9/4/2017
Skaneateles Lake Walleyes

I haven't had a chance to talk to DEC biologists regarding their recent cold-water netting assessment of Skaneateles Lake.  The Syracuse Post Standard reports two significant year classes of walleyes were discovered.  This is devastating news regarding the future of the rainbow trout fishery here.

Some walleye aficionadoes might smile at the thought of a crystal clear, clean lake like Skaneateles Lake producing delicious walleyes, and I'm sure "eyes" will taste great out of this lake.  DEC nettings produced a few walleyes here back in the late 1970s - clearly an illegal introduction by some self-centered anglers.  I don't call them "bucket biologists" like some media sources do, because these guys aren't biologists in any sense.  "Buckets for brains" is probably a better term.  Imagine how some walleye fan would feel if an idiot dumped Asian Carp in Oneida or Otisco Lake.  Not too good.

I heard rumors when I worked at Bass Pro Shops around 2005 of a guy living on the lake that would do well trolling for walleyes at night here.  Former DEC biologist Jeff Robins told me he had a friend that would scuba dive regularly at Lourdes Camp.  This guy said he saw walleyes in the lake EVERY TIME he went diving.  So they have been there for awhile. 

NY State has very few top notch natural lakes that are quality rainbow trout fisheries.  And next to none that don't contain alewives or smelt.  Rainbow trout thrive in Skaneateles Lake because they eat the same stuff alewives do.  The lake was arguably the best "natural" rainbow trout lake in the state.  NY State has dozens of top notch walleye fisheries - Oneida Lake, Chautauqua Lake, Susquehanna River, Whitney Point Reservoir, Conesus Lake, Otisco Lake, the St. Lawrence River, Racquette River, Lake Erie, Honeoye Lake, the Seneca River - the list goes on and this doesn't include the smaller lakes and numerous other river systems containing walleyes.

DEC was blaming the abundant smallmouth bass population for the slow decline we have seen in the lake's rainbow trout population over the years.  It sort-of made sense until this netting.  But smallmouths like warmer water than rainbows, so they would be indirectly competing with them. When I starting casting and fly-casting Skaneateles Lake in the early 2000s for rainbow trout, the fishing was often great. It wasn't uncommon to encounter 1/2 dozen rainbows - usually running 14" to 18" just on the lake's north end alone!  As the 2000s progressed, we caught fewer, albeit larger rainbow here. Now some bows are pushing 26" or better.  But numbers are down. 

Canandaigua Lake once held both trophy walleyes and rainbow trout. But that lake had a massive smelt and alewife population at that time (in the 1950s/1960s.)  Skaneateles has very little forage - you have YOY (young of the year) perch, sculpins, crayfish and minnows. Not much else.  Walleyes there will take their toll on the perch population.  Many people don't realize that walleyes and rainbow trout both "prefer" water temperatures in the 56 degree range.  Freshly stocked and hatched rainbows will be devoured in short order by the nocturnal walleyes.  So will Landlocked Atlantic Salmon.

Skaneateles Lake is crystal clear. That means that the majority of walleyes will be feeding at night.  Sure, you'll catch some during the day - maybe even do well once in a while, but they will often be suspended out in the middle of the lake eating 1/2" long yellow perch.  The average walleye angler isn't going to do well here. It won't be Oneida Lake by a long shot.

I hope DEC is proactive on this one and offer zero protection for this illegal introduction. No seasons, no size limit and no number limit.  To not do this and offer protection to illegal, unauthorized fish introductions will only encourage more of them and offers tacit approval to what transpired here.  It isn't a warmwater lake like Chautauqua that could handle it (I believe walleyes were introduced illegally here as well if I remember correctly.) Time will tell and perhaps both walleyes and rainbows will co-exist, but I've already seen the rainbow trout decline and I'd have to point a finger at the walleyes. Owasco Lake is bouncing back bigtime for rainbow trout now that the walleyes have declined.  

If the walleye fishery gets to be top-notch here - I'll adapt and target them.  But for now I think anglers should leave the fisheries management to the biologists and if the anglers want a new species in a lake, go about it the right way by gathering support and talking to DEC.