Good ice arrived about a month late and ice anglers have had to wait for weeks to use all those toys that Santa brought, but many inland ponds, bays and lakes now have thick enough ice to be nice.
Nice it was on Tuesday, as Steve Barber began ferrying clients out to four huts he had in place on Simcoe Lake, Ont. just south of the Pefferlaw River mouth.
Barber, owner of Steve's Fish Huts, bought out Hale's Fish Huts, an ice-fishing hut operation name known to Western New Yorkers for about a half century.
Barber had worked with Jason Foster, Hales operator, while running his own hut setup. Along with his wife Jen, Barber has put together a herd of newer, clean fish huts that will number 27 when the ice thickens enough for safe passage out to deeper waters.
Fish numbers were high and huts were not far from shore on Tuesday morning, the first day Barber brought out clients.
"I got the huts in place on Monday and the fishing was great right from the start," he said as we headed out onto 7-inch ice on Tuesday at noon.
Barber uses a quad to haul a covered trailer anglers can ride in to reach his heated huts. Things were hot in the first hut where Al Tomasello of the Town of Tonawanda, a regular on Simcoe ice, partnered with John Wahl of Pendleton.
"We're only keeping about one in four," Tomasello said, as he and Wahl hooked minnows onto tip-ups set close to bottom in 19 feet of water.
By 12:30 p.m., Tomasello and Wahl had pulled up more than 100 ringbacks, keeping only about 20-25 each. "We like to keep only the big stuff," he said while holding up two perch that easily would be longer than a legal black bass in New York State.
By 4:30 quitting time, they both had a legal limit of 50 fish each, most at or above the 10-inch mark.
Greg McAndrew of Cambridge, Ont. fished solo in the next hut. All anglers out with Steve's Fish Huts had great fishing, but McAndrew had the honey hole for sizes and early-limit status.
"They're all big ones," he said, pointing to a bucket of about 30 fish well above 11 inches. "I'm only letting every other one go," he said while pulling in another 12-incher.
I took the third hut and set up a sonar screen, just to see what was down there. The three previous anglers didn't have electronics when fish bit constantly.
As soon as I turned on the screen, marks began showing near bottom. That picture began shortly after 1 p.m. and continued uninterrupted, with more fish showing as sunset approached.
Every angler heads out each day anticipating a day like this one. In this case, the fishing was less than a half day. No lure fixed with a minnow -- whole or cut in half -- could reach bottom before getting hit.
After less than an hour I reeled in the second line and went with a copper Swedish Pimple, with a fly and a hook on a leader above that weighted jig.
Fish stories abound, usually about catching the big one. For diehard perchers, days with unending hits become top trophy talk. Here goes: I stopped counting well above 150 fish by 3 p.m. The actual count had to be well above 200 fish in four hours. The precise count stood at 48 filleted fish after the return home.
On the way in, we met up with Gene Borowicz of Cambria and John Ash of Pendleton. They had their Conservation License limit and stayed over to fish Wednesday.
Barber or any other fish guide or hut operator will never be able to guarantee a day such as this, but this late-beginning season is off to a great start in the Pefferlaw/Port Bolster area.
For an update, check with Barber at (705) 426-7229 or (888) 525-3474.
Word from IceTeam headquarters has it that the Trap Attack team ice fishing contest set Saturday and Sunday on Silver Lake is a go. All current IceTeam competitions sites are currently showing good ice conditions and are set to run on their scheduled dates.
Last year, an early melt canceled the Silver Lake Trap Attack and most other ice contests. This year, teams at Silver Lake will be entering perch and sunfish for shots at $25,000 in prize money.
For entry details, go to: www.iceteam.com.