Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

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Warm weather, hot fishing on the Lower Niagara River

It was a welcomed relief from the frigid temperatures we had been experiencing this year.

Weather forecasters were calling for near-record temperatures that would soar to nearly 60 degrees on Jan. 11. After record-breaking lows and not seeing the mercury rise above 32 degrees since before Christmas, quite a few soft-water anglers were chomping at the bit to get out and cast or drift. At the same time, there were anglers still ice fishing in area harbors and lakes. It was the best of both worlds.

It started with a phone call from outdoor writer Rick Henniger of Ohio’s Fish and Field Report contacting Capt. Frank Campbell of Niagara Falls to see if he had an opening; he just wanted to bring his son Jason up for some lower-river trout fishing. As luck would have it, with the severe winter weather conditions we’d been experiencing, it had been difficult to get on the water. He was open for a morning trip but he had to be off the water shortly after noon for a doctor’s appointment. Plans were made and the Buckeye boys would drive up that morning and get there as quickly as they could. I was invited to come along.

The next morning, I met Campbell at 8:15. Henniger was just outside Buffalo and should be there shortly, so we took a couple quick drifts on Artpark, where a fair number of boats were also out taking advantage of the nice weather. It was downright balmy as far as the air. However, the water temperature was still 32.4 degrees. We hit two small steelhead dragging Kwikfish and MagLips off three-way rigs before we got the call that the Hennigers were at the dock.

After we picked them up, we headed down river toward Lake Ontario. Before we reached the lake, though, Campbell settled in and continued to take advantage of a steady southwest wind, giving us good action on our wobbling hard baits. Almost immediately, we hit a nice brown trout of about 10 pounds. Jason had his first brown trout ever.

As we continued to fish, Campbell threw on a smaller 2.5 MagLip and added some distance between our offerings. He caught three nice brown trout in a row in short order. After that, Jason hooked his first steelhead ever and Rick hit back-to-back steelheads before boating a beautifully-colored brown trout. I connected on a steelhead that was overly acrobatic, then a nice 10-pound brown. It was great action for the three hours of fishing we had experienced.

We did try to hit the Niagara Bar for a lake trout or a brown and took a few drifts out there, but the fish would have nothing to do with our lures so we ran back to the trout honey hole we had found earlier. We did manage to reel in a few more trout before we had to call it quits.

Understanding brown trout helped Campbell figure out the downriver fish, the same area where he caught a 31-pound behemoth last March.

“The bigger browns like staying in the shallower water,” Campbell said. “We probably would have done better if we had minnows, but they weren’t available this morning. And I have found that by downsizing my presentation I can do better on browns, too. The 2.5 MagLip on 8-pound test Seaguar fluorocarbon line worked for us today. When I’m running minnows, I’ll use a No. 8 hook – never run a hook that’s too big for your bait. When I was hitting fish by letting more line out than the rest of you, it seemed to work better for browns in this slack water. The water was a bit stained and that helped with our presentation today, too.”

That same kind of philosophy will also work in the spring over deep water or along dropoffs, but we may have to share more information on that when the season approaches. It was certainly a great fishing lesson on the water, taking advantage of some unseasonably warm temperatures in the process.

Campbell once again will be giving some on-water trout lessons each morning in conjunction with the Greater Niagara Fishing and Outdoor Expo Jan. 19-21 at the Conference and Event Center Niagara Falls. The Expo, focused on education with over 70 speakers and 120 different seminars, is a great way to expand your fishing knowledge. Check out for more information. And you don’t have to wait for another 60-degree day in January … although it sure did help.

On a side note, the brown trout fishing in the Niagara should only get better. Last year (2017) was the first year for designating the Niagara River as a regular brown trout stocking location (rather than relying on bonus stockings only). The annual stocking target will now be 15,000 brownies for the lower river with up to 10,000 bonus browns when available. Great news for the Niagara.

It’s important to note that every fish was caught and released during our media trip. Those fish are still out there for other anglers to catch. Enjoy!

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