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Ice access comes and goes.

Lakes and bays have formed good ice surfaces in some areas and poor to non-existent ice cover in others. Last year’s ice season saw open waters on lakes that freeze over part or all of the winter. This year, the yo-yo cycle of hard freezing and thawing has made each week’s ice ventures a gambling casino.

More than any year before, this ice season calls for the use of a solid spud bar, a chisel-tipped bar used to chop holes manually.

Modern ice-fishing gear includes high-tech augers (turned manually or with a motor), but the old fashioned spud bar, used as a walking stick, also affords anglers a means to instantly check on ice stability; thickness and solidity.

Many surfaces have been coated with snow, which turns to an insulating slush covering as a warm front moves through.

With fresh snow covering areas where either ice or water existed days earlier, walkers initially venturing onto ice surfaces cannot gauge ice stability and safe crossings to areas that will support the weight of anglers and their gear.

Savvy ice anglers look for at least a two-inch depth for a single walker.

Many area ice-fishing hot spots now have ice depths at and above the 5-inch mark; however, a spud bar might be a worthy tool when heading onto ice areas not recently crossed by other anglers afoot or on a snow machine.

Ice contest

North East Ice Fishing Circuit contestants have had to walk rather than ride snowmobiles and RVs during area competitions.

That was the case again during Pro Series competition Sunday on Honeoye Lake.

Good ice formed at the northeast corner of Honeoye off Trident Marina and event coordinator Jeff Snyder was able to hold a walk-on only event for kids Saturday as well as the team competition Sunday.

Fishing on ice averaging six inches, anglers brought in impressive sizes for a 12-fish weigh-in.

Jason Caudill fished as a one-angler team and weighed in 9.73-pounds to take first place, which garnered two Striker Ice Float Suits and $480 in cash. The team of Alex Scheg and Bill Cadamore posted a close second with 9.52 pounds; they took home $288. Third place and a $192 prize went to Jeff Shade and Kevin Snyder for their 9.15-pound total.

Scheg also collected $240 for a 1.77-pound top entry in the Big Fish category.

Conditions look good for the Oneida Lake leg of this North East Series. “We probably will have a walk-on only out of Big Bay," Snyder said of this weekend’s contest.

Ice thickness has been six to seven inches, but open lake areas beyond Big Bay have unsafe ice, showing open-water areas early this week.

For reports on conditions, event format and registration details, check with Snyder at (585) 322-0063 or go to northeastfishingcircuit.com.

Steelie contest

Conditions approach ideal for the Niagara River Anglers Association’s Annual Steelhead Contest on Saturday. The Lower Niagara River has settled to a nice mild stain and ice floes have flown down current this week.

A solid sheet of ice coating Lake Erie keeps water entering the head of the river clean; floes from earlier winds have moved out and into Lake Ontario.

The steelie contest is open to all on the lower river, Lake Ontario and its tributaries. Entrants can also enter a separate division for the biggest brown trout caught during the sunrise to 2 p.m. competition.

For entry details, check with Creek Road Bait & Tackle in Lewiston at 807-6248 or Slippery Sinker Bait & Tackle in Olcott at 778-0713.

The bite has been quite right. Among boaters, meat choices have been divided between egg sacks and live minnows; artificial options have been mainly a silver Kwikfish or other banana-shaped bait. On all lures, a pink bead in sacks or a pink overspray gets the most mention.

Ice options

Most areas offer solid “black" ice measuring less than five inches.

Irondequoit Bay has formed ice across the bay, but only the northeast corner had good, walk-worthy ice earlier this week. Rick Reagan at Jay-Ve Fishing Tackle in Rochester looks for mid-bay ice access by the weekend.

Chautauqua Lake access is mainly at Burtis Bay, where the catch is mostly 5- to 6-inch perch and fair-sized ‘gills.

Western Finger Lakes have some access at their northern and southern shallows. Silver Lake and Honeoye Lake both produce some fair bluegill numbers; Conesus Lake, off the Vitale Park at the north end, has been good for ‘gills.

email: odrswill@gmail.com