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Grease the boat trailer axles but keep a sharp ice auger.

Boaters have enjoyed fishing the lower Niagara River throughout the winter season. Some of Lake Ontario’s ponds and bays have opened enough to launch a boat, but shore casters now are seeing an early start for perch runs.

Waters have begun showing around ice floes on many inland lakes, but some solid shoreline ice surfaces remained as of Tuesday afternoon on parts of Silver Lake and Chautauqua Lake.

Rainfall and rising temperatures may cancel out any ice options for the weekend. But where walkers can safely cross ice, catches have been good. The bluegill bite has been great; the crappie catch has been spotty but good in spurts.

Silver Lake’s ’gills are scattered. Walkers have been working weed edges all winter and still see a good bite along edges and in open pockets between standing weeds. Finding openings often calls for poking a few extra holes before getting into an open area with edge cover where the bigger panfish pan for forage.

Crappie schools have begun their in-shore, pre-spawn runs, but the schooling can be sporadic and the bite can be touchy. Skip Bianco at Hogan’s Hut in Stowe gets good reports of bluegills from both the Burtis Bay area at the south end and either side of Mayville to the north.

“You have to pick your way through some smaller fish, but crappies are definitely moving in,” Bianco said of the crappie bite that has shown at odd hours of the day at Chautauqua.

River runs

Boaters have yet to see ice floes from the initial removal of the Ice Boom earlier this week.

All kinds of fish show on the sonar screen and boaters know the lower Niagara River has a solid presence of steelhead, brown and lake trout. But the river also supports an abundance of bait fish from the mouth up and into the Devil’s Hole area.

“Best bait right now has been the smaller emeralds, about the size of perch minnows,” said charter captain Chris Cinelli after a fair day on the lower river Tuesday.

Both boaters and shore casters could see a four- to seven-day run of Ice Boom ice. Northwest winds through much of the past week have kept boaters off the Niagara Bar and held the 80-plus square miles of Lake Erie ice from hitting the head of the river.

Typically, fishing picks up just after Ice Boom ice clears from the river and Niagara Bar waters. Captain Frank Campbell looks forward to seeing a coho salmon run comparable to the schooling boaters saw around the Niagara Bar last spring at this time. Lake Erie’s ice presence was minimal last year; this year’s modest freeze-over could produce similar early runs for lower river and Lake Ontario trout and salmon runs.

Inland trout

Department of Environmental Conservation hatchery trucks are making regular runs to area streams, ponds, lakes and rivers prior to the statewide inland trout season opener Monday.

Conditions for deliveries from the Randolph, Bath and Caledonia hatcheries have been good to ideal for DEC tanker trucks to stock trout. Listings of newly stocked areas will begin in this column April 3. Look for a detailed column on the Caledonia Hatchery’s infrastructure and output on the Sunday Outdoors Page.

New trout regulations

Beginning last Oct. 1, the daily limit for rainbow trout in the tributaries of western Finger Lakes was reduced from five to one fish per day, which includes Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Canadice and Hemlock lakes.

That reduction will have an immediate – though not burdensome – effect on the 52nd annual Naples Creek Rainbow Trout Derby. In previous years, the contest offered a prize in a First Three-Fish Limit category.

Now, the Naples contest will continue all other categories for adult men and women, boys and girls under age 16, 65 and older, and many areas and awards. Look for an expanded description of the Naples Derby on the Sunday Outdoors Page. For derby details, call (585) 374-2782.

Walleye vying

Walleye season will not open until the first Saturday in May, but competition-minded anglers can plan for major walleye tourneys and derbies that are in the works for this warm-water season. Here is a list with contact information for five of those contests:

• Southtowns Walleye Association 29th Annual Walleye Tournament, June 8-16, southtownswalleye.org.

• 444 International Walleye Event, Port Colborne, Ont., June 22-23, pcdcc.com.

• New York Walleye Association Ameri-Can Walleye Classic, Dunkirk Harbor, July 13-14, call 875-8148.

• Sunset Bay Walleye Shootout, Sunset Bay, July 27, call Bob Rustowicz (830-6394).

• Northern Chautauqua Conservation Club Walleye Derby, Aug. 2-4, call 640-2776.

Additional walleye, bass and youth fishing contests and clinics are slated for the coming seasons.

email: odrswill@gmail.com