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Weekend anglers awake to a new year of fishing fun.

For ice anglers, some ponds and lakes offer a chance to try out those holiday gifts designed for hard water fishing.

Boaters and shore anglers in the lower Niagara River and boaters out on the Niagara Bar can keep lake trout taken from New York State waters starting Saturday. State regulations require that slot-limit lakers, fish measuring between 25 to 30 inches, must be released.

Feeder stream waders find more than chills for thrills. Snowfall and cold waters slow early-morning movement of trout, but savvy egg sackers and fly flickers find good numbers and sizes of rainbows and, sometimes, browns moving upstream when waters warm slightly later in the day.

Ice options

Silver Lake, typically the first to form fishable ice, did it again. Walkers were crossing center ice on Sunday, says Environmental Conservation officer Jim Rackl. Ice depths reach five inches in the south basin, but clear, 3-inch ice -- unsafe for RVs -- coated much of the open areas on Wednesday morning. Inland, ice choppers have also found good surfaces at Cuba Lake and Harwood Lake.

At Lake Simcoe, winds broke up ice in the Beaverton/Pifferlaw area but new ice had formed to about two inches by Wednesday morning. Walkers have been finding perch at the Couchiching narrows and are now heading onto Cooks Bay ice at the southwest corner of the lake.

Ice contest

Chet's Annual Ice Fishing Contest is open to all area anglers fishing ice-covered waters. Entrants pay $6 to fish for the largest perch, walleye, northern pike, crappie and sunfish caught through the ice until March 14, or when the ice is unsafe. To enter, drop by Chet's Fishing & Hunting, 1614 Niagara Falls Blvd. For details, call 564-0788.

Bold predictions

This column focuses mainly on where the fish are biting and ways to enjoy area fisheries, rarely offering predictions. In this, the last column of the millennium, we offer these observations on fishing's future in Western New York:

All fish in Western New York waters will be Y2K compliant.

Fishing on Saturday morning will be as easy or as difficult as it was in the previous year. New York anglers will pay about the same for items at the start of the new year, but fishing could be a bit more expensive for Ontario anglers who did not buy a new license before Jan. 1.

Fishing will be as much fun as it was in previous years. Bass, walleye, trout salmon, muskellunge, and panfish will offer their excitement and challenges as in the past, but blue pike will be hard to find.

Northern pike will not lose their teeth in the summer, a misconception held by some fisher folk earlier in the 20th century. Anglers may lose their teeth trying to cut Fireline, Vanish and the many other new braided lines.

The best fish to catch in Western New York will still be the one about to bite on your line. Derbies and big-fish contests excite competitors, but the greatest draw for most men and women will be the fun of catching the next fish -- any fish.

Happy fishing in 2000.

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