Ice fishing appears to be fine all around Western New York, but caution is still advised. The Niagara River had some decent trout opportunities available from boat and shore. Caution is advised there, too. If you really want to see some angling excitement, though, make sure you stop down to the 5th Annual Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo Jan. 19-21 at the Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls. You will be given the holy grail of angling information that will allow you to catch more fish... if you put it to good use.
One popular Lake Ontario tributary with open water is the Oak Orchard River, according to Drew Nisbet at Orvis Buffalo. There was medium to high flow with about 24 inches of visibility as of Tuesday. Fishing has been tough with only a few trout to report. Over at Burt Dam and 18 Mile Creek, some open water does exist around the dam but flows are still high and stained. That said, flow has been coming back down quickly according to Wes Walker at The Slippery Sinker in Olcott. The added flow pulled more trout and Coho salmon into the system, but it also knocked out the ice fishing in the harbor. Over in Wilson, the ice was 4-5 inches thick. Water conditions have been muddy under the ice and when it clears the fishing should improve.
The warm weather that arrived last week surprised both boat and shore fishermen alike as quite a few trout were caught throughout the system. Shore casters were using jigs to take walleye, steelhead and lake trout in the Devil's Hole area. Mike Rzucidlo of Niagara Falls used a green jig he hand-tied to take two steelhead and six lake trout one day, and the next day added walleye to the mix. Cameron Huntley of Buffalo was using a white marabou jig with a pink head he hand-tied. Boaters were doing decent when the water was clear, but the rain and run-off shut things down with muddy water. As of Tuesday, the water was clear again but no one was fishing. Shore fishing can be treacherous right now with the shelf ice extending out into the river.
Keith Pease with Safe Harbor Marina was reporting 9 to 10 inches of ice on Tuesday with a fair amount of action - both fishermen and fish. The size of the fish was another story. You have to weed through small ones to get bigger perch or keep moving around until you find them. More fishermen have been hitting the big lake but caution is advised. A helicopter rescue was needed over the weekend for six fishermen who became stranded when a large section of ice broke away.
Bill Hilts Jr. is a past president of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association. Hilts is an avid outdoorsman, an outdoor writer who has contributed articles to numerous national and local magazines, newspapers, and other publications. Hilts is also responsible for Niagara County Tourism Sportfishing Programs. He freelances from his home in Sanborn N.Y. Hilts was inducted in the New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame in the Spring of 2007!
Shore fishing in upper river on hold due to pack ice along shorelines. When conditions permit, lower river boaters are seeing good trout action in the mid to upper drifts. A three-way rig with flat fish style lures like Mag Lip or Kwikfish produce a mix of steelhead, brown trout and lake trout. A three-way with a live shiner is a better bet for walleye. Not much safe shore fishing opportunities due to shelf ice along the shoreline
The sections below the dams on Eighteenmile and Oak Orchard Creeks remain open. Oak Orchard flow is slightly high and stained with about 2 feet of visibility. Eighteemile Creek was muddy at mid-week. The smaller streams are mostly frozen, so you will have to hunt for open spots.
A minimum of four inches of solid black or clear ice (not white) is the general rule for safety. Five inches of solid ice is better for groups fishing together. Drilling holes or tapping with a spud bar to check ice thickness is recommended on your way out. Safety ice picks, boot cleats, throw rope and a floatation devise are recommended safety supplies. Use good judgment and fish with a friend when possible.
Ice in the inner harbor is 10-12 inches thick. Anglers are catching mostly smaller sunfish and yellow perch, with the occasional keeper. Anglers are also exploring the sheltered bays and channels to the north and south of the harbor.
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