Derek Horner is the Captain of the Penn State fishing team. Derek is having a lot of success as a Collegiate angler. We talk fishing Chautauqua Lake. Derek has had a lot of success fishing this New York body of water for both largemouth and smallmouth bass.
One water that you enjoy fishing competitively and recreationally is Chautauqua Lake. What makes this place special to fish for you?
Chautauqua Lake is truly a special lake to me. You hit the nail on the head. This lake just seems to set up well for me most of the days I go out to fish it.
This lake means more to me and my fishing career than I can explain. I qualified for the FLW College Fishing Conference Championships with a 5th place finish in the regional my freshman year at Penn State. Just one year later I came out of the regional with my first collegiate victory in the FLW College Fishing Regional.
Last summer was another to remember at this lake as I won The Pennsylvania Bass Federation State Championships in June and placed 7th in the regional just a month later. Not to mention all of the local tournaments I have placed in or won up there. This lake has cemented my desire to fish competitively for as long as I am able to.
I have been blessed by having a good friend, Billy Washell, who has a house on the southern end of the lake. He and I have spent many days out there fishing both tournaments and recreationally together and it has been a pleasure to figure out the lake with him over the past couple of years.
You had a 7th place this year and qualified for the 2018 College National Championship there. What were the keys to you and your partner’s success during this tournament?
The 7th place finish this summer that qualified my partner, Reese Hudson and I for the 2018 College National Championship was a great day on the water. The lake fished a little tougher than I had hoped for but we kept our heads on straight and tried to put together a good bag by the end of the day.
Reese and I work really well and have similar fishing styles. We both enjoy reaction bites or pounding shallow water with moving baits or imitation bottom baits. With the conditions we had on the lake and the large turnout for that tournament, I had boats on some of my secondary spots for what seemed like the majority of the tournament.
The key that day just seemed to be staying in areas where we knew bigger fish seemed to congregate and grinding out our limit. We didn’t catch a ton of fish, but the fish we caught were usually the caliber we were looking for. We both knew that we needed one more big bite to have a shot at a victory. We never got that bite, but that’s the way it goes on the water.
Overall, do you feel the lake is an easy or tough lake to fish?
I feel that Chautauqua lake can be a tough lake to fish. With all of the shoreline looking very similar and the dense patches of thick grass and vegetation, it can be daunting upon first glance. With the time I have spent on the water and the experiences I have had over the past few years, I can say that those fish can be hard to trick sometimes. I just try to match the forage the best I can and really focus on picking apart an area when I find fish.
I consider a good 5 bass limit for the lake to be around that 13 to 14-pound range. With as many tournaments as I have fished up here over the past few years, those bags usually go home with a paycheck.
What was your overall best 5 bass limit day on the lake?
My best 5 bass limit day on the lake went for around 18.5 pounds. This day was successful because I had the right equipment and figured out exactly what the bigger fish wanted early in the day. I caught this bag in the spring while fishing grass lines and shoals. I focused on the minor details in the grass lines and shoals that looked like good ambush points for the bass to stage on. Once I figured out those areas, all it took was throwing a few different baits until I figured out which bait they were really keyed in on.
The Lake also has smallmouth bass. What changes do you make to your favorite baits or methods when trying to catch smallies on the Lake?
The lake has a plentiful population of both smallmouth and largemouth bass. The difference I have found is that the smallmouth like to stage much deeper when the water temperatures are up during the summer months.
My favorite time to focus in on the smallmouth is the spring. The smallmouth set up on the shoals and a jerkbait or chatterbait usually does the trick. When targeting the smallmouth on Chautauqua, I almost always go for a reaction bite which differs from my slower more methodical approach when targeting the largemouth.
What is your favorite season of the year to fish the Lake?
My favorite season of the year to fish the lake is the spring. I have mentioned earlier how the fish set up on the grass lines and shoals. I love fishing the lake this time of year because on a good day it is nothing to catch 80 to 100 keepers.
The spring seems to produce those days where it feels like you are getting bit nearly every cast. Nothing gets the adrenaline and blood pumping more than days like that on the water. I love throwing jerkbaits, hard or soft, Sick Custom chatterbaits, and even a dropshot if I want to work on my finesse tactics. The key to fishing this method in the spring is boat positioning. Getting the boat in a position that allows you to keep your bait in the strike zone for 90% of your cast is the best way I have found to maximize your catch ratio on the water.
Overall, what are 5 pieces of advice that you have for anyone bass fishing Chautauqua Lake for the first time?
First off, make sure you have the right equipment. With the amount of grass in the lake, having the rod, reel, and line set up that allows you to get those bass out of the grass is key. I use a 7’1” Medium Heavy Gloomis E6X paired with a Shimano Curado 70 with 14-pound Gamma Fluorocarbon as my go to casting reel setup and a 6’8” Medium Gloomis E6X paired with a Shimano Stradic CI4+ with 30 pound PowerPro Braid as my go to spinning reel set up. These combos allow me to make difficult casts under docks or pinpoint casts on the grass lines and get my bait into the bass’s domain.
Secondly, I would recommend spending some time focusing on the irregularities of the shorelines. Some shorelines are seemingly shallow but in fact have a deep water drop off nearby while others stay shallow for hundreds of yards off of the shoreline.
The third piece of advice would be to use the wind to your advantage. When dock fishing or grass line fishing, having a heavy wind in your face will make it hard to keep your boat positioned and lower your ability to cast accurately. Sometimes it’s better to move to an area with less wind to find fish than stay in an area with fish that are hard to catch in the wind.
The fourth piece of advice is to be respectful to dock owners. Obviously, we are focused on catching fish, but nothing can ruin a day of fishing like an angry dock owner yelling at you for hitting or hooking their dock on accident. Just use common sense and be kind. The dock owners up there are almost always friendly and happy to talk with you as you go by.
The last piece of advice I have is to keep a positive mental attitude on the water. On Chautauqua, there have been days where I can’t seem to catch a break, but staying in it mentally and staying focused can lead to you catching a stellar bag in the last hour of a tournament or just a fun day on the water. Don’t let your mental attitude keep you from catching some bass.
How does it feel to have made it to the National Championship?
It feels amazing to have qualified for my second FLW College Fishing National Championship. I am truly blessed to have the opportunity. It will be held on the Red River in Louisiana at the end of May. I am looking forward to learning more about this body of water and how it ends up fishing that time of year. I think that it will be a great tournament and there could be some really good bags produced with the amount of talent in the college programs these days.
Who are your sponsor companies?
My time at Penn State has given me a great opportunity to work with some great companies and develop relationships with other companies as well. I currently work with Liquid Mayhem, Gloomis, Shimano, Costa, Powerpro, Jackal, Simms, Mystery Tackle Box, Rod Sox, Lake Fork Trophy Lures, ANGLR Labs, Gamma Fishing Line, Sick Custom Baits, Halls Marine, Jakked Baits, and Bass Pro Shops Harrisburg. These companies are the world to me. I have worked shows, given seminars, and learned a ton about the fishing industry through my time working with these companies. All of their products help and my teammates and I on the water throughout the year. I am proud to stand by these companies and to have the relationship I have with them.
Thank you Derek! I can’t wait to see your future Chautauqua Lake catches and how you do on the Red River on Instagram. Good luck this season!
Read Our First Dock Talk 365 Interview with Derek: Interview with Penn State Bass Angler Derek Horner