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Santa is sneaky.

It looked as though Santa had delivered solid ice before Christmas. Ice anglers along some Southern Tier and Finger Lakes lakes received unexpected presents with the formation of as much as five inches of ice in places.

Cuba Lake started producing nice perch -- some averaging 11 inches -- as soon as safe ice coated the south end of the lake late last week. The south ends of several Finger Lakes looked good earlier in the week.

But then things changed.

Ice conditions now look uncertain, with varying temperatures and high winds coming from many directions. Cold air masses vary from Buffalo's lake-effect breezes to inland valley pockets.

Steady chills may restore good ice surfaces along southern Chautauqua and Allegany Counties, as well as Finger Lakes shallow-water areas. Call ahead before taking an ice excursion.

Anglers looking for options this holiday week can find more certain conditions in the lower river, Dunkirk Harbor and along most Great Lakes feeder streams.

Santa may have delivered loads of great fishing toys today, but areas for field testing the equipment -- particularly ice surfaces -- have to be tested out first.

Great Lakes bays and feeders

Dunkirk Harbor steelhead trout have moved in, but the typical brown trout run has not begun. A chartreuse Berkley Power Bait, the magnum-sized eggs, take steelies from the fishing platform or a boat.

Trout have moved well up Lake Erie feeders (Chautauqua, Canadaway and Cattaraugus Creeks) during recent high waters. Sacks and skein have been the main menu, but well placed spinners connect when water color is mildly stained.

Lake Ontario feeders see more fish than fishermen, and steelies have taken over in both Oak Orchard and Eighteen Mile Creeks. Browns still hold in fair numbers. Egg-like flies dominate. The more popular items have been woolie buggers, chartreuse glo bug yarn balls with the dot eye and carpet flies.

Big bass bash

Big Bass World Championship begins its 10th year of competition Jan. 1. Entrants may fish in any state of the union -- except Alaska -- once registered in their resident state. It only takes one largemouth bass to win both the state and national competition, and the competition begins as soon as the state's fishing regulations allow for the taking of bass.

For complete details on the adult and junior divisions, check with BBWC at 1-800-491-6690.

Inland lakes

Chautauqua -- Ice comes and goes at the south end of the lake and the few hearty north-end boaters have seen increased walleye numbers as waters cool. Anglers with small, trailerable boats at Long Point have skidded hulls over the ice to get to the 'eyes in deeper holes around the point. A Rapala vertical jig does best.

Fishing contests are in the works for the coming year at Chautauqua. The new Chautauqua County Sport Fishing and Hunting Promotion Agency announced plans for a Spring Walleye Derby sometime in May and a Fall Muskie Derby during October. A new Chautauqua and Allegany County activities hotline, including hunting and fishing information, is now on line: 1-800-242-4569.

Canandaigua -- The City Pier at the north end remains ice free and perch and crappie alternate to get at the small-minnow bait. This fishery has been steady throughout the fall but heightened as ice began forming around this and other Finger Lakes ponds and lakes. Solid ice coated the West River at the south end of the lake and panfish activity was good, but the ice weakened at mid week.

Honeoye -- Ice had been good (up to five inches) Monday and Tuesday at south end, but rain reduced it to less than three inches by Wednesday morning. Perch took oak leaf bugs. Walleyes tripped tip ups set with 3-inch shiners, but no reports of bluegill or crappie have yet to come in at Honeoye Bait and Tackle.

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