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Rod, Gun & Game: Time is now for ice fishing

FISHING FUN ON ICE — Fishing mentor Ted Malota (right), shares winter fishing secrets with a family youngster at Cuba Lake.
Power ice augers, fish-finding sonar flashers, color underwater cameras and ice fishing jigs so real you hardly need bait. They are all part of the modern ice fishing revolution. Warm exterior clothing layers, waterproof gloves and space-age insulated boots with merino wool socks over your feet add to providing total comfort for vital body warmth. The rest is pure adventure and fun.

After this chilly week in Western New York, we have safe ice on most inland waterways and the Buffalo Small Boat Harbor. After carving the first hole and noting the hardness and thickness of the ice on most WNY waterways, any sense of fear is gone. Ice thicknesses through the last weekend vary with waterways, but five to 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. 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.

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. Typically, gas powered augers can cut through 15 inches of ice in about 10 seconds or less. Winter anglers can drill a dozen holes in just a few minutes.

The usual practice is to find fish by digging all the holes, letting things settle down 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 to stay out of the direct chill of the wind.

For efficiency today, modern electronics helps anglers to see fish with the symbols of different color flashing lights or color camera screens. 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.

What to fish with is another big angler question, especially for first timers. 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. Most winter anglers use two to four pound test line because it is supple in the cold water and is nearly invisible. Tie an ice-jig or a bare hook to the end of the line and add a split shot about six-inches above the hook, add a mousie or spike grub to the hook point and add two grubs if the bite is slow.

How to fish? 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. Sometimes the fish come to your bait and swim upward. If the fish are not biting, change your jiggle. Add a live grub to tip the jig, as these seem to really add success, and go get some winter fish and some great exercise. Veteran ice anglers return to ice fish every year because of just one thing: ice fishing is fun. Tight lines.

Outdoor calendar:

– Jan. 23: Erie County Federation of Sportsmen, monthly meeting, 7p.m., Elma Conservation, Game Dinner nite, free, 600 Creek Road, Elma; 440-6995.

– Jan. 24: Indoor Winter 3D Archery, West Falls Conservation, 55 Bridge St., Friday fun shoot, 7 p.m., call Mike Cummings at 337-0126.

– Jan. 24-26: Greater Niagara Fishing & Outdoors Expo, Conference & Event Center, 101 Old Falls St., Niagara Falls, info: visit

– Jan. 25/26: BASS University, with BASS PRO TV stars, 7a.m.-5 p.m., visit to register.

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

– Jan. 26: WNY Winter 3D League Shoot, Glencoe Conservation, 9869 Foote Rd, Glenwood, 7a.m., call Mike Matala, 337-0126 or Dave Procknal 337-0733.

Send outdoor information to Forrest Fisher 10 days in advance, to

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