Niagara Gorge: Natural beauty, great fishing, step by step

The Niagara Gorge is something special.

This is the stretch of the Niagara River that was formed when Niagara Falls slowly started to erode away the land around it. Starting at the escarpment in Lewiston, the powerful water chipped away a few inches every year for thousands of years until it reached its present location. It left behind a gorge with 200-foot-high rock walls – picturesque, unique and inspiring. To fully appreciate it, you need to hike down into the belly of the beast, so to speak.

I accepted an invitation from all-species angling guru Mike Rzucidlo of Niagara Falls to join him for a few hours doing some exploring for early fall salmon. I quickly found out that you also need to be in decent shape and have pretty good balance as you negotiate the trails and rocks. As we walked down the stone stairs near Whirlpool State Park, I found that going down the trail was even a workout.

Even though the temperature hovered around 60 degrees, a sweatshirt was too much as I started to sweat profusely. Off it came. There were roughly 350 steps, but there could have been more as I experienced short blackouts … or so it seemed. What would it be like going back up? I developed a plan in my head where I would pass out and let Mike call in the rescue troops to airlift me out. It was then that Mike said off-handedly: “I never get a signal on my cell phone down here.” So much for a rescue.

We made it to the bottom, but we still had to negotiate the bottom trail as we climbed around and over large rocks. I had a new pair of Browning Glenwood Trail hiking shoes on and I’m glad I did because of the bottom sole grip and the comfort. They were also very lightweight, giving me some consolation. However, I still had a backpack that included a heavy camera, a semi-heavy Frabil rain suit, a tackle box, my hooded sweatshirt and a bottle of water. I started to devise plans to find hiding places for some of the gear to lighten my load. It didn’t work out, but I did drink the water right away.

We finally arrived to our first destination, immediately opposite the famous Whirlpool. We were adjacent to the rapids known as The Himalayans (because of the sheer size of the waves) – a magnificent fishing backdrop with a small fishing pool immediately in front of us.

“I can’t believe how high the water is,” said Rzucidlo. “I think I’m going to get wet.”

He hopped out on a rock and started casting a spinner.

I found a spot that took me about five minutes to get to, although it was only about 10 yards away. Some of the rocks were a little slippery. As soon as I got into place, I heard Mike say, “Got one!”

I had to work my way back to my camera (another five minutes) and get close enough for a good picture. It turned out to be a 4-pound smallmouth bass. After a few pictures, he released it to fight another day. I put the camera back, climbed back to my spot … and then lost my lure to a rock. Since my tackle box was in my backpack, it was back over the rocks to replace my spinner. And each time I negotiated the rocks, I thought one thing: What is it going to be like getting out of here?

Just as I was getting the hang of casting my lure through a network of tree branches and rocks, Mike said “let’s go try another spot.” Five more minutes back out to the backpack and five minutes to put everything back together. I needed a nap. I’m in my 60s now and I’m not as spry as I used to be.

We arrived at the second location, but the high water affected how we could fish. We both took some photos but couldn’t get anything to hit. It really was a beautiful location and I wondered if I could live down here rather than make the trip back up to the top of the gorge.

Location number three was just as beautiful, but again, impacted by the high water raging by. Mike wanted his picture taken on a particular rock. As we worked our way into position, I thought that this guy was part mountain goat.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” he said.

“It’s worse,” I thought silently. “Piece of cake,” I said out loud.

As I stood on a large boulder overlooking the river, I encountered a hiker. “Where are you from?” I asked.

“Arizona. I live near the Colorado River.” These powerful rivers are inspiring. Alluring. Captivating.

I looked over and Mike was in place, casting into a small pool from atop a large boulder the size of a truck. It was tough to fish, but he had to give it a try. Within 10 minutes he was back, ready to move on to the next location.

The next spot was too tough to fish because of the water and the final spot was also impacted. Still, he had to give it a try, and he waded out to his favorite rock through chest-high water.

“The water is not too bad,” he said.

I had been on the river in a boat the day before. It was 68 degrees, warmer than the air temperature but not exactly bath water. He made about 10-minutes-worth of casts before he said it was time to head up to the cars.

We took it slow, one step at a time. It only took us about 20 minutes or so to make it to the top. Maybe it was longer. My knees hurt, my back hurt and I struggled to catch my breath. I wondered if I had any aspirin in the truck. I kept telling myself that this was a good cardio workout. I was sweating profusely again, without any of the heavy clothes on. My legs felt like rubber. Finally, we made it to the top and to our vehicles. My shoes were wet, my shirt was drenched in sweat and I was exhausted.

“Great trip Mike. Thanks for taking me along. Let’s do it again sometime.”

There were 353 steps.

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