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Will Elliott’s Fishing Line: Ice conditions warrant a safe approach

Ice conditions are conditional in many areas that should have been good for a month or more this ice-fishing season.

Last year, hard-water harriers did not see a day of January thaw. No matter what Punxsutawney Phil saw or didn’t see, ice anglers are seeing thin, risky ice on inland waters and nothing worth an unsafe walk on deep-water areas of the bigger lakes.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources offers a caution usually read in late December or early January: “Anyone venturing onto the ice is urged to wear a life jacket, wear bright colors, bring a cellphone and bring along a set of ice picks or claws, which can be found in most sporting goods stores.”

Modern ice drillers are equipped with elaborate, efficient manual and power-driven augers (look for a new-model report on the Sunday Outdoors page) to make holes in the ice. But younger and old-time ice-angling addicts recommend taking along an ice spud, a long-handled bar that can be used to check ice depth and consistency while headed onto surfaces not previously crossed. This prolonged January thaw has rendered ice surfaces more akin to late December than early February.

Steelie tourney

Lower Niagara River waters showed a mild stain on Tuesday morning and things look good for both boaters and shore casters entering the annual Roger Toby Memorial Steelhead Tournament this Saturday.

Registrations are open before sunrise at the Lewiston Landing launching area. Anglers can fish the lower river, Lake Ontario and its feeder streams up to the first impassible barrier.

Entrants have an optional brown trout division and anglers from shore and in boats have seen a few nice browns passing the 10-pound mark so far this season.

New this year, all entry fees will be paid out to the top three entrants in the tourney. Following the contest, an awards party will begin at the Lewiston No. 1 Fire Hall at Sixth and Center streets. For more details, call 998-8910.

Ice options

Some good ice offers angler access. Be careful on ice surfaces, even ones that show previous walkers and machine tracks.

At Simcoe Lake, shore ice measures as much as 10 inches in places, but feeder-stream outflows and shoreline bars create thin ice and open-water spots. Walkers have accessed at Cooks Bay, and either side of Virginia Beach. Jerry Kuckarchuk at the Peninsula on the Pefferlaw River reports better perch sizes in deeper waters off the river. The bite is mainly a minnow program, but J-Hooks, spoons and Swedish Pimples have pulled a few ringbacks recently. Ice over the deeper lake trout grounds remains iffy for the weekend. For an update on the Pefferlaw area, call (800) 565-5253.

Chautauqua Lake offers ice conditions akin to Simcoe. Nights fall below freezing and water appears on some surfaces, but shoreline walkers have been able to get on the ice in both basins, says Skip Bianco at Hogan’s Hut Bait & Tackle.

A few walleyes have been taken and perch sizes have improved at depths out to 20 feet. While the bluegill bite has been so-so in Burtis Bay on the South Basin, North Basin shoreline scouts have done well on bigger ’gills in the weeded shallows at and on either side of Mayville.

Western Finger Lakes ice varies in surfaces and fishing catches. Silver Lake is in a funk. Weeds are down along the south shoreline and the perch bite is slight, with some pike but not good bluegills or crappie reports. Experts believe Silver’s plucky panfish are out in deeper waters.

Conesus and Honeoye lakes provide similar ice and somewhat similar catch reports. Shoreline ice has been thinning but walkers can get out to depths beyond 10 feet. Conesus has seen better numbers along drop-offs at midlake. Honeoye has been on fire at its south end, with the west shoreline doing better if not best. Canandaigua Lake has been the most productive at both its north and south ends.

Derby doings

Captain Bob’s Outdoors Winter Fishing Derby saw some interesting entries this past week. Barry Ball of Alden took the Perch Division lead with a 13¾-incher weighing 1.33 pounds taken from Lake Erie before the ice formed.

A Rudd Division entry weighing 3.34 pounds and measuring 18 inches came from “California” Joe Pavalonis of Buffalo, who fished the upper Niagara River.

The Steelhead Division leader, Bob Rustowicz of Cheektowaga, topped his 28.58-inch fish with a new entry of 32 inches taken at Oak Orchard Creek on a homemade jig. Rustowicz then headed to Bay of Quinte ice and now leads the Walleye Division with a 23.5-inch, 5.99-pound ’eye.

Stan Travis Jr. of Varysburg leads the Northern Pike Division with a 35.5-incher taken at Silver Lake with a sucker under a tip-up rig.

Crappie Division leader Dave Fisher of Cheektowaga took a 13.5-incher that hit a rosy red minnow at Black Lake. Chase Kordasiewicz of Alden fished a private pond to enter an 11-inch, 1.06-pound in the Bluegill Division. For more details on this contest, call 407-3021.