While the calendar marks today as the first day of winter, anglers along shore and riding a boat know that hard-water outings will be on ice until sometime after Santa rides his sleigh.
Great Lakes water temperatures in the lower 40s have most areas of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the Niagara River open to boat access at every ramp site. Sheltered bays and inland ponds and smaller lakes have seen some skim ice forming over shallow waters. But all the popular first-ice spots in Western New York and southern Ontario will probably not see the ice outings that anglers in the Midwest (northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota) saw sometime in November.
Nonetheless, anglers have many options for trying Christmas/holiday tackle gifts this coming week. Feeder streams open to trout and salmon fishing have seen good flow conditions and fair-to-good fish presence and fights.
Dunkirk Harbor offers a trout fishery that comes and goes. When the fish are in, shore casters do as well as boaters. The lower Niagara River tops all charts for fishing successes.
> Lake Erie
Feeder streams show more promise. Water levels, low during early-fall forays, rose in all creeks to heavily stained levels. Cattaraugus Creek takes more time to settle out after high water, but conditions have improved.
The big Catt has been worth prowling near the mouth as well as at and above Gowanda, says Bruce Wager, a wading regular on this and other Great Lakes feeders.
"I'm doing all right. It's not the way things were a few years ago, but we're catching fish," Wager said of rainbow/steelhead runs in Seneca Nation of Indians areas of the creek. "The fly guys are having a hard time right now," he added. About 95 percent of Wager's outings are done with egg sacks.
The late-September-like weather has some anglers wondering about perch presence in spots popular with boaters earlier this year. Wager partnered with Herb Schultz for a nostalgia run at the ringbacks off Sturgeon Point last week.
"We saw fish on the screen that were holding at 5 to 10 off bottom in 55 feet," Wager recalled. When the fish moved closer to bottom the bite improved.
Rough water and skittish fish still resulted in a 30-fish bucket of bigger perch.
With or without good ice cover this winter, perch prospects look good for Erie's deeper waters the next time ice-choppers or anchored boaters can get out in numbers.
> Niagara River
Conditions are back to "on fire" for describing lower Niagara River fishing prospects.
Eddies and back drifts are boiling with bait -- mainly rainbow smelt right now. Boaters and hoards of sea gulls hover over hot spots for anglers to bump bottom with tackle rigs and for birds to surface-feed on disoriented smelt.
If it's a contest, the gulls win. But anglers are coming in a satisfied second with mixed catches of steelhead and brown trout. Shore casters set up at Devil's Hole and Artpark daily for the shore-bank run of feeding fish. Lake trout add to the mix; laker season reopens Jan. 1.
Boaters move around to test waters from Devil's Hole down to drifts off Fort Niagara State Park at the mouth of the river. When wave heights allow, drifts over and around the Niagara Bar add to the variety of experiences.
Capt. Chris Cinelli has hit into fish at all hours of the day on charters out of Lewiston. Monday afternoon he finished up with at least one fish per drift off Artpark. "All fish today came on the egg sack," Cinelli said of mildly stained waters that allow enough sight for fish to see and hit sacks.
> Lake Ontario
Trout are all about, but perch can add to the search for sizes and numbers of catchable fish along the Lake Ontario shoreline.
From Wilson Harbor east to either side of Sodus Bay, the perch bite has been just right. Minnows lead all bait options and boaters have to move to and check depths for better sizes at Irondequoit Bay and Sodus Bay.
The last good read at Irondequoit had been 15- to 25-foot depths; however, casters at Wilson and Olcott hit into nice sizes reaching much shallower waters in both harbors.
Stream waders had to wait out heavily stained water, but those solid numbers of steelies and browns hung around. Oak Orchard Creek has been a bit busier than Eighteen Mile Creek this past week, but both larger streams -- and smaller nearby feeders -- attract and hold nice numbers of trout.
In all creeks and streams -- smaller to the largest -- small baits and artificials draw more hits and hookups as waters cool and become more clear. Single-egg, tiny sacks and baits used for ice fishing prevail.
> Bait note
Ice fishing will be on hold for a while; boaters often report nice catches where ice anglers should soon be chopping holes. When hard-water outings become possible, look for even higher prices for mousie grubs this season.
Word has it the hatch was poor and mousies will cost more than average prices for waxworms, spikes, oak leaf grubs, and other popular ice baits.