Lower Niagara fishing tips

It was a few days before the official announcement of spring on the calendar, but the blue skies and mild temperatures were already shouting spring to us as we drifted minnows in Devil’s Hole, a famous fishing spot in the Lower Niagara River. Just a few miles to the south, a roaring Niagara Falls was still surrounded by ice chunks as big as a house, but out of sight, out of mind – save for an occasional iceberg floating past our boat.

One of the first signs of spring is the super clear water coming over the falls was slowly getting a stain to it. In addition, the water coming through the generators from the upper reservoirs was carrying much more of a stain thanks to the water intakes in the Upper Niagara River above Niagara Falls. Boat fishermen as well as shore fishermen had the option of where they wanted to fish and what they wanted to target. At least, attempt to target. That said, the Niagara River is one of those unique angling areas that harbors a wide variety of fish species every time you cast a lure or drift live bait. It would do a little showing off on this day, too.

I had two hours on the water with Capt. Frank Campbell of Niagara Falls. The primary purpose was photos – birds and fish, in that order. When a day is riddled with meetings, it’s always good to slip in a couple of hours in the river to break your day up and unwind … while still working. It doesn’t get any better than that!

After messing around with getting pictures of long-tailed ducks and mergansers that took up nearly an hour, we decided to head up in the "Hole" for some fish photos. Fishing was finally back to its old self after a rough winter. February, except for a few days, was pretty much a washout because of frigid temperatures, ice and high winds. The launch ramp in Lewiston, normally maintained by the village’s public works, was tough to keep under control. Many charters were postponed until March.

We were using minnows for the simple fact that this is what Frank – and the fish – prefer this time of year. “If I run minnows I can catch just about anything,” said Campbell, who was running longer leaders and smaller hooks in the clear waters. When Lake Erie has ice cover, the waters flowing through the Niagara River system become extremely clear. You have to make adjustments. Since we were getting a combination of snowmelt and rain from a few days before, the water was nearly perfect.

“Some guys run egg sacs for steelhead and they can do pretty well,” said Campbell. “However, why would you limit yourself to just steelhead when you can catch so many different species in these waters? By running minnows I can catch brown trout, lake trout, walleye, sturgeon, muskie and bass to name but a few species available. That’s a pretty cool thing for customers and they really enjoy it.”

On the next drift, I hooked into a 40-inch muskie that hit my offering as I bounced the bottom off a three-way rig. Despite the sharp teeth, I still managed to reel the fish to the boat before we released it to fight another day. We also caught three steelhead in about an hour of fishing – not bad when you figure in the photos we needed to stage and deal with.

“Fish can be found throughout the river system right now and you can do just as good from shore as you can from a boat in certain areas like Devil’s Hole and along Artpark," Campbell says.

One trout did make it into the cooler when it didn’t survive one of our photo sessions. It reminded me of the State of Lake Ontario meeting I attended earlier this week (March 16) during which it was announced that the latest data from the state’s Health Department is showing lower contaminant levels in fish. At the meeting, the big announcement was the fact that up to four meals per month could now be consumed for Chinook salmon, Coho salmon, rainbow trout, smaller brown trout and smaller lake trout in the lake; and smallmouth bass in the Lower Niagara River, being added to an advisory that was already in place for the lake proper. Things are cleaning up out there and that’s certainly good news from a promotional perspective. 

Yes, spring is here. Get out there and enjoy it!

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