Seneca Lake out of Geneva 5/29 + 30


I didn’t think I’d wind up on Seneca Lake for the Memorial Weekend Derby this year, but that’s what happened.  Memorial Weekend is typically a good guiding weekend for me on Cayuga Lake but a client of mine – Johann, expressed interest in wanting to fish the derby.  Johann has a deep love for Seneca Lake and I first guided him and some friends here well over a decade ago (if I remember correctly.)  He put the bug in my head to give it a shot.  He wasn’t able to do the first day so we decided it’d just be better to fish it next year and give it a 100%.  Guiding the derby is a win/win situation for me.  If I just fish it on my own and don’t catch a board fish – I’m losing out on income.  That being said, it’s nice not to have the pressure of guiding it.

I was thinking about entering it and fishing with my friend Todd, but he had a commitment come up, so I decided to at least fish it one day on my own and then maybe guide Cayuga on Sunday and/or Monday.  My client Pete, whose father has a place near Watkins asked me about fishing it when I told him the story – so I said yes to guiding Seneca on day 2.

Lake trout fishing on Seneca Lake over the past 7 or 8 years has all been about bite windows.  They are short here!  You can fish the lake two days in a row from sun up to sun down and only have a couple 1/2 hour or hour periods when the fish are “on.”   On Cayuga Lake you might only have a couple hour period when the fish are off!  That’s a major difference.

Day 1 – Saturday May 29th:  As I motored out of Seneca Lake State Park with my late start at around 9:15 am I heard someone call my name.  I wasn’t expecting anyone to be onshore at Stiver’s Marine.   When I fished the derby in the 2000s and 2010s the weigh-in station was at the Chamber of Commerce, so who in the world would be onshore by the North Tiki Bar?  It was my buddy Mike!   My cognitive dissonance did not recognize him!  It is so strange how our brain processes context.  I didn’t recognize the voice of someone I’ve spent countless hours fishing with and just hanging out with.  It’s insane.

He had a good morning and landed three lakers.  Two were very nice fish – a 9lber and an 8lber.  I was happy for him but disappointed that I probably missed the “bite window” for Saturday!  It was fun running into a bunch of old friends/clients on the water.  A lot of the same guys fish the derby year after year.

I tried a lot of areas.  With my new Lowrance Unit I don’t have the sheer volume of waypoints I used to have, so I basically fished from memory and by using my mapping on my GPS. (I know that I can upload my waypoints and transfer them…)  I marked fair to good numbers of fish but didn’t have a hit for hours.  Eventually I finally had a momentary hookup, but that was it.  6 hours without a fish to show!

Day 2 – Sunday May 30th:   Peter and his brother Steven knew the deal getting into this thing.  They also fish Cayuga and know how good it is over there.  They trolled down by their place at Watkins Glen yesterday and caught some salmon and a rainbow.  None were big enough to weigh in.  We fished hard on the north end and also maybe 4 to 5 miles south on both shores.  Pete nabbed a 20″ hatchery laker up north.  Steve lost one that he hooked momentarily on the west shore and then one he had for a couple seconds on the east shore.  Neither felt particularly heavy.  So 8 hours of fishing for one keeper laker.  That is tough!  Mike hadn’t caught any until after we chatted with him midday when he nabbed a 7lber.  His nephews who won the derby 2 years ago didn’t catch any either on Day 1 from what Mike told me.

Peter and Steven took their boat to Cayuga today (Monday).  After 8 hours with one 20″er on Seneca, within 20 minutes on Cayuga Lake they had one just under 30″.  What a difference!

Pete's hard won fish!

What are the takeaways from this year’s Derby?   I think there are many.

1.)  I’ve always felt the jigging is the best way to take big lazy fish, but these fish on Seneca Lake are so well-fed that trolling (either with riggers or copper line) is probably going to be the most productive way to take them until we get some balance.   I “keep it real” here and have long said that jigging is the best way to win this derby.  Usually it is!  And I know Angling Zone friend/past client Jimmy had a big one on while jigging and lost it.  So perhaps the event could have been won by jigging again, but given how slow the jigging has been overall, I have to reconsider with the evidence at hand.  Via trolling you can keep the lure in their zone and cover enough water to hopefully find a couple that want to hit.  Once the population is back up and balanced with the available forage, the jigging should become a better tactic here.  But for now these fish just don’t appear to want to chase jigs up much at all. That can change by the day and likely will.  But anecdotally, trolling appeared to be more productive this year.

As a note:  Since 2011, seven lake trout have won the derby overall.  Three of those (that I know of), were taken via jigging.  The vast majority of anglers fishing this derby are trolling, so I stand by my claims over time.

2.)  More big Salmon!  The salmon continue to survive (at least enough of them) in spite of abundant lampreys.  The top fish was a 13lb Landlock!  The 12lb “brown” that was leading the tournament by the end of day 1 or beginning of day 2 apparently was misidentified and wound up being a salmon!  So two trophy salmon (and some other solid 4 to 6lbers) were landed during the contest.  Likely again by trollers.

3.)  Very few brown trout are surviving much past two years.  We should’ve seen some more giant browns given the forage base here, but it’s not the case.  Lampreys decimate brown trout.

4.)  Management decisions remain crucial here.  I marked plenty of lakers as did my friends during the contest.  Many of them are young fish.   How well these fish are going to balance against the heavy forage base here remains to be seen.  As mentioned in the Hobart/William Smith Invasive Zoom chat, gobies are most certainly in the lake.  Will there be enough predators in here in 5 years to make for a good fishery if we wind up with two massive components to the forage base?  I think Brad Hammers (DEC Region 8 Biologist) has the lake on the right track.  Mike’s four fish he caught during the derby were all wild.  So too much stocking may not be a good idea.  Let these younger fish grow a bit and that, in conjunction with the lake trout stocking increase of 2020 should get Seneca Lake fishing pretty well by 2025 or 2026 when the additional stockies recruit into being catchable sized.

5.)  More Diary Cooperators will only help!  I’ve beaten this drum for years now.  Please sign up with Region 8 and keep a book.  The fishery managers here need all the information they can get.