Fall fishing frenzy
With a forecast of high winds and rain in the immediate future, I accepted an invitation from Capt. Frank Campbell of Niagara Region Charters to hit the waters of the lower Niagara River for a morning of fishing. It was quite literally the calm before the storm – or so we thought.
It was the end of October and the Niagara Gorge was radiant with the fall foliage was at its peak. Devil’s Hole was holding some fish, but it wasn’t salmon. The fall salmon run in the river was sub-par … again. While DEC admits the run is down in the river, no action has been taken to figure out why or what they can do to help correct the situation. It’s disappointing to say the least and the topic of a future blog. It’s not like the state agency hasn’t known about the decline, either. Local (and out of area) anglers have been asking for help for nearly two decades. Our stumbling block? Hey, we have good fishing the rest of the year, so we apparently should be happy or satisfied with that. Tell that to the local businesses that have come to rely upon an influx of angling tourism the end of September and the month of October. And it’s getting worse.
Back to the fishing. Devil’s Hole was our destination and a wind out of the southwest was perfect for running K9 silver Kwikfish lures off three-way rigs. The first pass produced a feisty three-pound smallmouth bass and we spent a few minutes staging some photos – keeping the fish in the live well until we were ready. Be cognizant of the time a fish is out of water when taking pictures if you are not keeping it for table fare.
We had hoped for a trout, too. Steelhead have started to move into the river, seeking out the eggs of Pacific salmon. In addition, lake trout are in the river to spawn as well. While the lake trout season is closed, they are mixed in with the other fish and sometimes you just can’t help catching them. I feel strongly that lake trout season should not be closed. Instead, the season should revert to catch-and-release only from October through December each year. Again, that’s the topic of another blog. We did not catch a trout from our boat but we did see one caught off the New York Power Authority Fishing Platform near where we were fishing. The platform is still open to Dec. 1 or whenever winter kicks in, whichever comes first.
Our next stop was the Niagara Bar at the mouth of the river. Some big smallmouth bass were being reported by local guides pulling silver or gold Kwikfish off three-way rigs near the green buoy marker – known locally as The Green Can. It’s where the bottom comes up quickly in the middle of the river current. Unfortunately, it was none too calm on the lake. At the mouth of this mighty river the drift was being manipulated by an easterly wind that was not kind to drifting fishermen like us. We had to switch to jigs.
On the first drift, Frank hit a beautiful eight-pound walleye that nearly swallowed his black marabou jig offering. Again, some quick pictures and back into the water it went. We took the drift over again and I hit a dandy fish with a tube. I was hoping for one of the six-pound smallies the area produced earlier in the week. As I fought this lunker, I didn’t have a good feeling. It could have been the negative energy exuding from me … or it could have been the quality of the fishing line. Either way, the line broke and the fish was gone. On went a swim bait. At least, that’s what Frank gave me to put on as he slipped a tube jig on the end of his line with a wry smile.
After a couple more drifts the wind continued to build and we headed into the river along Fort Niagara. Another boat hit a walleye and a bass while we tried the jigs again. They were using worm harnesses and doing better. We didn’t have worms with us and we weren’t going to beg for help. It was time to head in for an office meeting anyway. This was the same area where the Province of Ontario was doing some baitfish research along the shoreline of the river. Their nets picked up some small smelt that was a perfect food source for 12- to 15-inch brown trout. Yes, they caught those in their nets, too. With Emerald shiner numbers being down, nature seems to provide for the smaller predator fish with some other baitfish to fill that void.
We should note that DEC did some electrofishing in the lower river at the end of June and early July. The results were impressive, to say the least. The number one species of fish that was assessed was smallmouth bass. They recorded nearly 300 fish over three days, giving the biologists a catch rate of 76 smallmouth bass per hour. To give you an idea of how good that is, the highest catch rate in any inland water in New York was 45 per hour. This does not include Lake Erie, of course. Fall is when these fish will turn on and start to build up their body mass for winter. Get out there and take advantage of some pretty darn good fishing! Oh, and make sure your fishing line is in good working order. The fish I lost was probably a state record!