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Taking in Chautauqua’s fall angling action in style and smile

Taking in Chautauqua’s fall angling action in style and smile

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Brady Schweitz Frank Schoenacker Chatauqua Lake walleye

Brandt Schweitz of Waterloo with a walleye he caught with Capt. Frank Schoenacker of Ashville, who is holding the fish.

In the era of Covid-19 and the need for safety protocols and social distancing, it was time for a road trip to nearby Chautauqua Lake to recharge our internal batteries.

Our destination was the amazing Harbor Hotel (, located on the south basin of the lake in Celoron.

There are two things that will help us get through these trying times – the therapeutic qualities of the great outdoors and maintaining a sense of humor when appropriate. There isn’t a better place to enjoy both in this Chautauqua County focal point.

It was no coincidence that the Harbor Hotel and the National Comedy Center opened in August 2018. It was a perfect marriage right out of the gates and only 7 minutes apart.

Because the hotel is situated ideally on the lake, fishing and boating top the list of outdoor activities available to a visitor. To prove the point, a quick contact to Capt. Frank Schoenacker of Infinity Charters (585-406-5764) was all it took to set up an impromptu fishing trip to plan for a few hours on the water Saturday morning.

Schoenacker arrived at the Harbor Hotel docks at 6 a.m. and we motored out to check a few favorite spots and see if the walleye were cooperating.

“This time of year, walleyes are moving into some of the deeper holes and jigging is the way to go,” Schoenacker said. One of his favorites is a Moonshine Shiver Minnow, but a variety of Rapala jigging lures will trick fish into hitting this time of year, too.

As the water continues to cool, it will not be long before the lake flips and sets up for the winter months. “I can fish in this lake until late December if the weather will let me,” insists Schoenacker, who runs a tiller Lund 1775 Pro-V boat. He will only run two people at a time unless it is a mom or dad with younger kids.

“With more people spending time outdoors this year, I’ve been giving some on-water lessons for new people to the lake and to the sport,” he said.

After a few yellow perch and a couple missed hits, it was back to the hotel for a tour of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown. If you like to laugh, this is a must-see attraction that is solid entertainment for the entire family. After a quick temperature check entering the doors of the NCC, we became part of “LaughSafe,” a unique safety program incorporating a disposable stylus, disposable earbuds and a new “LaughCard” that personalizes your comedy preferences and recommends things for you based on your profile.

Gary Hahn, director of marketing and communications at the Center, explained the various displays and exhibits, all as a teaser to encourage further involvement. Using state-of-the-art technology, the displays were incredible. It covered everything from the history of comedy to the influences affecting the people that have shaped this form of entertainment through the years. You can experience being a comedian and battle against a family member in trying to make someone laugh. I found out it does not work against your wife because of the tremendous amount of firsthand experience she already has at not laughing at any of my jokes or one-liners. Check it out at

Remember that the Jamestown area is where Lucille Ball, the Queen of Comedy, was born. It is only fitting that the Comedy Center is located here. And just a few blocks away is the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum. You cannot see everything these two sites offer in just a day.

Back at the hotel, dining options were first class. A patio along the waterfront offered three fire pits, with a perfect view of the sunset. Transient docking is available. Bring your boat and keep it in one of the many slips that are offered to guests for free.

If you want to do things outdoors, Panama Rocks Scenic Park is worth the drive ( This hidden gem is a massive rock formation with trails that take you through rock crevices and passageways. It is great for the entire family.

If you are looking for someplace indoors that is focused on the outdoors, one of my favorite spots in Jamestown is the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History ( Peterson, a world-famous ornithologist, was born in Jamestown. His artwork and photographs are featured in the Institute.

A second fishing trip that fell through was for musky. “I expect the musky fishing to be great this fall,” said Capt. Mike Sperry of Chautauqua Reel Outdoors (716-969-4633) in Lakewood, a cast away from Harbor Hotel.

“With only limited herbicide applications this year, 86 acres this year as opposed to 400 acres last year, the lake has some healthy weed beds setting up nicely for fall fishing. As the water temperature drops into the mid 60s and below, the fish get active.

“I prefer to cast for muskies. Boat side strikes are common in the fall and roughly 75% of the hits will be visible. The first few seconds will be bulldog head shakes, something you will miss if hooking a fish while trolling. Don’t get me wrong, trolling is a great way to cover water and put fish in the net, but catching them casting is more enjoyable and rewarding.”

Six- to 9-inch jerkbaits are the go-to lures for casting. Leo’s, Sledge’s, Suick’s are a few that work great for Sperry. All black, black and orange, and yellow perch-colored are the best. “I do experiment with a wide range of patterns, however. Casting deep diving crankbaits parallel to the weed line and out towards open water will produce fish as well. Depth Raiders and Triple D’s are two producers. Yellow perch and walleye colors work well for this tactic. Spinner baits and top water lures shine in the fall also.”

Sperry had some quick tips for musky fishing in general: A good musky net with a coated mesh, long needle nose pliers and hook cutters are crucial when chasing muskies. Do the unhooking while the fish is in the net in the water. Cut the hooks when necessary to minimize time in the net. Never lift a fish out of the water and place on the floor of the boat. Make sure cameras are ready for a quick photo and get the fish back into the water right away.

For more information on outdoor activities in Chautauqua County, visit

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