Bring a boat to any likely ice-fishing site this weekend. Most lakes and bays are ice-free and open to boating.

Reports on stream and river trout runs now include the word “silver” in many areas. Along with the steady pack of rainbow/steelhead darkened through time spent while up stream, an influx of newly-arrived, shiny stock is showing up in waters of Great Lakes feeders and the lower Niagara River.

Given the loss of ice and a major runoff of stained water, anglers have fewer but fair prospects for shoreline successes – with some unusual boating accesses not normally open to fisher folk in mid-January.

Boat options

Mariners with launch-worth crafts from Lake Erie to Irondequoit Bay have gone down to the lake in boats this past week.

Rick Miller at Miller’s Bait & Tackle in Irving has been seeing a steady cliental of trout-stream trekkers, but perch prospectors are still digging around in deeper waters off Cattaraugus Creek.

“There were two or three boaters come through last weekend and they fished out deep,” Miller said of the hearty hands on deck in search of perch. Catch rates were low; boaters had to move around to get a few keepers. “But with the lake temperature at 37 and no real cold expected for a while, it might be an early season for perch,” Miller said of ice-free ramps at the state launch.

No boats were in sight, but folks at Mack’s Boat Livery on the southeast corner of Silver Lake commented that anglers could now bring their boats. Same situation can be seen at Chautauqua Lake. Brian Green at Happy Hooker Bait & Tackle in Ashville sees open water either side of the Route 17/86 Bridge and knows the solid and productive ice at Burtis Bay is now history. The bluegill bite got off to a great start with a 3-inch ice covering last week, but the runoff was too much even for that protected bay in Chautauqua’s South Basin.

Predictions for cold nights might be some help, but ice anglers might have to sit out for a while before good hardwater access is restored. Only one area of Lake Simcoe off the Pefferlaw River retained enough ice to support walkers and light machinery. Look for an expanded report on that fishery on the Sunday Outdoors Page.

River Runs

Lower Niagara River shore casters often out fish passing boaters when the stain level is just right. That stain was in place this past week and shore walkers could send out a variety of live bait and basic jig-type artificials for a steady run of mainly lake trout and steelies – with an occasional big brown thrown in.

Boaters working drifts along Devil’s Hole see shore fishermen mainly working those long & “noodle” rods to reach out into the current, feel those sometimes soft hits and fight trout moving in the river’s swift currents.

Stained waters moving down stream from riled Lake Erie flows move fish closer to shore where casters have a better chance of reaching the trout. Both Devil’s Hole and the Whirlpool access can be shoreline hot spots throughout the winter.

Among jig baits, either Mr. Twister tails on a jig head or Finesse baits get the most mention; a white or light finish has been most productive under a bobber/float cast up current and allowed to drift down current. Boaters have been connecting with live bait and lures. Both larger chubs and emerald shiners have worked well on drift rigs in Devil’s Hole and along the Artpark banks.

For years, the Kwikfish, a banana-type bait, has dominated the hard-lure offerings. It’s still a killer, but some guides and a few recreational anglers have picked up on Worden’s newer Mag Lip lure. Worden’s, well known for its long-popular Flatfish now produces the Mag Lip, which has proven to be a big success as a drifting plug. Shaped like a banana, the Mag Lip has a broad lip, something like a Hot ‘N Tot, which pushes it down as deep as 20 feet without weight on the line. Bill Hilts Jr. pulled some impressive numbers of trout on an outing with Capt. Frank Campbell. That success story will accompany an upcoming column on the Niagara River Anglers Association’s Steelhead Contest set for Feb. 16.