacher always says he expects me to be a better player than him (and he's tremendous,) since it took him decades to learn what he teaches me in short order, and it's the same with my clients. They get 12 years of hard-core laker jigging knowledge in a half or full day of guiding. So they naturally start at a higher level and can take it from there.

A lot of people may think that this derby shows that trolling is the best way to catch large lake trout in the Finger Lakes. I don't necessarily agree. I think this derby is the exception that proves the rule. Our visibility (water clarity) on Seneca Lake (and Cayuga recently) has been around 4 feet due to all the rain and wind we've had. That's compared to 15' to 25' typically this time of year. If Seneca Lake and other FLs had this 4' visibility level all the time, trolling would certainly be the most productive method day-in and day-out, but again, this is an exception these days. Quagga mussels are filtering our water 24/7, 365 days a year. Once things clear up I see the jigging becoming very productive again. The last 4 years of the Memorial Lake Derby (with 2/4 winners coming via jigging) and nearly the entire history of the now defunct Red Cross Derby (with numerous top fish – both browns and lakers coming via jigging) is proof. But to each his own, and a lot of people love to troll or still fish or pull copper or Seth Green rigs, and as long as the method is sporting, I have no issues with it.

I'm already looking forward to next year's contest. But boy is fishing humbling at times! Just when you think you have things figured out, it throws another curveball at you. What's most impressive about this year's contest is how Seneca Lake just keeps producing incredible numbers of quality fish! The lake is in supreme balance now and eels aren't too bad. As I've often told people I meet re: Seneca Lake fishing these days – "These are the good old days!" And the proof is in these derby results, which overall might be the best ever or at least in the top 2 or 3 over the past 50 years!