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IT WAS SNOW-GOING UNTIL THE THAW

Thanks to that brief January thaw, anglers can now get out and into all kinds of fishing.

That recent shot of 40-degree weather did good things for ice fishing, stream wading, shore casting and boating -- where access is possible.

Snow cover dropped as much as a foot at Chautauqua and many western Finger Lakes over the weekend. Shore ice along major Great Lakes feeders streams, and many smaller feeders, melted or drifted away. Shore casting access is easier and safer along the Niagara River. Lower Niagara River boaters -- those with rigs not snow-covered -- can get out with relative ease at Lewiston and Fort Niagara.

Layered clothing and good planning are essential for any fish outing at this time of the year, but several options are open. Thank the thaw.

Niagara River

Lower Niagara River charter boaters got out onto water with better visibility during the weekend. Steelhead and lake trout showed scattered activity, following last week's storms and water staining. Devil's Hole still attracts many boaters in search of steelies or lakers, but drifters also line up along Artpark, the Queenston backdrift, Jackson and Stella Niagara.

Boaters equipped to get out onto the Niagara Bar off Fort Niagara can find lake trout on the leading edge and outer dropoff. Big minnows do best but try a one-ounce white jig to see if you can catch fish without the need to dip a new minnow after each hit. When the trout go for artificials, catching is faster -- and it's much easier to avoid chilled hands.

Upper river bay and dock slip areas around Grand Island have frozen to good ice-fishing surfaces. Perch and sometimes crappie schools move in and go for small minnows held at or close to bottom. Be sure to check with owners or operators for access permission and conditions before venturing out onto unfamiliar ice areas around Grand Island.

On ice

Chautauqua -- Perch began showing at Victoria Point and Long Point. Parking problems sent most perchers to Mayville before the melt.

Magnolia Bay and Prendergast Point continue to be the major draws for near-shore walleye schooling. Chances for a five-fish limit of 'eyes improved over the weekend due mainly to snow cover. While it's difficult to walk on, the snow darkens the shallows, attracting bait and feeding fish into the shallows.

Simcoe -- A solid 8-10 inches of ice coat the east shore and good perch numbers show at 28-foot depths inside Thor and Georgina Islands. Jiggers have some success but limit catches have been taken mostly with minnows.

Bass class

Area bass angers have a first-hand opportunity to upgrade a variety of skills during the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society's "B.A.S.S. Fishing Techniques '99" program at Erie Community College South in Orchard Park.

The program goes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 27 and 28. BASS pros Denny Brauer, Mark Menendez, Terry Barksay and Rich Tauber will conduct the various classes. Advanced instruction includes methods for reading bass behavior, using electronics, establishing multiple patterns within pattern presentations, locating bass in seasonal situations and much more.

Total cost for material and both days of instruction is $89. For more details, call ECC between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. at 851-1800.

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