Western New York
Ice safety reminder: Before you head out onto the ice this winter, remember a minimum of 4 inches of solid black or clear ice (not white) is the general rule for safety. Five inches of solid ice is better for groups fishing together. Drilling holes or tapping with a spud bar to check ice thickness is recommended on your way out. Safety ice picks, boot cleats, a throw rope and a floatation device are recommended safety supplies. Use good judgment and fish with a friend when possible.
Lake Erie tributaries and harbors: Rain and considerable snowmelt blew out all Lake Erie tributaries. Most steelhead streams were back to prime fishing shape at last check. Cattaraugus Creek remained a bit high but could be fishable by now. Look for a fresh run of steelhead to have moved in on the heels of any high-water events. Productive wintertime steelhead baits include egg sacs, egg flies, trout beads and small jigs tipped with a wax worm (fished under a float).
Dunkirk and Barcelona harbors remained ice free. Trout sometimes show in the harbors during winter months.
Upper Niagara River: Water clarity had improved enough for fishing. However, gusty weather can always come in and muddy the waters. Shore anglers at Unity Island have been catching yellow perch at the northern tip of the island and at Broderick Park on both the river and canal sides. Emerald shiners are a good bait for perch and were available for dipping on site. Anglers have also recently caught some steelhead along Unity Island on egg sacs, minnows and spoons.
Chautauqua Lake: There was enough ice in spots to offer some ice fishing activity before the last warm-up. However, the lake level is up, shore ice had deteriorated at last check and lake-effect snow could compound the problem. Ice should be considered unsafe until extended freezing temperatures return.
Lake Ontario and tributaries: There was some fishing going on in area tribs with decent water flow. Greg Schloerb of Amherst visited Burt Dam and Eighteen Mile Creek in the town of Newfane late last month. Water was low and clear, making fishing difficult, but he did manage to catch some nice browns, steelhead and a small coho salmon fishing the creek the day before and the day after Christmas. The hot bait for Schloerb was a hand-tied white jig tipped with a wax worm and fished under a float using his center pin outfit. Another highlight was a doubleheader fishing with his buddy Saith J. Shine of Niagara Falls. Greg topped the duo with a 10.7-pound brown. Ice action at Wilson was marginal. Some safe ice still existed late last month, but that may have changed by now with the warm weather early this year. The NYS Winter Classic Tournament (www.nyswinterclassic.com) and the Captain Bob’s Contest began Jan. 1 and 2, respectively.
Niagara River: As of Jan. 1, the walleye limit dropped from three fish to one in the lower river. Also, remember lake trout season opened on Jan. 1 in the lower river; it’s open all year on the upper river and Lake Erie. Once things settle back down weather-wise we should see egg patterns effective again. Shore fishing continued to be a mix of spoons, spinners, eggs and egg imitations. Look for slightly clearer water and brightly colored lures or baits to tip the fishing in your favor. Glenn Strzelczyk of the town of Niagara reported late last month that upper river action was good for lake trout, especially at the foot of Ferry Street and along Broderick Park. Spoons and spinners were taking fish.
Central New York
A number of county web sites offer good information on fishing in the region, including bait shops, guides, etc. A few examples are: Onondaga County (fishonondagacounty.com); Oswego County (visitoswegocounty.com); and Wayne County (waynecountytourism.com). Oswego and Wayne counties also have a weekly fishing hotline on their web page as well.
Lake Ontario: There were brown trout and steelhead being taken in some of the tributaries, and most streams had a decent flow of water. But with the snow and cold temperatures, ice or slush ice may become a limiting factor. Egg sacs or egg-imitating plastics are usually good bait choices.
Oswego River: High flows were making shore fishing very difficult at last look. The region also typically experiences some heavy bands of lake-effect snow. Anglers who have been fishing from drift boats were getting some steelhead and brown trout.
Remember, the bridge to Leto Island is closed, and there are mandatory PFD zones on the river.
Salmon River: As mentioned above for the Oswego River, this region is has been seeing lake-effect snow. Steelhead fishing picked up some, with egg sacs producing the most action. Beads, pink trout worms, egg imitating flies and nymphs were also working at times.
Oneida Lake: Anglers were getting out on Big Bay late last month, but use caution as ice thickness reports varied from 4 to 6 inches depending on locations. And that may have changed by now – for better or worse.
Sandy Pond: Anglers were getting out on the pond, but use caution as ice thickness reports vary from 5 to 8 inches, and the region was receiving heavy bands of lake-effect snow that can hamper ice formation.
Sodus and Irondequoit bays: No safe ice to report at this time on either bay.
Finger Lakes/Southern Tier
Keuka, Canandaigua, and Seneca lakes: No safe ice at last check and no new information.
Cayuga and Owasco lakes: No safe ice to report at last check. A reminder that most Finger Lakes tributary fishing ended Dec. 31. Review the Finger Lakes tributary regulations before heading out.
Honeoye Lake: Ice had held up at the extreme south end of Honeoye Lake, but as you know that can change at any time. At report time, ice anglers were finding around 4 inches solid ice inside 10 feet of water. Ice gets thinner to the north. Catches have been mostly bluegill, with some largemouth bass and chain pickerel mixed in. Bass fishing on Honeoye Lake is open through March 15, with a daily limit of 5, with a 12-inch minimum length. Ice may deteriorate with any warmer temperatures and/or rain.
Skaneateles Lake: The gate to the launch site was closed on Nov. 22. Some rainbow trout were being taken by shore anglers fishing the time-tested marshmallow and worm rig. No safe ice to report.
Whitney Point Reservoir: Reports of 4 to 5 inches of ice on the pond. No word on ice thickness in/near the channel. Use caution as the channel area typically has less ice than the pond. Ice conditions may have deteriorated, and officials for the annual crappie derby – set for Feb. 18 this year – have yet to make an official call on the status of the event.
Otisco Lake: Though some anglers were venturing out on the North end, ice reports were varying greatly, so the “no safe ice to report at this time” will continue for this report.
Chenango, Tioughnioga and Susquehanna rivers: Not hearing anything lately.
Schroon Lake: Portions of the lake held safe ice at last check. But most of the news has focused on the ice conditions and not who is catching what.
Lake Champlain: Hearing anglers are out both north and south, and also hearing the perch are running small.
Great Sacandaga Lake: Safe ice and some of the anglers in the know have been icing some big pike. Walleye action has been slow.
Piseco Lake: Plenty of small lake trout, as usual.
Limekiln Lake: Anglers were icing a few splake.
The 2016 season ended with excellent bottom fishing for humpback sea bass, jumbo porgies, ling, codfish and pollock. The best fishing was reported on the offshore wrecks in 90 feet of water and deeper, in Block Island Sound and on the open boats running long-range or extended wreck trips. Fresh skimmer clams were the top bait. Viking style and diamond jigs with surgical tube or curlytail plastics accounted for some of the largest cod and pollock.
The sea bass were some of the largest reported all season, with many in the 5-pound class. The porgies were all large, with 3-pounders common. Both the sea bass and porgy season closed at the end of the year, so the open and charter boats are targeting cod, pollock and ling.
Most of the cod and pollock were just above the keeper limit, but 20-pound cod or 15-pound pollock were the usual pool winners aboard the open boats. The cod and pollock season should remain strong for the next few weeks as the water temperatures are still in the high 40s on the bottom and there are large schools of sand eels in many areas.
Surfcasters were still catching small and stripers on the ocean beaches. The best fishing was reported by anglers fishing the early morning hours casting 2-ounce diamond jigs. When the winds cooperated, flyrodders scored fishing sand eel patterns such as epoxy flies and tan over white Clouser Minnows.
Herring were reported on Magnolia Pier, with the best fishing after dark. Herring rigs with a diamond jig for the weight were the top producers.
There were no freshwater reports as of late. A quick ride to the local brackish creeks revealed a good number of anglers trying for white perch. There were no fish to report, but it’s only a matter of time before they show up for some fun wintertime action.
Tip of the week: There are some good ice fishing forums on the web that can be interesting to check out. One noteworthy and popular site is www.iceshanty.com, which offers the most up to date and comprehensive reports on ice conditions. Besides ice thickness information, you can also find sections dealing with pretty much everything ice fishing related, from suggested tackle to modifications for making your shanty more comfortable.
Lake George: No safe ice at last check, which isn’t unusual. Lake George typically freezes late.
Saratoga Lake: Has been slow to lock up with safe ice.
Lake Lonely: A few small pike. Fishing has been slow.
Cossayuna Lake: Safe ice but slow fishing at last check.
Southeastern New York
A reminder that from Nov. 1 to May 1, all persons aboard a pleasure vessel less than 21 feet in length must wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) while underway.
Kind of an in-between time right now, with rivers open to fishing not offering great conditions, and ice slow to form on the typical hard-water spots.
St. Lawrence River: Anglers were out on most of the bays, notably Eel and Chippewa, and catching pike and perch.
Black Lake: Most of the ice fishing was taking place out of Rollaway Bay, with decent action on pike, perch and bluegills. Some crappie were caught as well; anglers were searching for keeper panfish and coming up with some.