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If your favorite fishing hole did not freeze over for ice angling this past week, consider it an open-water area.

A hard freeze, and surface-smoothing warmth on Tuesday, gave virtually every ice-fishing site in Western New York access to areas at least firm enough for folks afoot.

Lake Erie ice broke up in last week's winds. Some larger bays and deep inland lakes have solid shore ice and a thin skin over center sections.

Most western Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, and southern Ontario lakes have enough ice to be nice.

As always, check ahead with area experts, look ahead when walking new areas on ice, keep an eye on the sky as well as electronic weather reports.

Newly frozen surfaces offer good prospects for feeding fish; snow-covered thick ice call for fine-tuning tackle tactics; no fish is worth a dunk in the drink.

>Nice ice areas

* Buffalo Small Boat Harbor: Movers are the only ones shaking a few nice-sized perch right now, according to Jerry Olejniczak at Penrod's Bait & Tackle in South Buffalo. Smaller perch and assorted panfish can be found in most areas of the harbor, but the bigger, filleting-sized guys move around in scattered schools.

* Silver Lake: Perch have been left in the lurch. Panfish are plentiful, however, along weed edges and drop-offs out to 15-foot depths. Bluegill and sunfish hit most hours of daylight, but word has it that the "bucket-out" hours are best at 3-5 p.m. most days.

* Conesus Lake: Perch and good-sized 'gills remain a challenge. Jiggers set up with a few tip-ups have taken some impressive northern pike along weedy shallows at both ends of the lake and bays north of Long Point and Stella Maris.

* Honeoye Lake: Ice has hardened enough for machine runners to work the east shore south of Trident Marine and well north of the launch at the southeast corner of the lake. The sonar screen goes nuts in shallow areas at depths of less than 15 feet. But the better bite for both perch and bluegills comes at greater depths. Better catches for 'gills have come from 20-foot depths, with perch even better at depths close to 30 feet.

* Chautauqua Lake: Being there is part of ice-fishing fun. Just getting there is no fun right now. A solid base of green ice averaging seven inches coats the entire lake. A snowpack, combining ice, slush, and snow, measures more than a foot covered the ice in stages for the past two weeks. The Tuesday thaw might make movement a bit easier, but, for now, look for the same snow-clogged surfaces Chautauqua supported last ice season.

Too bad. Because deeper holes north of Long Point off Maple Springs to Dewittville hold the hog-sized perch -- big pigs for Chautauqua Lake, that is.

Walkers got out to depths of more than 40 feet on Saturday and many ice jiggers bucketed a dozen or two ringbacks that reached past the 10-inch mark. Walleye may be biting at early-morning and late-evening hours. For now, hope for a surface meltdown and a freeze-over that forms good, fishable ice.

* Lake Simcoe: Ice along the eastern shore supports snow machines. A few hut operators have gone with Bombardiers, but previously open water around Georgina and other islands have left a thin skin.

Camera carriers report an abundance of walleye on bottom and whitefish at mid depths, but the best bite still comes from yellow perch packs.

Hut operators have set up between Pefferlaw River and Port Bolster over shallow sites at 20-foot depths and deeper, in 26- to 32-foot waters. Averages of keeper to released runts remains high; some fair-sized fish have come from both the deeper and shallower sites.

Ice has hardened enough for first forays to lake trout areas. Reports are not yet in as to the trout take. Look for a detailed account of Simcoe perch fishing on the Outdoors Page this Sunday.

* Lake Ontario Bays: Sodus Bay got the biggest play for perch and panfish. This past week Sodus also received the biggest blow of snow. While Irondequoit Bay east of Rochester received a foot of loose snow, Sodus Bay ice doubled that dumping.

Fishing for perch has been good at both Sodus and Irondequoit this past week. Be careful at the middle of Irondequoit; mid sections have areas of 3-inch ice. Farther west, Braddock Bay shallows have shown best for perch.

Ice and a variety of fish species have shown well in Wilson Harbor. A morning ice-fishing contest is set for Wilson Tuscarora/Wilson Harbor waters Feb. 5. Entrants have four fish categories: trout, pike, perch, and any panfish. For contest details, check with Pete Marotta at Feather & Fur Bait Shop (425-3018).

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