Fishing in Cuba Lake, New York

by on October 1st, 2014
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In New York, as with anywhere, fishermen have a tendency to gravitate towards the most well-known lakes. This makes sense: lakes like Oneida, Chautauqua and Champlain have well-deserved reputations as big fish factories. But too often smaller lakes fly under the radar, leaving waters like Allegany County’s Cuba Lake to the benefit of those lucky enough to stumble across it.

Cuba Lake is a 445-acre reservoir with a maximum depth of 46 feet and a wide array of fish habitat including rocky drop-offs and extensive shallow weed beds. The lake was built for flood control in the 1850s, and has since been generously stocked by the New York DEC to provide a thriving warmwater fishery.

As angling reports suggest and a 2003 Fisheries Survey confirmed, smallmouth bass and walleye are the dominant game fish in Cuba Lake. Both species take advantage of the reservoir’s ample rocky cover, where they hunt minnows and crayfish, regularly falling for jigs and diving crankbaits. Keeper-size walleye are abundant, but growth rate is slow, making fish over 20 inches something of a rarity. Walleye fishing is at its best on mornings and evenings during spring and fall. Plenty of 12- to 15-inch smallmouths are available, and they bite all through the summer, often moving shallow to hunt in the morning and retreating do deep rocky areas during the heat of midday.

You can find largemouth bass in Cuba Lake too, including a few real monsters, but largemouths’ numbers have declined significantly since northern pike were illegally introduced in the early 90s. Pike, as it turns out, thrive in Cuba Lake, and fish over 36 inches regularly turn up in anglers’ buckets. Pike typically hunt around weed edges, and often hang around areas with a mix of rocks and weeds. Soft and hard jerkbaits, spoons and live minnows are great options for pike, and these fish often hit baits intended for bass or walleye.

Panfish are abundant and widespread in Cuba Lake, and draw just as many anglers as do bigger game fish. Black crappie head to the shallows in droves to spawn in April, and you can catch these fish around brush, weeds and fallen wood cover on small minnows, jigs and spinners. Crappies over 12 inches regularly turn up, and selectively harvesting just a few fish helps to maintain the population. Yellow perch are more common than crappies, but are not always easy to find as they often stay in deeper water. Bluegill and sunfish live throughout the lake, and are generally inclined to gobble up live worms without hesitation. Rock bass are abundant and often overlooked.

As good as the fishing is during the warmer months, many anglers visit Cuba Lake specifically for its ice fishing. Ice fishermen often catch a mixed bag of panfish, sometimes with a few pike or walleye thrown in to anchor their catch. You can also test yourself against your fellow fishermen by entering in the lake’s annual ice tournament.

Much of Cuba Lake’s shoreline is taken up by houses and cottages, but several areas have been set aside for anglers. The earthen dam at the northeast end of the T-shaped lake is entirely open to fishing, and is a common starting point for ice fishermen, who can walk right out from the shore once safe ice forms. An access area at the northwest corner of the lake offers shore fishing and a boat launch for small craft at Rawson Creek. Another launch farther south can accommodate larger boats.

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