Take along a good pair of sunglasses and insulated rain gear. Ice anglers, open-water boaters and shore fishermen all have to prepare for February thaws with blazing sunshine and then cloud cover similar to early fall's first snow.
Expect changes and fish as though you were working on ice and soft water at the same time. Perch and walleye have yet to make their moves into shoreline shallows, but steelhead trout run steams and the Niagara River whenever waters clear enough to see a few feet.
Fresh bait offerings do better than artificials, except for fly patterns in clearing feeder stream waters. Keep a good supply of live bait - grubs to chubs - for finicky feeding fish.
Open-lake ice areas are risky, but stream waders and pier casters can reach fish - mainly rainbow/steelhead trout - along feeder streams and Dunkirk Harbor. Bait shops have been selling equal shares of egg sacks, night crawlers and minnows for both stream and pier fishing. At Dunkirk, city pier action can be on most of the day; outlet casters at the power plant do best at first light with long, preferably clear or fluorocarbon lines.
Plans for any ice outing - anywhere and anytime - should first start with a check call to someone who knows the state of the ice. Conditions vary on western Finger Lakes less than 15 miles apart. Solid ice caps the entire lake, but machine runners have to use water-free lanes and dodge flooded bogs near cracks. Best perch numbers hold in 30-foot-plus waters where bug life (molly grubs and freshwater shrimp) draw perch schools.
Chautauqua and most other Southern Tier lakes have good ice over most open areas and along shorelines away from creek mouths, but deep water off Mission Meadows near Dewittville Creek is dangerous. Good perch and walleye reports come in from locals who can find good ice over schooling fish.
Red worm alert?
Minnows work better than worms for perch, but anglers have been finding worms, especially the red variety, have been finding their way into Lake Erie ringbacks this ice season. Joe Peters, an avid Lake Erie ice fisherman and regular out of Sturgeon Point, called Department of Environmental Conservation senior aquatic biologist Mike Wilkinson to report an unusual number of red worms showing up in perch fillets. Wilkinson recalls, ""There had been several reports of these parasites in perch 10 to 15 years ago. A high percentage of red worm infestation regularly occurs in western basin waters, with no reports of human ill health.""
Helen Domske, Cornell Cooperative Extension New York Sea Grant Extension Specialist, said, ""These fish parasites are fairly common in this area. Some (worms) even use fish flesh to deposit their eggs.""
Corroborating Wilkinson's observations, she said, ""these parasites' (red worms) negative impact is mainly on fish and do not affect anglers who cook fish thoroughly.""
Record numbers of anglers turned out for Niagara River Anglers Association's Steelhead Tournament. Despite winds sending chill factors below zero Saturday morning, 146 entrants, up from 123 last year, and a 15-year record number of anglers, generated enough heat to pour it to the steelies.
Jim Rechtsiegel of Lockport showed that fishing a shoreline is just fine, weighing in the top entry, a 12 3/4 -pound prize taken at Burt Dam. Capt. Ernie Calandrelli of Niagara Falls worked the lower Niagara River to hook into his second-place fish, at 11 pounds, 11 ounces. Lewiston line minder Tony LaRosa fished close to home to take third place with an 8 3/4 -pound steelie from the lower river.