By Carmelo “Mel” Russo
Cayuga Lake is located in the center of the eleven Finger Lakes of upstate New York. It is 40 miles long and has a maximum width of 3.5 miles. Because of the pronounced difference between the maximum depths of the northern 5 miles of the lake and the rest of the lake, the 70+ square mile body of nice, clean water is like having two lakes in one.
The north end of the lake ranges from 1 to 12 feet in depth with an average of about 5 feet in the area of Cayuga Lake State Park. The lake bottom here is soft and because of the lack of great depths, there is a significant amount of emergent and submerged vegetation. Fisherman take advantage of this habitat because it is famous for supporting high populations of largemouth bass. Crappie, northern pike, pickerel, perch, and bullhead also abound here. In addition duck hunters and bird enthusiasts take delight in the abundance of waterfowl that utilize this habitat.
With the advent of the weed harvester, pleasure boating has increased in this area of the lake. Furthermore, the water here warms up more quickly in spring, providing for early swimming and other water sports. In winter, the area freezes almost every winter to provide for fantastic ice fishing, skating and ski sports. Wet docking of boats is also possible since the lake does not get too rough in this area.
The added advantage of this end of the lake is the relative availability of services such as municipal sewer, gas and water as well as the other amenities of groceries, gasoline, and the general gregarious congenialities associated with civilization. Often, even though the situation has improved tremendously in recent times, Cayuga Lake has been totally characterized by its north end and weeds by out of town journalists attempting to describe the lake. However, as one proceeds south from the Canoga area, there is a gradual increase in depth to the abysmal regions of the lake. At Red Jacket Yacht Club, the depth reaches about 28 feet allowing for smooth sailing. From here south, troublesome weeds have not been a problem. This is due to the great pressure of the water above as well as vigorous wave action against the shallows in the great expanses of the lake.
Gradually continuing south, the lake gets deeper and deeper until maximum depths are attained at Sheldrake and Taughannoch State Park. Here, the greatest fathoms approach the 450 foot mark. In this region are found some of the most pristine, unencumbered waters of the Finger Lakes area. The profundal regions of the lake continue until about a mile north of Ithaca.
Trout, salmon, and smallmouth bass, fish which typically indicate a high water quality, are found in significant numbers in much of the lake south of Canoga. Also, boating of all types is possible in this area because of the unobstructed deep and wide expanses of the lake. In addition, the lake rarely freezes south of Burrough’s Point. The interaction between the great depths and the broad, open water, prevents the lake from freezing over completely. Wells College supposedly has the day off whenever Cayuga Lake freezes over. This allegedly happened in 1912 when two people decided to take advantage and attempted to skate from Ithaca to Seneca Falls. The two drowned somewhere near Long Point on their way.
For the best sailing, wind surfing, water skiing, and pleasure boating, and just looking, it’s tough to beat Cayuga Lake. The next time you watch “The Twilight Zone” look for Cayuga Lake in the credits. Rod Serling did much of his creations from the shores of Cayuga Lake near Kidders Landing in the Sheldrake area. The Senecayuga Chronicles and Tales from the Littoral Zone also originate from the inspirational shores of Cayuga Lake.