Feeder streams have been choked with ice floes, but hard-water walkers and a few machine runners -- have areas that augur well for ice augering before the new year arrives.
Casters in Dunkirk Harbor and shore casters and boat drifters in the Lower Niagara River can suit up for suitable open-water fishing. But for most area angling, ice must suffice before heading out to check where those fish are biting.
Shipments of certified emerald shiner minnows arrived from Wisconsin in shipments to area bait and tackle shops.
Approved bait shipments look solid through the entire ice-fishing season, but no promises could be made for emeralds available when the spring boating season begins.
Bait dealers have had to raise the price of mousie-grubs as a result of a loss of hatches mainly at growing areas in Michigan. "I've had to increase the price on mousies, but I can hold the line on last year's prices for spikes and waxworms," said Jeff Pippard at Niagara Outdoors in North Tonawanda.
*Buffalo Small Boat Harbor walkers stepped into some nice-sized bluegills, a better-than-average run of northern pike, and the usual run of runt perch through the first week of hard-water angling.
*Minnows work best, but try light jigs or rounded flies and a grub or bug for the bigger 'gills and sunnies.
*Silver Lake -- Walleye went on strike, or at least did not feed the way they showed during first ice outings last season.
But bluegill and sunfish sizes and numbers offer plentiful panfish fillets as the ice season starts at Silver.
*Honeoye Lake -- Add bass to the walleye run at the south end of Honeoye this ice season. Sizes increase for both panfish and game fish for anglers working deeper water at the lower end of the lake.
Bluegills hold in solid numbers off the launch at the southeast corner. But weed-edge areas that hold sizeable schools of 'gills have produced smaller panfish a week after walkers could get on the ice. Most of the better catches come from depths of 18-20 feet.
Good ice formed at 6-8 inches throughout the south end; at the Trident Marina to Richmond ramp area, thinner (3- to 4-inch) ice has formed, with an open area of water at the northwest corner.
*Chautauqua Lake -- Ice reports vary with each access around the North Basin/Mayville end of the lake. Most of the South Basin (Bemus Point to Jamestown) has solid ice.
As with Honeoye Lake, reports of better catches for all panfish species comes from deeper water, close to the 20-foot depths which are max at the south end.
Burtis Bay ice averages 6-8 inches and walkers have gotten into nice perch, 'gills and the occasional crappie. Walleye reports have yet to emerge, but runoff has stained shoreline waters along much of the South Basin, which might account for late-season-like fish responses early this season.
Unconfirmed reports have it that four anglers have had to be rescued at Chautauqua. With high winds and heavy snowfall settling on parts of the lake's surface, locals look for the weekend thaw to level snow and allow for pressure cracks to fill and freeze with the next drop in temperatures, according to Lisa Green at Happy Hooker Bait & Tackle in Ashville.
*Lake Simcoe -- Accessible ice has formed around virtually all of Simcoe early this week.
Cooks Bay offers the best walking access; a few machinists have crossed the bay, but the pike bite seems better than nips from plug perch. Same thing goes for the early walkers and quad runners at Port Bolster. Leona Creber at Casey's plans to have her huts in place by Jan. 2.
Paul's Fish Huts (800-667-7335) got huts on the ice early this week and initial reports have it as business as usual. Tuesday morning, a few anglers reported many fish hitting at 22-foot depths about a mile to 1 1/2 miles off shore.
The ratio of keepers to runts goes well beyond the 1-to-10 ratio that started last year's yellow perch prospects.
Minnows, in good supply this year, far outdo most other live or artificial baits. Despite higher prices for some live baits, the fleshy items have been much more fish-friendly so far.
Lower Niagara River
Waters have cleared and charter captains await a break in blustery breezes to get out and stick more steelhead trout. Egg sacks had been the preferred baits, and a good number of both steelies and browns have shown in previous week, with a decline in lake trout numbers.
Laker season reopens Jan. 1, but the steelie run has been exceptional this early season. Niagara River Anglers Association's Steelhead Contest is set for Feb. 12.