Ice conditions, both in its structure and catch reports, are on edge.
Savvy hole-hoppers get over some nice bluegills and fair numbers of crappie, but school movement and accessible ice have been edgy and iffy.
Best numbers have come for movers who shake (that is, lift, drop and jig) just right.
Unlike the heavy popping and sweeping jiggers resort to when working larger vertical jigs, the panfish bite often comes best when working more off a twitch than a lift or sweeping motion.
As the season progresses and the highly desired crappie begin schooling and heading into the shoreline shallows, a gentle drop-and-stop often can be productive with both hard baits (jigs, blade baits, mini spoons, etc.) and live bait (grubs, spikes, mousy grubs, waxworms, Michigan wigglers, etc.).
Experts have seen initial crappie movement amid bluegill schools on popular lakes such as Oneida, Honeoye, Conesus and Silver. The Chautauqua Lake crappie bite is slight.
The perch bite started deep in Honeoye and Conesus, but has slowed as school scattered along shorelines and even into channels.
Bluegills have served as savior for panfish devotees. The ’gill bite at Big Bay on Oneida has been mainly smaller stuff; the occasional bull keeper is worth the trip.
Conesus has made the best showing for getting bigger ’gills. Patchworks of refrozen ice at the north end make the walk a bit scary, but solid (black) ice between patches measured 5-6 inches earlier this week.
Silver Lake ice is mostly a 4-inch covering, with some thicker patches of ‘white’ ice that could either melt off or freeze solid in the coming week.
If access is solid, the bluegill bite is off and on at Silver; when on, the best bites have come from 8-foot depths along visible week edges.
Ashville’s Happy Hooker Bait and Tackle closing
Owners Brian and Lisa Green have announced the closing of their popular Happy Hooker Bait & Tackle store in Ashville effective Friday. Mike Peterson Auction Service will conduct an auction of the store’s goods on March 9. For site details, call 665-0668.
Steelie contest results
Niagara River Anglers Association’s (NRAA) Annual Steelhead Contest on Saturday saw conditions less than ideal for numbers and fair for sizeable steelies.
This writer lucked into the biggest fish of the day, but it was the only bite as the fates smiled on my lure.
In previous columns, I had lauded Capt. Frank Campbell’s choice of a silver Kwikfish with pink dots. That very lure connected on a 13.16-pound, dark-colored mature male at about 10 a.m. from deep currents in Devil’s Hole.
Campbell had a fixed program, holding out for fewer but bigger fish. Partner John DeLong of Seneca Falls hooked a powerfully-fighting brown trout that weighed in at 9.4 pounds and led for some time; at contest end DeLong’s entry eventually fell to a 9.64 brown Chat Hottot of Niagara Falls caught while drifting the lower Niagara River.
Mike Pustulka of Delevan, fishing Oak Orchard Creek, was the most productive steelie sticker, landing seven trout that day. His top take, a 10.88-pound prize, took second place in the steelie contest. Mike Pustulka and relative Tom Pustulka often appear among top finishers in this and the Naples Trout Derby. Tom won the Naples Derby in 2008 after 25 years in that competition held on April 1, the statewide inland trout-season opener each year.
Bob Hublar of Niagara Falls took home third place with a 9.92-pound steelhead caught on a lower river drift. Usually, bigger fish are caught before and after the NRAA contest day. Stiff breezes, renewed ice floes and stained waters have rendered the lower-river catch rate not that great; not so this past week. Air and water conditions have been less than ideal since Saturday; Campbell looks for things to settle out by the weekend.
Ice contest results
• The North East Ice Fishing Circuit (NEIFC) Oneida Lake competition drew 10 teams and the top three entries posted hefty weights for a 12-fish take of panfish. Kevin Snyder of Warsaw and Jeff Shade of Le Roy totaled 11.08 pounds to take first place and $400. Second place Rick Ryan of Warsaw and Chad Beale from Clarion, Pa. weighed in 10.30 pounds to garner a $240 prize. Third place went to Alex Scheg of Burgeon and Bill Cadamore of Clarion, Pa. for an 8.62-pound finish; they took home $160. Rick Ryan and Chad Beale logged the big fish at 1.44 pounds for an additional $200 prize.
• Event coordinator Jeff Snyder will decide if the make-up event at Khale Lake, Pa., a kids’ contest on Saturday and adults’ team competition on Sunday, will go this weekend.
“Much depends on shoreline conditions at this reservoir lake,” Snyder said. Check with him for an event confirmation on Thursday afternoon at (585) 322-0063.