A solid weekend freeze could put auger addicts on 5-inch ice surfaces again on inland lakes and bays that were productive before the January-February thaw.
This thaw has created some boating access in areas typically covered on foot or by machine. Lake Erie boaters and the upper Niagara River shore casters have been visiting open-water areas that have proven productive for perch and trout. All that could change with a predicted deep freeze for this weekend.
Many a fishery has been heating up in the recent thaw and catch reports now match, if not exceed, water and ice conditions. The lower Niagara River is clearing up and some of the smaller lakes have nice ice, but the big news for anglers this week is a license-free two days of outings this weekend.
Free fishing weekend
The Department of Environmental Conservation has designated this coming weekend as a license-free weekend on all New York State waters. Begun as an effort to gain interest in ice fishing, the free weekend evolved into a free fishing weekend by all means. Boaters, shore casters as well as ice anglers can try their hands, rods and reels at fishing for all species of fish that are in season.
Anglers must be familiar with all fishing regulations, including fishing methods, legal fish sizes and creel limits. Also, wearing of personal flotation devices (life jackets) is required this time of year when aboard a boat and recommended for wearing around current and deep-water areas along shorelines.
The lower Niagara River provides the most active open-water action for anglers. Heavily stained waters have slowed participation, but even at peak muddied periods boaters will often see less-stained water above the Power Plant outlets.
During the Roger Tobey Memorial Steelhead Tournament on Saturday, boaters and shore casters worked waters above the plants. Boaters could get into Devils Hole. Shore casters worked the hole and Whirlpool.
Boaters and shore anglers alike have done best with either minnows or smaller egg sacs. No one color dominates bead selection for inclusion in an egg sack, but pink and red did well on Saturday. For live bait, use a bigger minnow for the better bite – or so it seems for trout takes.
Shore casters rig a float/bobber some 6 to 7 feet above a minnow on a small hook. For some reason, a red hook worked better than silver, gold or black last Saturday. Both boaters and shore casters want to get along the river’s shore and work the 6- to 8-foot ledges where trout lurk and lunge.
Artpark, highbanks, Stella and the Fort Niagara drifts were stained last weekend but could become productive with improved water clarity. Access note: the Fort Niagara access ramps will be closed for repairs until further notice.
• Capt. Bob’s Outdoors Winter Fishing Derby saw one division-leader change this past week. Barry Ball of Alden entered a 5.35-pound, 24.5-inch walleye from Lake Erie caught Feb. 2 while perch fishing with Herb Schultz and John “Chugger” Held. Ball’s ’eye entry topped a 23.5-inch Bay of Quinte walleye Bob Rustowicz previously entered. Rustowicz still leads the Steelhead Division. Since then, Rustowicz went on to win the Niagara River Anglers Association’s Steelie Tourney on Saturday. Look for a detailed column about that tourney on the Sunday Outdoors page.
The Capt. Bob’s contest goes until March 20 and includes catch entries from open waters as well as ice-fishing outings. For entry details, call 407-3021.
• The Ted’s Tackle Conesus Lake Frostbite Ice Fishing Derby is set for Feb. 21 and 22, with divisions for pike, bass, panfish and tiger muskies. For details, call (585) 429-0587.
Scugog ’eye ban
Area anglers who head up to the Kawartha Lakes chain in Ontario will be surprised to learn of a Ministry of Natural Resources indefinite closure of walleye fishing effective Jan. 1 on Scugog Lake.
Scugog, a mud-bottomed inland lake not part of the Trent-Severn canal system, once served as a walleye (pickerel) factory for fish that were on average slightly smaller than ’eyes found at nearby Sturgeon, Pigeon and Rice Lakes. A ministry notice states: “The walleye population has declined to levels that no longer support a fishery.”
Scugog has supported a good population of muskellunge and a fair bass fishery, but until a walleye recovery can be made, the lake is now closed to catching. For details on this and all Ontario Province fishery information, visit ontario.ca/fishing. To find the Scugog Lake region information, look for Zone 17 regulations.