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Rod, Gun and Game: Ice fishing adventures in full swing in Western New York

TEACH ME TO FISH — Ice fishing mentor Ted Malota (right), shares winter fishing secrets with a family youngster at Cuba Lake. Using minnows and chubs for bait, catches included yellow perch, crappie, bluegill and northern pike to 34 inches. Photo by Forrest Fisher.

BUFFALO — Ready for cool adventure and exciting mystery? Now is the time!

Power ice augers, fish-finding sonar flashers, color underwater cameras and ice fishing jigs so real you hardly need bait, are all part of the modern ice fishing revolution. Warm exterior clothes, waterproof gloves and insulated boots with wool socks add to providing total comfort for vital body warmth.

It all starts with “walking on water,” a wonderful experience all by itself, to ice fish in winter. After this chilly week in Western New York, we have safe ice on most inland waterways and the Buffalo Small Boat Harbor.

Ice thicknesses through the last weekend vary by waterway, but 5-10 inches is common on inland lakes and in the Buffalo Small Boat Harbor.

Even in 10-degree air, ice anglers never seem to get cold. One reason is that, when on the ice, anglers keep moving to find active, feeding fish. Getting through the ice to the water with a hand auger adds to the winter ice fishing adventure, because winter anglers get plenty of exercise. Hand augers are the usual tool of choice, but today, gas-powered ice augers make things easier, too.

Remember the old ice chisels? They are mostly gone today. Lightweight hand augers are among the new modern ice fishing tools that help keep anglers from getting too cold, as working the rotating vertical auger gets your muscles moving and before long, anglers warm up and try new spots until they find fish.

Hand augers come in many sizes, from 4-10 inches in diameter, but the 6-inch size, with a high-carbon steel blade, cuts through the ice efficiently and swiftly. They weigh less than 10 pounds and cost about $50-$60.

At about twice that weight, gas-powered ice augers make the ice hole cutting a lot easier and allow anglers to fish a pattern over underwater structure areas. Gas-powered augers cost $300-$600, depending on size and other factors, but they will last 20 years or more. There are two-cycle and four-cycle gas powered models and with modern battery technology, there are also “green power” lithium-ion battery-powered electric models. Most units feature multiple cutting blades, for quick hole-making. Typically, gas powered augers can cut through 15 inches of ice in about 10 seconds or less.

The usual practice is to find fish by digging all the holes, letting things settle down for a few minutes, then dropping a line into one hole at a time, until a pocket of fish is found. Then, after locating the fish, the portable ice hut or a wind break can be rigged.

Modern electronics helps anglers to see fish. If the fish are not biting, dropping a camera down will allow the angler to see if no fish are present or they are simply “sleeping,” allowing the angler to consider lure changes or other options, like having a warm bowl of chili or a sandwich.

Among most popular winter ice fishing sonar is the Vexilar® FL-8SE flasher. Hardy winter anglers all seem to use this model as their standard. A rotating flasher-style face with light-emitting diodes in various colors display game fish, bait fish, your lure, bottom contours and more. All show up in a multiple color display of lights that require some skill to interpret, but this science is easy to learn.

Veteran anglers adjust their FL-8 sensitivity so that the tiny ice jig or ice fly displays as a green bar. A fish swimming into the transducer cone will show up in green, orange and then red, as it approaches and inhales the bait. When they see red, anglers set the hook, even if they don’t feel a bite. The fish is usually on the end of the line.

What to fish with is another big angler question, especially for first-timers, but tackle choices are not difficult. Ice fishing rods are tiny, though simple hand lines will do the same job. The more popular panfish ice fishing rods are equipped with light line, an ultra-sensitive rod tip that will detect even soft bites. The good part is that rod and reel combinations, complete with line, usually sell for under $20. Most winter anglers use 2-4 pound test line because it is supple in the cold water and nearly invisible.

Tie an ice-jig or a bare hook to the end of the line and add a split shot about 6 inches above the hook, add a mousie or spike grub to the hook point, add two grubs if the bite is slow and the fish will usually cooperate.

Let the line down to bottom and then lift up a few inches. Start to jiggle the rod tip, then stop. Watch the rod tip for the slightest movement, but know that winter fish don’t bite hard, they simply inhale the bait and rest. If the line seems different at all, set the hook, it’s probably a fish, as sometimes the fish come to your bait and swim upward. Drop the jig down, add a slow jiggle, change to a fast jiggle, raise your rod high, raise it faster or slower and change it up, until a pattern is found. The fish are down there and believe it or not, they are usually in a biting mood.

There are a few one-day fishing contests on local waters, but there is one bait and tackle shop, Captain Bob’s Outdoor, that offers a winter-long ice contest. Located at 10295 Main St. in Clarence, 4 miles east of Transit, next to Don Georges Sports Center, proprietor Steve Hawkins offers an ice derby that runs through March 10.

For a $10 entry fee, first-place winners receive $250 and second-place winners get $100, in each of many fish categories. Fishing from any destination is allowed and winners are determined by weight, with ties determined by length. All weigh-ins are done at the store.

At present, in the bluegill category, Denziel Malcolm is leading, with a whopping 12-inch fish that weighed 1.55 pounds, from Cuba Lake, and Rod Froebel Jr. is in second, with an 8-1/2-inch ‘gill at .6 pounds, from Silver Lake. For crappie, Mike Szalanski has a 12-1/4-inch fish, at a whopping 1.3 pounds from the Buffalo Small Boat Harbor. For walleye, Peter Latka leads the way, with an 8-3/4-pound fish at 29 inches, from the Bay of Quinte, caught on a jigging spoon and minnow, with Curtiss Loveless in second place, at 3.13 pounds and 20-3/8 inches, from Oneida Lake. In the northern pike category, Bob Frost leads, with a 7.8-pound fish at 33 inches, from the Buffalo Small Boat Harbor, with Rod Froebel Jr. in second spot, with a 7.35 pound fish at 32-1/2 inches, from Silver Lake. For perch, William Arnold has a 1.4-pound fish, at 12-1/2 inches, and Bob Frost has a 1.35 pound fish, at 12-1/4 inches, both from the Buffalo Small Boat Harbor. Last but not least, Captain Bob’s even has a fish category for Rudd! Here, Robert Szalanski leads, with a 1.27-pound fish at 13 inches, from Wilson Harbor on a jig and wax worm. The same angler also leads second place, with a 1-pound fish at 11 inches, from the same waterway.

For more information, give Hawkins a call at 407-3021. Hawkins carries live minnows, shiners, wax worms and grubs of all kinds, for ice fishing.

Fishing expo this weekend

The Greater Niagara Fishing & Outdoor Expo runs this weekend in Niagara Falls at the convention center. Expo show times are 5-9 p.m. on Friday; 10 a.m. -7 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets are available at the door, at $8 per person. Additional information can be found at or by contacting Chris at 278-2123 or

Also running at the show, in a separate area, will be Mike Iaconelli and Pete Gluszek, with “The Bass University.” This highly acclaimed event runs 8 a.m. -5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The cost is $199, and there is limited seating left. For more information, visit

At the expo, the Lake Ontario Trout & Salmon Association will present free “Learn to Fish Lake Ontario Salmon” and “Kids Learn to Fish” classes on Jan. 25. On Jan. 26, LOTSA sponsors a flea market in the “LOTSA Marketplace,” with more than 50 vendors. Admission to the LOTSA Marketplace is free to anyone attending the Greater Niagara Fishing & Outdoor Expo. For more information, visit

SAFE Act loses some ground

Judge William Skretny, in a recent federal court ruling, said the New York SAFE Act was not unconstitutional and does not violate the second amendment, but that New York cannot limit a magazine to seven rounds.

The magazine limit was considered a major hindrance to lawful firearm owners, since many handguns and some small-bore rifles are manufactured with standard, 10-shot magazines.

The NY SAFE Act was passed during a late-night vote and immediately signed into law by Gov. Cuomo last year.

The lawsuit was sponsored by the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, which joins many other legal firearm groups working to repeal or revise the SAFE Act.

Outdoor calendar

Jan. 24: Indoor Winter 3-D Archery, West Falls Conservation, 55 Bridge St., Friday fun shoot, 7 p.m., $5 per week, all archers invited. For more information, call Mike Cummings at 337-0126.

Jan. 25-26: Greater Olean Outdoor & Recreational Sport Show, Good Times Olean Events Center, for more information, visit

Jan. 26: WNY Winter 3-D League Shoot, Glencoe Conservation, 9869 Foote Road, Glenwood. Open to the public, 7 a.m. For more information, call Mike Matala, at 337-0126 or Dave Procknal, at 337-0733.

Feb. 5-8: Safari International Annual Convention, Las Vegas, Nev. For more information, see or call 888-SHOW-SCI.

Feb. 7-9: Coyote Hunt Contest, seventh annual, White Sulphur Springs Firehouse, Sullivan County, $2,000 grand prize for heaviest coyote, women’s and youth division, $40 entry.

For more information, call 845-482-4987 or visit and click on news.

Send information for the outdoor calendar in the Forrest Fisher Column, 10 days in advance, to


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