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Fishing on Skaneateles Lake

By: George Fiorille

Cayuga County has some great bodies of water for fishing. They range in size from Lake Ontario to the smallest one, Lake Como.

Of the 3 Finger Lakes located in Cayuga County, Skaneateles Lake is the clearest of them all. Years ago, Skaneateles was one of the only few bodies of water in the entire United States that were listed as an AAA rated water for clarity and purity.

The Native American name for Skaneateles means “Long Lake.” It’s the highest sitting Finger Lake at over 863 feet above sea level with depths up to 350’. The lake is approximately 17 miles long and encompasses 8,700 acres.

Like most Finger Lakes, Skaneateles Lake is mostly deep water and has shallow littoral depths along the shores and ends. The lake sports good fishing for both warm and cold-water fisheries.

Skaneateles Lake has 3 public launches along the lake. There’s a state launch towards the north end on the west side of the lake a few miles south of the village of Skaneateles. On the west side in the middle of the lake is a paid launch at Mandana Marina. Right at the very south end of the lake at Glen Haven, there’s a paid launch as well.


During the average cold winter, Skaneateles Lake usually freezes over by mid-January and lasts until the end of March. Lately with the global warming going on, you may have open water all winter long.

If we do get enough safe ice, species such as yellow perch, rock bass, pumpkinseed, pickerel, late trout, rainbow trout, and even walleye the past few years, can be caught. The ends will freeze over first and try using tip-ups with live minnows or vertical jigging for action. If you don’t have live bait, try vertical jigging with small spoons and dots for perch. After you catch your first perch to keep, try inserting a perch eye on your lure to make your presentation more effective.

If you have legal access to shoreline fishing, rainbow trout fishing can be very good. A technique on Skaneateles that is unique is to fish small garden worms offshore. Try adding some small colored marshmallows to help float your worms off of the bottom. Browns and lakers can be caught offshore by casting spoons or hair jigs.


This lake is praised by anglers for its well renowned good eating fish. Many anglers strongly feel that fish caught out of Skaneateles taste better than fish caught out of other waters. At last count, there was no baitfish ever stocked in the lake like alewives and most fish live off of their own young, bugs or crawfish.

Panfish fishermen flock to Skaneateles for the great perch fishing. Try using small fathead minnows on a plain Zoneloc Hook with a sinker or add a minnow to a small hair jig. Drop shotting with small crappie grubs work great also.

Grout Brook, the inlet at the south end has a good run of spring rainbow trout. Try using egg sacks or flies such as nymphs for good action. During late spring, rainbows, and lakers can be caught out in the lake trolling spoons or by vertically jigging swim baits.

There’s great catch and release action for smallmouth and largemouth bass. The smallmouths abound on mid lake points and shallows.  The largemouths can be caught on both ends of the lake near emerging weed beds.

Walleye the past few years have appeared in the lake by some strange means. Many anglers would like to see the DEC stock them in all Finger Lakes. They can be caught by trolling Lucky Craft Pointer stickbaits and fishing lures such as jigs and blade baits.


Summer offers good fishing for just about every species of fish in Skaneateles. Fishing for bass starting the third Saturday in June is very good with live bait or artificials. Try using medium sized minnows or crabs. For lures, various soft plastics work great.  Use hard baits such as Lucky Craft lures like Pointer 78 stickbaits, LC 1.5 squarebills or deep crankbaits along with LV rattling baits.

Trolling in mid-depths for trout is good all summer long. Try using the spoons mentioned trolling or soft plastics vertically jigged. Cast or troll lures for walleye after dark.

Rock bass and pumpkinseeds spawn in early summer. They will invade shallow shoals, under docks, and fishing for them can be excellent. Small live bait or soft plastics jigged account for most of them that are caught.


While most sportsmen and women are focused on hunting, a knowledgeable angler may have the lake all by themselves. Lots of fish feed heavily in the fall before the winter slowdown period. Fishing for warm water fish such as bass, walleye, and panfish, can be excellent. Try fishing mid-depths with live bait or lures for good fishing. Coldwater fishing for lakers and rainbows continues to be good with trolling or vertical fishing techniques mentioned above.

Skaneateles Lake not only offers quality fishing for warm and cold-water fish, but some fantastic scenery as well. Try some of the techniques mentioned and it’s a good bet it just may become your favorite fishing ground. Fish On!


George Fiorille

Local resident and avid fisherman.