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Fishing Line

Lake Erie lacks substantial ice to sustain walkers, but shows signs of firming up for those with ice augers before the month's end.

Representatives and guests attending a WNY Environmental Federation quarterly meeting at Hoak's Restaurant on Sunday saw a solid covering of frozen flat ice that had been moving floes a week earlier.

Catch counts and tackle tactics become testy as the hard-water season progresses. Most lakes and bays have solid ice surfaces, which lower oxygen levels and have both bait and prey fish moving and feeding at a slower pace.

The advent of more clear waters in recent years affects ice fishermen as well as open-water shore and boating anglers. Ice-contest pros have been equipped with high-tech gear for years. Flasher and LCD sonar screens and underwater camera units are common fare everywhere anglers poke holes in the ice.

Early-season outings generally offer best numbers for active/feeding fish. But as ice thickens, sunlight penetration dims, and movement mellows, ice anglers have to alter tackle accessories to trigger the bite action.

Investing in high-end electronics might be an option, but even without all the grandiose gear a simple switch to the newer rods and reels might help cross that fine line between seeing fish -- through the ice or on a sonar screen -- and catching fish not on a feeding frenzy. Fresh live bait helps, but a finer line and lighter lure might increase the odds for mid-winter bite numbers. Check out the lightest pound-test weight of fluorocarbon line for the fish species sought.

Many panfish-only prospectors start with 2-pound test and drop to line brands that hover around 1-pound test. Small jig and ice-fly rigs work well at all depths. The Marmooska name has gotten much mention for smaller ice-fishing jig heads. Northland Tackle also has a gushing array of "micro-jig" choices.

Go with the lightest rig that can be detected when dropped to the bottom. Move if fish are not hitting and have not shown a pattern for arriving at your site later. Lighten up on line size. Head deeper after hitting the shallow haunts that had been productive earlier. Above all, check out ice surfaces and soft spots before heading out to deeper drop-offs.

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Ice options

*Buffalo Small Boat Harbor -- Harbor ice is more inviting for just getting outside than for hauling hefty perch, trout, and other fish species right now. The trout run is not yet afoot. Smelt schools hold in deeper water. A few nice-sized perch came in from ice outside the inner harbor at depths of 15-16 feet.

*Silver Lake -- Perch have been left in the lurch. Panfish are plentiful, however, along weed edges and drop-offs out to 15-foot depths. Bluegill and sunfish hit most hours of daylight, but word has it that the "bucket-out" hours are best at 3-5 p.m. most days.

*Conesus Lake -- North end shallows have shown a few nicer bluegills. The perch bite has been spotty.

*Honeoye Lake -- Perch got major mention this past week at 30-foot depths along the east shore closer to the boat ramp to the south. Bass, open for catching on Honeoye, appear lakewide, but better numbers have shown in the Trident Marine area.

*Chautauqua Lake -- Walleye numbers have been slim. Most caught are sub-legal, measuring less than 18 inches. A slight up-tick in keeper-sized 'eyes came in this past week, but yellow perch dominate catching and keeping reports from everywhere on Chautauqua. Size splatters. A catch of a dozen fish at and above 10 inches might mean releasing 100 runt ringbacks.

Crappie numbers are slight, but the bluegill bite has been good along weed edges at Mayville and Burtis Bay.

*Lake Simcoe -- Ice is solid out to most good lake trout hut sites. Whitefish numbers crept up slightly this past week. Perch numbers still soar. Catch sizes remain sore.

*Lake Ontario Bays -- Irondequoit firmed over this past week. Walkers got out on the northeast corner and southern bay area. Best perch action has been at 20-25 feet. Some open water still shows at the center of the Route 104 Bridge. Sodus Bay has been best for bigger perch. Cranberry and Long Pond show consistent perch numbers.

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Lower Niagara River

Capt. Chris Cinelli has been running hunt charters along with steelie runs. He now keys on trout and numbers continue to increase for steelies, as well as some brown trout and lake trout. Cinelli has gone with all three of the main bait programs: Kwikfish, minnows, and egg sacks.

e-mail: odrswill@gmail.com