Ice depths increase, snow cover cleared during the recent quick thaw and blustery winds keep many hard-water harriers from attacking new ice territories as the late-winter season heads into March.
Fish that cooperated with a midday bite now show more movement during change-of-light periods of the day. A good presentation of movement (jigging, twitching, lifting, etc.) and the right bait (live or artificial hair, plastic or metallic flash) can get attention at all hours of the day.
But approaches at and just after sunrise or late afternoons into dimming sunset light often improve the odds for better counts and sometimes sizes of fish.
Perch have been particularly picky. Morning trips with either smaller minnows or the right kind of plastics or bugs (waxworms, spikes and mousy grubs) connect in both deeper and shallower haunts of ringbacks when presented as early as possible on ice.
The bluegill bite seems to be better with waxworms on every lake from Chautauqua to central Finger Lakes. But many a perch and crappie have opened up on small jigs and flies tipped with either a spike or mousy.
When winds subside, the bite can still be good most times of the day, but an overcast sky helps in open shoreline areas at depths of less than 10 feet and low patches of weed growth.
Ice depth has many anglers working gas- or electric-driven augers. Western Finger Lakes offer the “thinnest” ice options at 15 to 18 inches on most frozen-over lakes. Places on Erie and either the Southern Tier or lower Adirondacks often measure either side of 30 inches before striking water.
Head out earlier or stay later in the afternoon to check out bite prospects. It’s nice all around Western New York, but a sharp auger and site selection are critical right now.
Buffalo harbor and many bays and shore-edge pier areas can be productive.
Best sizes for ringbacks have come from around Beaver Island. Perch can be found almost everywhere, but digging for bigger fish can be extensive.
Erie ice remains solid, and most headed out of Sturgeon Point do better out deep. Cattaraugus Creek outflow broke up ice off Irving and Silver Creek, so Sturgeon is the place to access the deeps.
Some near-shore pokers have lucked into fair-sized perch at depths of less than 40 feet just west of the point, but most walkers are waiting it out until open water allows for boat access.
Chautauqua Lake perch numbers continue high but sizes, are mostly slight. A few good ones (over 8 inches and fat-backed) have shown in both the shallows; others move suspended well off bottom in North Basin holes at depths of more than 50 feet. But bigger fish are hard to find.
The crappie count is up slightly at Silver Lake, but the ’gill bite remains stronger by far. Big Conesus Lake ’gills are hard to find. Honeoye ’gills are bigger, but the bite is slower and the bucket count has dropped.
First-light perch jigging at depths of 25 to 30 feet can be productive.
Same goes for the north and south end of Canandaigua Lake. Perch move into the shallows early mornings and often hit the smallest panfish jigs and flies offered with a spike or two on the hook.
• Northeast Ice Fishing Circuit switched its Feb. 23 event from Pennsylvania to Conesus Lake, and the results showed finding panfish challenging but rewarding.
After the Saturday competition, Jeffrey Snyder and Chris Durfee each won Striker Ice Float suits and $110 apiece for a combined weight of 3.81 pounds.
The second place team of Nick Glosser and Zack Eastman weighed in 3.54 pounds; Kevin Snyder took third with 2.91 pounds; Denziel Malcolm finished fourth with 2.70 pounds.
The team of Nick Glosser and Zack Eastman took the Big Fish honors with a 0.5-pound bluegill.
Leading point holders in the circuit head to Lake Bomoseen in Vermont this weekend to compete in a championship competition. Circuit planners are looking at a 2015 tournament series with more emphasis on lakes and ice-fishing areas in Western New York. For details, go to northeasticefishingcircuit.com.
• The Northern Pike division in Capt. Bob’s Outdoors Ice Derby saw a new leader entered this past week. Tom Pierce of Grand Island fished a pond in West Batavia and hooked into a 36-inch pike that weighed in at 12.54 pounds. Steve Hawkins noted this was an exceptionally hefty fish.
The derby continues to March 10, and anglers can sign up prior to an ice outing anywhere in Western New York. For derby details, call 407-3021 or stop by the store at 10295 Main St. in Clarence.
The Buffalo Boat Show doors open today in the Bills Healthy Zone Field House and continues through Sunday. Parking is free; boats for paddlers, anglers and cruisers will be on display indoors. For details, call 873-7199, Ext. 101, or go to buffaloboating.com.