February 13, 2012
By Matt Straw
Talk about a tough drift. I think I need a bigger float. Maybe a barrel.
The mighty Niagara Falls is 176 feet high, and 150,000 gallons of water descend each second. The water is rolling from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario on its way to the St. Lawrence Seaway.
Some of the finest steelhead fishing in North America can be found in the several miles of river below the Falls, and it's happening right now. Some anglers take the stairs down into the Gorge. Not recommended for people with ticker problems.
A better way to roll is to call Frank Campbell of Niagara Region Charter Service. He'll take you up and down river from Lewiston in a decent boat.
The best fishing occurs sometime between January and April every year. Big winds can roil Erie up, muddying the Niagara, but Captain Frank can take you out on the Niagara Bar, a sure thing for lakers on light tackle, with many over 12 pounds and the occasional fish topping 20. It's an experience you won't forget. Frank can put you on monster browns, pitching or trolling the shorelines and mudlines surrounding the mouth of the Niagara.
Steelheading the Niagara is a unique experience. Though shore-bound anglers can occasionally find veins of silver on the limited shallow shelves with floats and jigs, the preponderance of the fish are 20 feet down or deeper a lot of the time. Your success depends on the ability of the captain to control the boat, negating the faster surface currents with his bow-mounted trolling motor so your three-way rig moves at the slower speeds of the currents near bottom. Frank's been doing this so long he could keep you in the zone in his sleep. The rig is weighted with pencil lead, so you can adjust quickly to the different depths with fewer snags. The 6- to 8-pound fluorocarbon leader is 7 to 10 feet long. The bite feels like a gnat landing on the end of your 10-foot rod. Or the rod just doubles over. Depends on the mood of the fish.
Frank uses fresh spawn, minnows, and plastics on size #10 hooks. He sometimes pulls plugs. Whatever it takes.
The above photo of Frank was taken last April, when we could also target smallmouth bass. Fishing with tubes near the river mouth, we caught browns to 13 pounds, lakers over 17 pounds, and smallmouth bass over 6 pounds. What a trip! It doesn't get much better.
This is a must-do thing. No matter what species you prefer to target, the Niagara River should be on your checklist.