Lake Erie still needs a few degrees of preparation, and some open water exists on surfaces of deep, larger inland lakes. But most popular ice-fishing spots in Western New York now have enough ice depth for at least a walking workout -- if not an RV run -- this weekend.
A January thaw in late December and solid day and night freezing has iced many an inland water body for hard-water anglers this first week of the New Year. Surfaces of most inland areas sport at least 5-inch ice depths, but use caution near any feeder stream or area affected by currents.
New ice coatings, smoothed during the recent thaw, cut down on snow drifts and rough ridges, but most areas are now rink-like slick. A good pair of ice cleats and a walking stick or spud bar could help make passage easier and more vertical as the season gets into high gear.
Gear items should also include a pair of ice spikes (grips with a short nail head at one end) that can be used to get back onto ice should soft or thin ice break with your weight.
Check out shoreline areas, both for ice thickness and fish presence, before heading out to deep-water hot spots. Early-season ice fishing can be fun along weed or shoreline drop-off areas.
* Buffalo: Accesses have been a greater talk topic than where the fish are biting for popular city areas that form good fishing ice.
Small Boat Harbor anglers have an average of 5-6 inches of good walking ice inside the breakwaters. Drivers can access the harbor parking lot, but cannot proceed beyond a barrier set up before the first boat ramp, according to C. Douglas Hartmayer, NFTA Director of Public Affairs.
Erie Basin Marina ice is iffy, and a hockey competition scheduled for sometime in February is questionable right now, according to Don Polito, marina harbor master.
Polito said, "The official position of the Erie Basin Marina is that ice fishing is now allowed in the marina." He added that unless he hears otherwise from the commissioner or City Hall, the marina will not be open to the public for ice angling.
* Silver Lake: The perch bite is still on the shelf. Most anglers headed out of Mack's Boat Livery at the southeast corner of the lake pan for sunfish species rather than yellow perch.
The 'gill and sunfish bite has been good for consistent sizes and numbers since ice formed at the south end two weeks ago. Minnows have done better on sunnies than ringbacks. Grubs and bugs have been the main program.
Mack's has spikes, waxworms and oak leaf grubs. As sunny days progress, try the oak leafs farther off weed edges to check for perch presence.
* Honeoye Lake: Bass just keep showing up where anglers work for walleye. The 'eye attention, best at change-of-light hours, still betters the bass bite at both ends of the lake.
South-end surfaces go 6 to 8 inches; north-end ice measures 3-5 inches. But watch that outflow area next to the Richmond Township launch ramp.
Panfish prospects improve with depth. Smaller 'gills are everywhere along the shoreline, but the bigger "plugs" usually get pulled at depths of 15-20 feet.
* Chautauqua Lake: "You can figure on at least a 4-inch surface lakewide," said Lisa Green at Happy Hooker Bait & Tackle in Ashville. Most panfish people have been working the Burtis Bay area at the south end, but good ice along the Long Point/Maple Springs/Mayville corridor has walkers out to depths of 60 feet in search of perch.
Weekend rain and warmth had feeder streams gushing into the main lake. So avoid areas where creeks and springs enter ice areas. Walleye reports vary but the deep-water perch bite is good. Keep moving to get over the right ringback sizes.
* Lake Simcoe: Size matters at Simcoe right now. Whitefish season opened Saturday, but catch reports have been slim. Perch are the thick of it, with a good number of smaller fish hitting between keeper-sized catches.
Leona Creber at Casey's Huts has her huts over 20-25 feet at Port Bolster and most anglers are catching high numbers of perch through ice averaging 8-10 inches. For a current update, check with Creber at (705) 437-1560.
>Lower Niagara River
Neither wind, rain, nor snowfall could deter lower Niagara shore casters or drifters from seeking steelies. But water clarity could cause disparity. A heavy wind chop on Lake Erie and runoff from the recent thaw put steelheaders on the side, but clearing waters and a reopened lake trout season as of Saturday has lower river anglers running to it.