The Finger Lakes of central and western New York provide both anglers and fisheries managers with a large exspanse of water and fish habitat to enjoy and manage. These 11 glacially formed lakes (Otisco, Skaneateles, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Honeoye, Canadice, Hemlock and Conesus) cover roughly 132,940 acres. They vary greatly in size, from 43,342-acre Seneca Lake to 642-acre Canadice Lake. Depths also vary greatly. Honeoye Lake is the most shallow, with a maximum depth of 30 feet, while Seneca Lake is the deepest, plunging to an extreme 650 feet. Most of the Finger Lakes are considered two-story fisheries, containing both coldwater (trout and salmon) and warmwater (bass, walleye and panfish) fisheries. Because of the variety of habitat and species, a wide range of fisheries management methods are applied on the Finger Lakes.
Current fisheries management and assessment methods include:
- Stocking rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout, Atlantic salmon, walleye and tiger muskellunge
- Collecting lake and rainbow trout eggs (Cayuga)
- Monitoring and controlling sea lampreys (Seneca and Cayuga)
- Angler Diary Cooperator Program
- Fisheries surveys
- Special fishing regulations
Fish stocking is an important component of Finger Lakes fisheries management. Stocking is used to supplement naturally reproducing populations such as lake trout and rainbow trout. In other instances, species such as Atlantic salmon and brown trout, which are incapable of maintaining their populations through natural reproduction, are stocked to provide anglers with additional fishing opportunities. In Skaneateles and Keuka lakes, natural reproduction of lake trout is sufficient to maintain substantial populations without any stocking. The majority of warmwater species in the Finger Lakes are entirely self-sustaining. Walleye and tiger musky are stocked into a few of the Finger Lakes, where conditions are adequate for their survival.
Cayuga Lake is an important egg collection point for Finger Lakes-strain rainbow and lake trout. Each fall, hatchery and regional personnel collect around 360,000 lake trout eggs in three to four days of netting. During each spring, approximately 153,500 rainbow trout eggs are collected at Cayuga Inlet. All eggs are taken to the Bath Fish Hatchery, where they are hatched and reared for stocking in the Finger Lakes as well as other waterbodies in the state.
Angler Diary Cooperator Program
Angler diary programs are conducted on all 11 Finger Lakes. Region 8 is responsible for the seven western Finger Lakes (Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka and Seneca), while Region 7 is responsible for the four eastern Finger Lakes (Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles and Otisco). Through the Angler Diary Cooperator Program, volunteer anglers keep a diary in which they record information relating to their fishing trips throughout the year. The information includes lakes fished, number of anglers, species targeted, hours fished, length and number of species caught, fin clips if present and whether fish were kept or released. Information is analyzed, and a summary of results is sent to each cooperator along with their original diary. The 2011 diary summary reports can be viewed at: www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/73518.html and www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/27875.html.
New cooperators are always welcome. If you are interested in becoming a cooperator and you fish Canadice, Canandaigua, Hemlock, Keuka, Seneca, Conesus or Honeoye lakes, contact Region 8 Fisheries at firstname.lastname@example.org or 585-226-5343. Anglers fishing Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles or Otisco lakes should contact Region 7 Fisheries at email@example.com or 607-753-3095, ext. 213.
Each year, fisheries surveys are conducted on the Finger Lakes using a variety of sampling techniques. Two of the more common techniques involve the use of either standard gill nets or electrofishing gear. Surveys are done to assess age and growth characteristics of fish populations, survival of stocked fish and natural reproduction of lake trout and to collect fish for toxic substance analysis. Fish from Seneca and Cayuga lakes are also checked for sea lamprey wounds. Results of the toxic substance analysis are used to formulate the fish consumption advisories found in the “Health Advisories” section of this guide. All lake trout stocked into the Finger Lakes are fin clipped, allowing differentiation between wild and hatchery-reared fish. Reports from recent fisheries surveys can be found at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7730.html
Finger Lakes Fishing Regulations
In general, fishing regulations are used to protect fisheries resources while still enabling anglers to use these resources. Motives of anglers vary widely, from specialists who target only trophy fish of a particular species, to those fishing for anything that bites. Some anglers never harvest a single fish. Others are trying to put food on the table. Because of this diversity, special fishing regulations exist for the Finger Lakes and their tributaries. See Lake Champlain Regulations.
Sea Lamprey Monitoring and Control
Seneca and Cayuga lakes are the only Finger Lakes containing the invasive sea lamprey. Sea lampreys are primitive jawless fish. As adults, they parasitize other fish, especially trout and salmon. Adult sea lampreys attach to a fish and rasp a hole into its body cavity. This enables lampreys to feed on the fish’s body fluids and blood. Host fish can usually recover from a single attack, but when adult lamprey numbers get too high, many fish die as a result of being attacked multiple times. By effectively controlling sea lampreys, DEC can reduce mortality rates of fish they target, especially lake trout, rainbow trout, brown trout and Atlantic salmon–some of the more popular fish in Seneca and Cayuga lakes.
The Finger Lakes Sea Lamprey Control Program primarily uses two techniques to reduce lamprey populations to levels that minimize impacts on sportfish populations. Both techniques take advantage of the lamprey’s need for clean flowing streams for reproduction. Juvenile lamprey typically spend three to four years filter feeding in streams before they become parasitic and descend into the lake to feed on other fish. One of the most common control techniques is to apply a lampricide, called TFM (3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol), every three to four years to kill juvenile lamprey. TFM is a selective pesticide developed in the 1950s and has been used extensively for sea lamprey control in the Great Lakes. Dosage levels of TFM that are lethal to larval sea lamprey are generally harmless to other aquatic organisms. TFM has been used in Seneca Lake tributaries—Catharine’s Creek and Keuka Lake Outlet—since 1982. These two streams are responsible for the vast majority of sea lamprey found in Seneca Lake.
Another common control technique is the development of barriers that restrict upstream migration of adult lampreys, limiting spawning habitat. At Cayuga Lake, lamprey populations are kept in check with a barrier in the Cayuga Inlet, the primary lamprey production stream. The Cayuga Inlet Fishway was constructed in 1969 to allow fish passage around a dam. To prevent upstream movement of adult lamprey, a barrier screen is inserted within the fishway during their spring spawning run. Adult lampreys are trapped and removed from the system before they have a chance to spawn. In an average year, around 1,000 lampreys are captured and removed. One adult female lamprey has the capacity to carry 100,000 eggs or more.
Sea lamprey populations are monitored in both lakes by checking for the presence of scarring and wounding rates on trout and salmon. This is done by monitoring fishing derbies, spring electrofishing surveys and periodic gill-net surveys. In addition electrofishing surveys are done during the fall on lamprey spawning streams and outlets to assess juvenile lamprey numbers and size. During the spring, lamprey nest counts are done on lamprey spawning streams to get an idea of numbers of spawning adults. A deepwater electrofishing survey is also done in river mouth areas to determine larval lamprey abundance.
Through the dedicated fisheries management efforts of staff in DEC regions 7 and 8, the Finger Lakes continue to provide some of New York State’s finest fishing opportunities.