Seneca Lake out of Sampson State Park 6/2 PM


I was planning on fishing here last week just before the derby but didn’t make it.  Today I fished from 2:30 pm until 6:30 pm.  I’ve been keeping a close eye on this fishery over the past few years and have been pleased with what I’ve been seeing and hearing.  Reports were mixed after the recent derby, but overall the bite was encouraging.

There’s a lot of life in this lake.  As I prepared to launch at Sampson State Park I could see hundreds of alewives swarming around the marina.  I also saw some really solid largemouth bass spawning right at the launch.  A good group of bluegills was hovering around as were some big carp and what appeared to be a small pickerel or pike.

I motored north and started fishing old haunts around Belhurst/Geneva.  My friend Jeff said the numbers of lakers they saw on their electronics during the derby was superb and I’d have to agree.  Within 5 minutes I hooked a hard fighting laker.  This fish was strong (or I’m getting weak!) and unfortunately it got off just before I could net it.  Despite my super-sharp Gamakatsu hooks, I dropped another 3 or 4 fish on the day. I probably had 7 to 10 hits.

I had countless follows and “looks” or “peaks” from fish.  I didn’t mark much bait.  After 4 hours of fishing I headed back south to Sampson and fished another 20 minutes.  I landed a 27.5″ beautiful wild lake trout over there before calling it a day.  This was the best lake trout fishing I’ve had on this lake in the past 6 years, no question about it.  

Overall the fishing was very good even though the catching wasn’t.  The numbers of fish and hits kept my engagement up throughout the day.  There’s no doubt in my mind that this lake is close to being back to where it should be.

From 1999 – 2012 the lake received 40,000 fingerlings a year and 20,000 yearlings.  I’m not sure how many fingerlings is the equivalent of stocking a yearling, but I believe it’s 2:1 at this point in time.  This ratio varies depending on the lake.  Sometimes it’s 4:1.

The stocking cut that in my opinion really hurt the fishery went from 2013 – 2019, in which the lake received 26,800 fingerlings and 13,400 yearlings.  I remember guiding the lake around that time period and we weren’t seeing a lot of young fish.  The fishery was somewhat “top-heavy” with plenty of 28″ to 31″ and bigger lakers.  This stocking cut in conjunction with natural production going down, two missed lamprey treatment years and the resultant massive increase in baitfish numbers is what has given us this very tough fishery more or less since 2016.

Don’t believe the internet “tinfoil hat” rumors and conspiracy theories about this lake.  People reported seeing dozens of dead lake trout on the bottom of this lake back around 7 or 8 years ago.  Well – that’s what lampreys do!  They suck the life out of the lake trout (or rainbow or salmon or brown or pike) and the fish dies and deteriorates on the bottom of the lake.  Plain and simple!   Seneca Lake certainly has issues with eutrophication and run-off, but that’s not what destroyed the lake trout fishery.

Stocking was increased in 2020 to 36,510 fingerlings and 19,110 yearlings.  That year the numbers stocked were below the targets.  In 2021 targets were reached of 40,000 fingerlings and 20,000 yearlings.

Why am I listing all of this info?  Well here’s what we can project from it – It takes a lake trout around 4 years to “recruit” into the fishery – that is, become catchable and harvestable (basically useful to anglers.)  Those fish that were stocked as yearlings in 2020, will be around 15″ to 16″ long in 2023 – next year.  Then we’ll see the impacts of the targeted stocking numbers the year after, in 2024.   So the good fishing we are experiencing now is mainly a product of lamprey control.

As these young fish grow up, they’ll start knocking down the alewife population.  The lake trout will become hungrier and more catchable.  As the lake trout population expands, they should serve as a buffer on lamprey impacts and the other salmonids and pike should fare better.  (Lampreys are drawn to lake trout and Seneca strain lake trout have more ability to survive lamprey attacks than virtually every other lake trout strain  as well as other salmonids.)  As alewives get knocked back, the perch will also have better spawning success.  Alewives are notorious predators on perch fry (look at how bad Lake Ontario’s perch fishing was in the late 1980s and 90s as an example.)  Pike should get larger too. So a good lake trout population on Seneca Lake with lamprey control is a win for all anglers who fish this lake, not just trout fishermen.

The baitfish population started exploding here primarily as a result of adult lake trout being killed by lampreys.  Fishing here for lake trout got worse before the impacts of the 2013 stocking cuts!   In 2015 anglers (diary keepers) averaged 2.5 hours to catch a legal salmonid in Seneca Lake.  In 2016 it went up to 5 hours.  For reference, it was 1.9 hours to 1.8 hours from 1996 to 2009.  Cayuga Lake from 1996 to 2009 (as a point of comparison) ranged all over the place from 4.5 to 2.7 hours to catch a legal salmonid.  So yes, Seneca Lake was a hotter fishery during that time frame, at least for lake trout.  A lot of guys on Cayuga were likely targeting rainbows, browns and salmon as well.

Why do I care?  Why bother driving to Seneca Lake with the gas prices and extra drivetime?

We all know that Cayuga Lake is great and the fishery is showing no signs of slowing down, that’s for sure and that’s where I’ll be doing the majority of my guiding – especially with the fuel costs and travel time.

First of all, when Seneca is hot or “on fire” so to speak, it’s beyond compare.  It’s a powerhouse fishery!   For anyone that has fished Seneca Lake, there’s a sense of majesty there.  This lake is huge and deep.  These lake trout we catch throughout the Finger Lakes and Great Lakes (not all, but many) for that matter, originated from Seneca stock.  The wild fish there are beautiful!  My 27″ laker was an awesome looking fish!  The lake is huge, and we all know that Geneva is the “Lake Trout Capital of the World”, so to me it’s great to see Seneca Lake on the rebound.