EAST REGIONAL

Walleye's in West Viginia, cottontail in New York, Canada Goose in New Jersey, Snowshoe hares in New Hampshire and more.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Walleye Bite
Prime time in late winter

WEST VIRGINIA For some mysterious reason, the miserable late-winter weather of February and March triggers the finest walleye fishing of the year on Summersville Lake. "No other time of year comes close," says C.J. Hamilton, lake resource manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The fish tend to bunch up in the upper portion of the lake near the Route 39 bridge, attracted to the in-flowing current of the Gauley River. The relatively shallow, rocky waters here provide ideal spawning habitat for the walleyes.

Though fish of one to three pounds dominate most anglers' catches, trophy walleyes from five to six pounds are caught with good frequency.

"These walleyes stuff themselves on whatever food they manage to locate," says Bert Pierce, the former chief of warm-water fisheries for the state Division of Natural Resources.

In the past, Summersville walleyes have hit white bucktail jigs tipped with four- to five-inch minnows. With the winter draw-down of 77 feet, the 2,790-acre impoundment shrinks to just 920 acres, making it much easier to cover.

Contact: West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (304-558-2771). -John McCoy

Rabbit Land
Head north for cottontails

**NEW YORK **You've got until March 17 to chase cottontails in the state's northern zone, and the place to do your shooting is French Creek Wildlife Management Area in Jefferson County, south of the town of Clayton in the Thousand Islands region. This WMA's rocky terrain has hundreds of nooks and crannies for rabbits to hide in, and also offers great den sites in the spring.

The area's 2,265 acres is a mix of swamp and abandoned farmland with some pine groves sprinkled in, making it ideal cottontail country. Try jumping rabbits in the dense cover around abandoned farms off French Creek Road. Using hounds is permitted.

Contact: DEC Region 6 (315-785-2261; www.dec.state.ny.us). -T.R. Hendrick

Drop-Shot
A top hike-in walleye spot

MARYLAND If you're looking to get a jump on spring fishing, head for Liberty Reservoir, one of eastern Maryland's best spots for shore-anglers targeting walleyes. The key is to locate steep rocky drop-offs, preferably rimmed with shallow weed beds. You'll need to hike to some of the farthest reaches of the lake. Drop-shot leadhead jigs tipped with live shiners or night crawlers just off the bottom, maintaining constant contact with the rod tip, because the walleye strikes can be very subtle. Deep-running crankbaits are also effective.

The best times to fish are at dusk and dawn, but keep in mind that shore-fishing at Liberty isn't permitted after sunset. Easier access can be found on the Nicodemus Bridge, which crosses the middle of the lake just west of Reisterstown. The walleye season here is open year-round with a 15-inch minimum size and a creel limit of five. Contact: Maryland DNR Freshwater Fisheries Service (410-260-8320). -Jon Farley

Pike, Muskies and You
Making a three-lake tour might yield a new record fish
MASSACHUSETTS A stalwart ice-angler wrestled the state-record tiger muskie, a 27-pound monster, through the ice at Berkshire Hills lakes last year, and there's a good chance that a number of the fish's big siblings still lurk in the waters there. Well known for their big northern pike and tiger muskies, these three lakes near Pittsfield fish well through the ice all winter but offer a top chance for big fish in March when the spawning urge puts muskies on the move.

The record tiger muskie (a hybrid of a muskellunge and a northern pike) came from 480-acre Pontoosuc Lake, which straddles the Lanesboro-Pittsfield line. Big northern pike thrive there, too. Take Route 7 a public boat launch and parking area on the south end of the lake.

Northern pike rule on Onota Lake's 617 acres, west of Pittsfield. Try to find submerged weed lines along the deeper surfaces of the lake bottom and probe with your bait just above the weeds. Set out from the public parking area off Lakeway Drive on the eastern shore near downtown Pittsfield.

Cheshire Reservoir, in Cheshire, has three basins that all hold northerns, with the upper basin being your best bet. Find access along Route 8.

In all three waters, tigers and northerns easily push 25 pounds, so use big shiners or suckers, alive or dead, wire leader and oversize tip-ups with big spools of line. Rig the bait so it suspends horizontally, hooking it through the dorsal fin. Or try large-size Rapala jigging lures. Make sure you've cut a hole large enough to fight and remove the fish.

Contact: Andrew Madden, fisheries biologist, Western Wildlife District (400 Hubbard Ave., Pittsfield, MA 11123; 413-447-9789). -Tom Fuller

Get Geese
Focus on this river valley
PENNSYLVANIA Resident Canada geese numbers keep going up, and this year hunters have more time to hunt the big birds than ever before-all the reason you need to spend additional days afield this time of year. Concentrate on agricultural areas near the Susquehanna River in the central part of the state. As long as the big waterway remains unfrozen, it is a magnet for the overabundant resident geese populations.

The key to bagging the big birds in winter involves scouting and securing permission to hunt farms where geese have been seen feeding.

More often than not, farmers are happy to have responsible hunters attempt to remove some of the geese that do so much damage to crops throughout the year. Large decoy spreads, good calling and concealment are all necessary to fool these wary birds, which have already been hunted off and on since Labor Day. Particularly productive areas are the western edges of Montour and Northumberland counties. For those who prefer public land, the best bet is to stick to the series of large islands that line the river between Sunbury and Harrisburg. A couple of good ones are Hoover and Sweigart's islands, which are also known as State Game Lands 233 and 258, respectively.

Contact: Pennsylvania Game Commission (2001 Elmerton Ave., Harrisburg, PA 17110; 717-787-4250). -J.F.

South Jersey Canadas
The special winter season is a winner
**NEW JERSEY **You can close out your waterfowling season with a bang-or two, or three-in the state's ninth Special Winter Canada Goose season, from January 20 to February 15. As in past years, both a north and south zone will be open. But state wildlife biologist Ted Nichols notes that hunters in the south zone will have top opportunities for resident birds if the winter turns harsh.

"The southern zone has better hunting if freezing temperatures send the birds farther south looking for salt marshes and other open water," he says.

Areas like the Tuckahoe Wildlife Management Area, the Edwin B. Forsyth National Wildlife Refuge and the Great Bay Boulevard WMA all provide places where geese find the water and food supplies they seek. Farm fields can provide some outstanding opportunities as well, but most of these within the huntable area are privately held and Nichols encourages hunters to secure permission as early as possible.

"Landowners may be more inclined to grant permission for this time period," Nichols says, "because the deer season is pretty much finished." The earlier migratory Canada goose season may also take some pressure off the late-season hunters for space. Hunters must possess a 2003 New Jersey hunting license, federal and state waterfowl stamps and a Harvest Information Program (HIP) number. The daily limit is five resident birds.

Contact: New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, Southern Region (856-629-0090). -Oliver Shapiro

** Connecticut **
Winter Trout: Get after some of the rainbow and brown trout in the management area of the Salmon River at Colchester. The area runs from where the Jeremy and Blackledge rivers meet near North Westchester and ends at the Route 16 bridge. Angling is catch-and-release only until April 1, with a midsection that is flyfishing only. Contact: Eric Schluntz, fisheries biologist, Eastern Headquarters (860-295-9523).

Rabbit Hat Trick: Three WMAs near New London provide superb cottontail habitat and excellent hunting: Pease Brook WMA in Lebanon (207 acres), Bear Hill WMA in Bozrah (348 acres) and Nehantic State Forest in East Lyme (3,655 acres). Best of all, you don't have to get up early-the rabbits are active throughout the day. Contact: Mike Gregonis, Franklin WMA (860-642-7239).

Head Cases: The DEP is still asking hunters to donate the heads of the rabbits they take to help determine the abundance and distribution of both New England and Eastern cottontails. Conservation groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the New England cottontail as threatened, and this study seeks to establish data that clarifies this allegation. Contact: Franklin WMA (860-642-7239).

Key Dates
January 31: Snowshoe hare season closes.
February 10: Deadline for applications for spring wild turkey lottery hunts.
February 28: Gray squirrel, cottontail rabbit and European hare seasons close.
March 15: Deadline for deer lottery hunts.

Delaware " Winter 'Tog: Even with water temperatures in the 40s, tautog can be readily caught by concentrating on wrecks in less than 50 feet of water, using green crabs or sand crabs as bait. Hit the wrecks around the mouth of the Indian River. Minimum size for tautog is 14 inches. Contact: DDFW (302-739-4403).

Last Snow: For the true die-hard, snow geese offer the last waterfowl season. Try Bombay Hook NWR, where special hunts take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Also look for access to inland agricultural areas recently used by flocks of snows. Because of a reciprocity agreement between the two states, Delaware license holders may also hunt snow geese in Maryland. Contact: Bombay Hook NWR (302-653-6872).

Turkey Dollars: Last September $10,000 was donated to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control by local chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation. The money is expected to be matched by federal funds, with the total going toward habitat improvement projects across the state. The Eastern turkey was extinct in Delaware until 1984, when a handful of wild birds were reintroduced and managed successfully. The state'sident birds.

Contact: New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, Southern Region (856-629-0090). -Oliver Shapiro

** Connecticut **
Winter Trout: Get after some of the rainbow and brown trout in the management area of the Salmon River at Colchester. The area runs from where the Jeremy and Blackledge rivers meet near North Westchester and ends at the Route 16 bridge. Angling is catch-and-release only until April 1, with a midsection that is flyfishing only. Contact: Eric Schluntz, fisheries biologist, Eastern Headquarters (860-295-9523).

Rabbit Hat Trick: Three WMAs near New London provide superb cottontail habitat and excellent hunting: Pease Brook WMA in Lebanon (207 acres), Bear Hill WMA in Bozrah (348 acres) and Nehantic State Forest in East Lyme (3,655 acres). Best of all, you don't have to get up early-the rabbits are active throughout the day. Contact: Mike Gregonis, Franklin WMA (860-642-7239).

Head Cases: The DEP is still asking hunters to donate the heads of the rabbits they take to help determine the abundance and distribution of both New England and Eastern cottontails. Conservation groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the New England cottontail as threatened, and this study seeks to establish data that clarifies this allegation. Contact: Franklin WMA (860-642-7239).

Key Dates
January 31: Snowshoe hare season closes.
February 10: Deadline for applications for spring wild turkey lottery hunts.
February 28: Gray squirrel, cottontail rabbit and European hare seasons close.
March 15: Deadline for deer lottery hunts.

Delaware " Winter 'Tog: Even with water temperatures in the 40s, tautog can be readily caught by concentrating on wrecks in less than 50 feet of water, using green crabs or sand crabs as bait. Hit the wrecks around the mouth of the Indian River. Minimum size for tautog is 14 inches. Contact: DDFW (302-739-4403).

Last Snow: For the true die-hard, snow geese offer the last waterfowl season. Try Bombay Hook NWR, where special hunts take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Also look for access to inland agricultural areas recently used by flocks of snows. Because of a reciprocity agreement between the two states, Delaware license holders may also hunt snow geese in Maryland. Contact: Bombay Hook NWR (302-653-6872).

Turkey Dollars: Last September $10,000 was donated to the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control by local chapters of the National Wild Turkey Federation. The money is expected to be matched by federal funds, with the total going toward habitat improvement projects across the state. The Eastern turkey was extinct in Delaware until 1984, when a handful of wild birds were reintroduced and managed successfully. The state'