Over the past couple months I've heard about some slow fishing in Keuka Lake for lake trout. It isn't all that surprising - summertime has been a tough time for laker action over there as long as I can remember, though it's usually not as tough as it was this year. But the lake really shines for lake trout in the spring and fall. We've also had a crazy year weather-wise with an extremely harsh winter and then loads of rain in May and June.
But what's been really surprising is the number of perch that are showing up in lake trout stomachs and more importantly the lack of alewives. The heavy harvest of lake trout through the ice over the past two winters should have relieved some of the predatory pressure on the alewives, but that was likely offset by the hard winters. Alewives don't do well with extreme cold temperatures going into the spring and early summer. I've even heard reports of smallmouth bass being thinner than usual.
Alewives have always struggled in Keuka Lake. The lake is pretty infertile (like Skaneateles Lake) and the lake is overloaded with wild lake trout that pick away non-stop at the bait. Keuka Lake had a major die-off of alewives back around 1967. About that time, DEC terminated the fall stocking of lake trout fingerlings in the lake. DEC literally seined Waneta and Seneca Lakes and stocked about 70,000 adult alewives there between 1968 and 1971 in order to help the recovery of the alewife population. As time went on, natural recruitment of lake trout was strong enough to support the entire fishery, so in 1979 stocking of yearling lake trout was discontinued. Since then, it's all been wild lakers and lots of them.
Keep in mind that all these issues occurred BEFORE the zebra/quagga mussel infestation and the waterfleas.
Skaneateles Lake is the only other major coldwater Finger Lake without alewives or smelt. The lake trout there consume perch fry, sculpins, other minnows, terrestrials, other lakers and other gamefish. Many of the lakers over there are emaciated. But some of them grow to over 20lbs! The lake is fantastic for smallmouth bass and has a great yellow perch population. Landlocked salmon do OK. Rainbow trout THRIVE. It's the best numbers rainbow trout fishery in the region and the size has improved there considerably over the past 5 years. 25" to 27" rainbow trout are showing up with more regularity over there.
If in fact, the alewives are crashing on Keuka Lake, we may be in for some significant changes in the fishery. Mother Nature is a powerful force to reckon with. If you enjoy fishing Keuka Lake, this is not a time to panic. I think we'll be looking at more bass and plenty more perch. The lake just isn't going to support baitfish like it once did. We may see easier and better rainbow trout fishing if the laker population gets knocked back a bit. Who knows? The lakers will only get tastier eating yellow perch and they will likely live longer. Maybe we'll see more alewives next year. Either way, nature has taken "the wheel" and there's no turning back. I'm excited to see what happens.
The above information came from a DEC document "Management History" of Keuka Lake through the year 2004.