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FROM WINTER SEASON TO OPEN SEASON

AS IF THE opening of turkey and walleye season were not enough, we get to fish for bass this month, too.

The wild turkey season begins Monday and runs through May 31, and it looks as if the birds may have weathered the harsh winter pretty well.

"We could never document any reports we had of multiple turkey deaths," said regional wildlife manager Russ Biss. "We did have one fellow turn in three birds (from one flock), but on the whole, we feel the birds in our region came through in very good shape."

"We had confirmed turkey mortality just about everywhere in the state," said John Major, the Department of Environmental Conservation's game bird manager. "But we have been unable to document reports of entire local flocks being wiped out. We're finding a few dead birds here and there, but we've been unable to track down and confirm any massive die-off."

Turkeys are especially vulnerable in long stretches of cold, snowy weather because they seldom fly to seek food and can starve to death while waiting on their roosts for the weather to clear.

Studies from 1966 to 1973 show that 70 to 100 percent of the birds survive a mild winter, while mortality ranges from 30 to 50 percent in harsh winters such as the one we just endured.

"But," Major said, "we have so many more birds now than we did 20 years ago that we are still in very good shape."

He said that, at most, 30 percent of the state's turkeys may have been killed by winter weather, most of them birds of the year.

I've seen birds during my forays in Western New York, and others are reporting they've seen and heard plenty of gobblers, so 1994 ought to be pretty good to those hunters who have mastered the tricks of calling, concealment and scouting.

As usual, call-makers were busy over the winter, but their new products seem to be variations on the classic wooden box calls, slate scratch calls or diaphragm (mouth) calls.

Turkey permits can be purchased at any DEC office, and hunters may take one bird per day and two per season -- bearded birds, of course.

"The spring gobbler hunt has no biological impact," said Major, "because you're hunting the toms after they've completed breeding."

This week will bring other openers for the avid sportsman, too. Saturday is the first day for walleye, northern pike, tiger muskellunge and Lake Erie bass. The waters from Barcelona to Buffalo Harbor are legal basing grounds, but you can't fish for them in any tributary stream or in the Niagara River downstream from the Peace Bridge. That means you must stay out of the Buffalo River but can fish the Black Rock Channel up to the Peace Bridge.

Anglers can catch and release as many bass as they'd like, and can keep one trophy bass (at least 15 inches) per day. The regular bass season, as well as that for muskellunge, opens the third Saturday in June.

The other species mentioned above are all fairly eager feeders this time of year, so an outing could make for good family fun.

The official word from Albany is that Oneida, eastern Lake Ontario and the Mohawk River ought to be good bets for walleye this year. Chautauqua Lake is listed as a decent walleye spot, along with a bunch of eastern New York lakes and the Susquehanna River.

Lake Erie walleye fishing really doesn't pick up for a while at this end of the lake, but early season anglers can catch fish near shore, whereas summer walleye hunters usually tend to find the action far enough off shore to make skiff fishing problematic, especially on windy days. Recent creel studies conducted by the DEC here also show night fishermen seem to catch twice as many walleyes as daytime anglers.

Tiger muskies, a hybrid fish, are stocked in Lime Lake, and northerns, while available in Western New York waters, are probably more available along the Champlain/George/Saratoga lake system and the St. Lawrence River.

Trout fishing should pick up as insect hatches start to appear, and crappie and other panfish should bite fairly well, especially on Chautauqua and some of the smaller lakes like Bear and Cassadaga.

Looks as if "May Madness" may be upon us.

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