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Anglers are best known for their “fish stories,” and excuses for poor catches can range from approaching storm fronts to the current weather buzz, a polar vortex.

Blame massive storms from the north, uncooperative moon phases or whatever sounds reasonable when fish are not biting, catches on inland-lake ice this past week were so-so at best.

Yet another saw that could be applied here is “You should have been here… (fill in a fantastic fish-catching foray enjoyed earlier).” Added to the agony, while rarely catching fish on popular western Finger Lakes last week, we received great fishing reports from Oneida Lake to the east and from Lake Simcoe to the north.

All this buzz occurs at the start of every ice season for anglers and most of the first nice catch reports come from Silver, Conesus and Honeoye Lakes as well as a few smaller lakes between Silver and Canandaigua Lakes. Typically, Small Boat Harbor ice is nice and the catch count can be high, but biters are generally runts, dinks and an odd fair-sized fish. This start of this season was different.

Credit heavy bait schools in harbor shallows or the sudden freeze-over that occurred on the inner harbor, but many of those jumbo perch boaters have been catching outside harbor breakwaters during the warm-weather season seemed to be cruising under 2- to 3-inch ice in late December. Many an angler with the most basic of tackle came in with ringbacks measuring beyond the 12-inch legal size for bass.

That fishery has shifted back to the odd big one among reams of runts. Many of those anglers who enjoyed that small Boat Harbor early-season ice largess began heading inland once fish sizes declined there.

For that reason, and a professed fear of walking on thin ice, my first-ice follies began last week after reports of good (more than 5-inch surfaces) across both Silver and Honeoye Lakes.

Here is where the “You should have been here…” thing applies. Last Sunday, walkers at the south ends of both lakes had fun all day. At Honeoye, largemouth bass (legal keepers through the ice there), walleye, a few crappie and mainly bruiser-sized bluegills bit throughout the day. Best catches came from the southwest corner opposite the state launch access on the southeast side.

At Silver Lake, walkers mostly took ‘gills out of either Mack’s to the southeast or the state launch south of Silver Lake Marine along the southwest embayment.

As luck would have it, two local experts were free to fish later last week, so there was some assurance of getting in on the first-ice flourish that usually occurs at these two popular lakes while fishing with these ice gurus.

While most proficient panfish prospectors start at Silver Lake, Warren Goodenow heads for Honeoye. I was fortunate to tag along with him Wednesday afternoon. The good fortune here was reserved to pleasant weather and clear, 5-inch ice that made sled hauling slick and easy. The few ‘gills we got were monsters, nudging the 10-inch mark, but the catch count went only to five, plus two small largemouths and a chain pickerel that were released to fight another day.

Early Thursday morning we headed to the state launch at the south end of Silver and poked holes from there to well north of Mack’s on the opposite side. George Dovolos, fervent fisher folk and a shoreline resident, arrived at the launch ramp later that morning, and we poked around holes on and around weed beds near the launch ramp. Nada.

Sonar screens showed some fish, guys with underwater cameras rarely saw panfish. Most sightings were cruising pike on Silver and scattered schools of ‘gills on Honeoye.

So early Friday morning the focus was on that south end of Honeoye that had been so hot last Sunday. After poking 20-plus holes from the launch ramp across to the west side and halfway north to Pickerel Point, the count went to one undersized ‘gill and one dink perch.

On the way I chatted with guys who had either limited out or took their fair share of ‘gills and bass, with a few nice walleye caught out deeper, last Sunday. On Friday, we mostly chatted.

On the way home Friday, I stopped to talk with Dave Washburn at Dave’s Town Service. Washburn’s business, on the left side of East Lake Road just as you turn off Route 20A in Honeoye, now includes bait and tackle. He installed a mega-unit of bait tanks and began stocking bait around the clock last summer.

Washburn, a lifelong Honeoye Lake resident, gets accurate reports on ice catches, good and poor. For an update on current catch conditions, check with him at (585) 337-1526.

Last week may not be a typical start to the season and this weekend’s thaw might clear what little snow that had covered lakes from Simcoe to Oneida. Fishing reports continue to exalt sites elsewhere. Perhaps next week we will be over one or more of those ice spots that are actually hot.

Two foot tips

Some ice surfaces last week and many next week could be mirror-like slickness. As Warren Goodenow noted last week, “You can’t get around out here without ‘creepers’ (ice cleats).” Many models are fine on smooth ice but often plug up when walking on slushy patches of wet snow.

We checked out the new IceTrekkers from Implus on Thursday and Friday. Walking was clog-free and fun during mile-long treks on both lakes. Chain rings repel snow clumps and traction went well on hard ice and snow-covered surfaces. To view this accessory, go to ICEtrekkers.com.

Hunting boots have specific design purposes, but the hitch is they are either too heavy and lack traction on ice or they have cleat-like soles but lack either insulation or are not comfortable when walking around on the ice.

The new Wood N’ Stream hunting boots from Weinbrenner Shoe Co. in Merrill, Wis., provided the warmth, flexibility and cleat-grip traction needed on ice this past week.

The company has been around since 1957 and markets mainly to hunters, but these latest Wood N’ Stream models lined with Thinsulate, with or without Mossy Oak camo, work well also while fishing on ice. To view the many Wood N’ Stream models, go to weinbrennerusa.com. and click on the Outdoors tab.

Ice derby

Ted’s Tackle in Lakeville will be holding a Conesus Lake Ice Fishing Derby Jan. 25 and 26.

Prizes go to the largest by weight for the top three pike and the biggest bass, walleye, tiger musky and an entry of the three largest crappie. Fish must be caught in Conesus Lake from sunrise that Saturday to 1 p.m. on Sunday.

Entrants can sign up to 9 a.m. on Jan. 25 in the shop at 4772 Big Tree Road (Route 20A) in Lakeville at the north end of Conesus. For entry details, call Ted Decker at (585) 429-0587.

email: odrswill@gmail.com