Onota Lake is a 617-acre lake located entirely within the City of Pittsfield, and is is owned and managed by the City of Pittsfield. Many recreational opportunities are provided by the lake and are enjoyed by area residents as well as those visiting the Berkshires. However, like many area lakes, Onota Lake is threatened. While these problems are not unusual, atypical or severe, they do require attention.
The watershed of Onota Lake is approximately 6,345 acres in area. Onota Lake is often described as “two lakes in one” due to the minimal water exchange between the north and south basins due to the old roadway that marked to north end of the original lake prior to the building of the dam. The outlet of Onota Lake, Onota Brook, flows southeast entering the West Branch of the Housatonic River, in Pittsfield.
Onota Lake has been classified as mesotrophic and is listed on the Final Massachusetts Year 2002 Integrated List of Waters as being impaired by exotic species (EOEA, 2002). At the present time, the water quality at Onota Lake appears to be appropriate to its uses. However, the excessive growth of exotic aquatic plants threatens recreational options and other current uses of the lake. Stormwater runoff from existing development and future development is likely to result in reduced water quality and further impairment to the lake if left unchecked. Impacts of stormwater runoff vary, but may include reduced water clarity, the destruction of aquatic habitat, and the growth of algal blooms. As a consequence of these impacts, the value of the Lake as an ecological, community and economic resource may become threatened
The city works closely with the Lake Onota Preservation Association on developing and carrying out management plans for the lake.
Other General Information
View Harbormaster page for information on boating laws and boating safety.
Due to its location, it is very heavily used by anglers, bathers, water skiers and sailors. Even so, the lake is in very good condition with a transparency of about 17 feet. Maximum depth is 66 feet; average depth is around 22 feet. Aquatic vegetation is abundant and very dense in most areas less than 10 feet deep. The northern coves are particularly weedy. About 25% of the shoreline is protected within the boundaries of a city park, while another section is owned by a hospital. Development is primarily limited to the northeast and southwest ends of the lake. There is a double, concrete boat ramp and parking lot located on the southeast shore about 1/3 of the way from the southern end. To get there, take Lakeway Drive to Burbank Park from Valentine Drive. The ramp is suitable for virtually any class of trailered boat, and there is adequate parking for 75 vehicles. There is also a cement fishing pier located in one of the better fishing areas.
This lake has an exceptionally diverse array fish species, including northern pike, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, brown trout, rainbow trout, chain pickerel, yellow perch, white perch, bluegill, pumpkinseed, black crappie, rock bass, brown bullhead, white sucker, carp, golden shiner, common shiner and rainbow smelt. There are also reports of white catfish. Bonus broodstock Atlantic salmon (some weighing more than 10 pounds) in the spring of 1992 and 1993.
The dominant fishery here involves the catchable trout. The MDFW stocks thousands of trout for put and take fishing every spring and fall. Most of these trout are caught within a month or two following their release, but Onota has long been known for its ability to produce trophy brown trout. As a result, it has been designated as a special brown trout water, with a 15 inch, one per day limit on browns designed to enhance the production of trophies. The bonus salmon, providing another outstanding opportunity to catch a trophy, will continue to be stocked here as long as they are available. Northern pike fishing is also a dominant fishery here, and extremely popular during the winter. Onota does not produce many pike, but it has a reputation for breaking state records for the species. While the fishing for pickerel, bass, yellow perch and sunfish is good, most of the harvest occurs incidentally to the pike and trout fishing. Carp fishermen should target this lake - a new state record is probably swimming in its depths.