Ice surfaces hold and open waters remain good through the late-winter phase that typically become a “tough bite” period.

Ice anglers have to fine tune now. Some “boxed out” catches come from shoreline shallows of most western Finger Lakes, but a program keyed to the light bite might up the catch count and size odds.

Crappie devotees are seeing better on-shore movement of their favored “calico bass.” The bite has yet to approach last winter’s early arrivals of crappie schools, but some better fish (mostly black crappie) are beginning to show.

Gearing down

To gear up for these light biters, expert panfishing handlers drop to lighter lines. Most popular is the 2-pound test in mono or any of the soft braids. A fine-tipped ice rod is good, but the addition of a spring bobber tip, a fine wire extension affixed to the tip guide, adds a few extra fish on most ice outings.

While perch tend to hug the bottom, many a panfish jigger misses out on bites by dropping below those bigger bluegills, sunfish and crappie that suspend and wait for bait to slowly drop down to within their striking range. When sluggish, these oversized panfish, and the occasional walleye, bass and pike, that usually offer a vicious strike, will tap or just lightly shake the bait with virtually no movement of line or rod tip. A steady and gradual drop, rather than a quick drop to the bottom, could draw suspended biters that will pass on something speeding to the bottom.

Even the simplest sonar (flasher or LED) model will show suspended fish and a jig rig slowly dropping below the transducer. As for jigging, a hearty lift and drop might attract bass and walleye, but the lightest twitch followed with a steady hold works better on most panfish species and picky pike.

Chautauqua Lake

Ice access has been up and down, but as the season winds down the bite — and presence of ice — has improved. Skip Bianco at Hogan’s Hut in Stow has good reports of walleye catches. “They’re doing most of their catching during change-of-light periods,” Bianco said of the ‘eye season that continues to March 15.

He noted anglers can get on most of the lake’s ice surfaces; he has heard some nice numbers and sizes of bluegill at Burtis Bay and around the Mayville embayment. “But the perch sizes have been running small this ice season,” he added.

Lake Ontario Shore Ice

Ponds from Braddock Bay to Irondequoit average a 4-inch ice depth; perch have been the bigger draw in these ponds. Rick Reagan at Jay-Vee Fishing Tackle in Rochester, noted that the south end of Irondequoit Bay has formed as much as seven inches of ice and walkers are going out to depths of 20 to 30 feet for schools of bigger perch.

Upcoming shows

• The Buffalo Bills Boat Show, held in the Buffalo Bills Healthy Zone Fieldhouse in Orchard Park, opens today from 5 to 9 p.m. and continues at noon to 9 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Parking is free and admission is $7 each day. This year’s show features a Discover Clean and Safe Boats exhibit, at which boaters can learn more about voluntary watercraft inspections and obtain invasive species factsheets. Along with cruise-type vessels, anglers can view and check out fishing features of many models worthy of outings on Western New York waters. For more details on this show, go to

• The Erie Sport and Travel Expo, held in the Bayfront Convention Center in Erie, Pa. begins Friday from noon to 8 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Local experts will man the bass tank and veteran Lake Erie and Lake Ontario charter captain Pete Alex will present seminars on Saturday and Sunday. To check out the entire seminar schedule and other Expo attractions, go to and click on the “Erie” option.

Ice contest results

The North East Ice Fishing Circuit make-up event at Khale Lake in Pennsylvania drew 10 teams. Jeff Snyder, event coordinator, did not have to decide about ice conditions at the Lake Bomoseen event set for Saturday and Sunday in Vermont. “That lake has from 12 to 24 inches of ice and they can drive trucks out there now,” Snyder said.

This is the last competition in this new ice-fishing series and the format is the same as previous weekend contests: A kids’ contest on Saturday and the adult team competition on Sunday. Check with Snyder for series standings and planned contest locations for the 2014 tourney at (585) 322-0063 or go to