Paddling Otsego’s Chain Lakes

Out See Go
By Chris Engle, contributor to

There’s a body of water in southern Otsego County where a long-running commercial comes to mind when exploring its far corners.

You know the one, with a battery-powered bunny cruising around beating a drum? The pink rabbit with black sunglasses and blue flip flops? Of course you do, and chances are the slogan is pounding its way through your head right now.

On maps, the waterway marked as “Chub Lakes” and drawn as a tightly packed clump of separate water bodies is actually a network of seven interconnected lakes, narrows, creeks and culverts. With a canoe or kayak and a bit of time, a determined explorer can paddle forever here, muttering “it keeps going, and going, and going,” the whole way.

A few years had passed since I last ventured through the chain of lakes, so when Paige told me earlier this month she wanted to go for a canoe ride, I figured it was the perfect time to revisit the waterway.

We put in at the ramp on Chub Lake, a narrow public easement where Chub Lake Road comes off Old State and runs right into the water.

Just a few yards off shore, one of the lake’s defining qualities is revealed: steep drop-offs give way to tremendous depths. In an instant, the lake goes from a few feet deep to more than 60. It’s this deep, cold water that makes the lake a good candidate for stocked trout, and the Department of Natural Resources plants rainbows regularly.

There’s not much to see in the deep middle of the lake, but cruise quietly in a canoe or kayak along its shorelines and you’ll see deer, blue herons and ducks. When it’s calm, the clear shallows are prime for casting plugs to huge largemouth bass cruising the lily pads. Having a fishing rod is always a good motivator for exploration.

Just a few minutes into our float, I saw Paige settle into her spot in the front of the canoe. She held the bent shaft of a warped wooden canoe paddle in her little hands but didn’t use it.

“Ahh,” she sighed. “This is so peaceful.”

This is what had me coming back to Chub Lake often after discovering it 12 years ago. I never caught much for fish here, and it’s not very “wild” since about half its shoreline is developed with houses and cabins, but the surrounding hills and cedar-lined shore make it seem like a place plucked from the Pacific Northwest.

Photo by Chris Engle

This quality carries over to Bridge Lake, the easiest neighboring body to reach via a shallow, narrow canal at Chub Lake’s far end. It’s in this channel where you can see how the lake got it’s name: huge schools of creek chubs swarm in the gentle current of this bait-fish nursery. It’s common to see a heron or two hunting the channel, catching fish with its spear-like beak.

The channel opens up to Bridge Lake where Paige and I silently drifted past a solitary loon just as it rose up and stretched its wings. These curious birds generally don’t mind onlookers, so long as you don’t get too close with a motorboat.

A common loon rears up to stretch its wings on the surface of Bridge Lake in southern Otsego County. Photo by Chris Engle

After passing the loon, we cut across the deep middle of Bridge Lake to a hidden culvert on its western shore. What looks like little more than a drain pipe is actually the only way to continue exploring the lake chain by water.

Her head ducked low and fingers tucked safely inside the canoe, Paige was first to go into the corrugated steel pipe as I pushed our way through against the current. She giggled and brushed away spider webs – and spiders – as we made our way through the 20-foot length of tube running beneath a dirt road.

Ducking through the tube. Photo by Chris Engle

We emerged into sunlight and another small lake, where we paddled around for a bit before turning back and shooting through the pipe again for Paige’s amusement.

Had we kept going, we would have ended up in Belmore Lake, the fourth and final public water body in the chain.

Three other lakes connect to the system but are fenced off by order of the state supreme court, which favored private landowners over public access in a ruling handed down decades ago. It’s my hope that, someday, these three lakes will be reopened, putting the entirety of Otsego County’s largest lake chain back in public trust. Only then will you be able to keep going, and going, and going.

A damselfly perches on a cattail stalk. Photo by Chris Engle

We coasted back to the boat ramp two hours after we’d left, and Paige piped up with her sentiment.

“That was a nice canoe ride,” she said.

Yes, yes it was.

Chris Engle is an outdoorsman, freelance writer and stay-at-home dad in Hayes Township, Otsego County. He can be reached at