Take Your Love of Fantastic Fishing to Niagara Falls - Bass, Salmon, Trout Deliver Barrels of Action
Updated: May 30
I may not have had any honeymoon special rose petal turn-down service at the comfortable Niagara Crossing Hotel and Spa during my early May trip, but I must admit that love was in the air. I was smitten -- drunk with a newfound love for the diverse, fantastic Niagara Falls fishing I encountered. Plus, I was sated on platters of chicken wings and pints of craft beers. Oh yes, it was gooood.
May is usually a spectacular month for fishing in the northern states. Winter ice has left and warming waters trigger spawning frenzies and migrations of many anadromous fish. Niagara Falls, New York, once a destination favored by honeymooners and known for its magnificent roaring waterfalls, is also one of the country’s premier fishing locales. I fished there for five days, experiencing the grandeur of two Great Lakes - Ontario and Erie - and the scenic splendor of the Lower Niagara River, including a foreboding journey into “Devil’s Hole.”
Mark Copley of Rather Outdoors summed up the allure, noting, “Where else can you go and catch your personal best fish among several different species, all within a half-hour or so from Niagara Falls?”
Copley isn’t kidding. We netted king and coho salmon, lake trout, brown trout, big smallmouth bass and walleye. Area waters also have jumbo yellow perch, muskellunge and northern pike. Copley arranged for most of our boats, except for the real deep water expeditions, to be equipped with Lew’s fishing rods and Strike King lures, a couple of which I “gifted" to the fishing gods when my jig happened to snag something on the river bottom.
It was a little unseasonably cold, but manageable. Heavy rains stayed away and gusty wind conditions early in the week subsided, leaving us with beautiful weather for the last couple of days. Here’s how the week went.
Day one had me fishing aboard Ernie Calandrelli’s 21-foot Polar Kraft boat with Seaguar fishing’s Gerry Benedicto. The wind was ripping, sometimes gusting to 35 miles per hour, making it tough to cast and hold position. Fortunately, the wind direction still let us get on the river without concern. Benedicto and I brought at least 30 or more chunky smallmouth bass into the boat, with the fish hitting hefty Strike King jigs adorned with super-sized tube lures.
Calandrelli said steelhead (big, migratory rainbow trout) had been biting in Devil’s Hole. He has two rules for fishing there: first, “No whining,” second, “Stay in the boat.”
Approaching the area, Caladrelli’s admonition revealed its impeccable grounding in common sense and preservation. The scene was spectacular, with the river necking down and rocky bluffs rising on both sides. The current steadily picks up. Turbulent, white-water froths with no apparent, consistent pattern to much of the display of raw, watery power. Whirlpools — some almost as big as our boat — swirl in a downward vortex.
We reached the hole, a place where massive American and Canadian hydroelectric power plants face off. The power plants, plus the estimated six million cubic feet per minute of water flowing over the falls, just a couple of bends upriver, create an astonishing juxtaposition of water.
The water eases its maddened rush for a few hundred yards on the American side. “If the steelheads are in here, we’ll know quickly,” Calandrelli said above the water’s roar. We set up several drifts, dragging spoons over the rocky bottom. Sadly, the steelheads weren’t home that morning, but it was still a stunning experience.
Lake Ontario – Kings and Lakers
The next two days had me aboard Randy Jaroszewski’s 28-foot, enclosed center console on Lake Ontario, fishing with Garmin Marine’s Mark Mcquown, the Outdoor Channel’s Mitch Petrie and fellow outdoors writer Bill Hilts Jr. Jaroszewski’s boat was equipped with the latest Garmin electronics, including the GPSMAP 8616xsv, a unit so capable that it was possible to see lake trout rising from the mud to eyeball our lures in 130 feet of water and high-resolution mapping that let you see in fine detail every pocket or depression on the lake or river bottom.
This offshore fishing is technical. Downriggers and Dipsy Divers help get lures down to the fish. We caught salmon and lake trout in water ranging from 65 to 130 feet deep. Jaroszewski caught them at 200 feet a couple days earlier. He calls himself a “walleye guy,” but the fishing techniques in deep water are largely the same.
Our first five bites all came on the left downrigger. It offered a walleye stick bait in chartreuse with blue vertical bars. I caught my first king salmon ever on that productive lure. To my dismay, I lost the lure when a large king bit, jumped once, and then surged toward the boat, first veering into our lines to the left before instantly turning 180 degrees and cutting the line on the motor. Mcquown says he got a good, quick look at the fish before it broke off, estimating it at 20 pounds plus.
Local guide Joe Marra Niagara (Rainbow Charters (716) 754-0951) said steelhead and salmon are his favorite fish. “I love the way they fight. They jump, they run.”
Lake Erie – Smallmouth and a Bonus Walleye
Day four was spent on Lake Erie, fishing out of Buffalo, New York, with Mark Davis, host of the wildly popular Big Water Adventures television show. Curt Hill, marketing manager for Power-Pole, was also aboard.
We wielded Lew’s 7-foot, 4-inch Signature series rods matched with their Custom Lite spinning reels — a sweet setup for big smallies and walleye. Davis likes Silver Buddy (invented in 1983 by Paul "Buddy" Banks) and similar blade baits, like The Binsky. Pro-Cure Emerald Shiner Super Gel is added to the lure’s side every few casts.
Fishing in about 40 feet of water at one of Davis’s favorite locations, we boated, perhaps, 70 smallmouth to nearly 6 pounds before deciding on a change of scenery. We relocated to the front of a small lighthouse at “South Gap,” a section of the channel leading to the harbor. Curt and I kept tossing our blade baits, but Mark switched to a Strike King swimbait, catching a six-pound walleye on his first cast.
Passing the ‘Bar Exam’
The final outing was my “bar exam,” fishing aboard Joe Marra’s Lund boat with Jay Feimster of PointClickFish.com. Our target was the “Niagara Bar,” the area where the mouth of the Niagara River empties into Lake Ontario. It’s possible to catch almost anything there.
We used Lew’s Speed Stick rods with baitcasting reels and set up drifts, beginning near the river mouth in water about 60 feet deep. The rig was a three-way swivel with a substantial drop shot sinker and Yakima Mag Lip or Luhr Jensen Kwikfish lures with the front treble hook removed.
You simply fed your line out until you could feel the bait vibrating and the sinker occasionally tickling the bottom. The water became increasingly shallow as you approached the bar. The fish often slammed the lure just as we neared the 25-foot depth. In just a couple hours, we caught several king salmon, lake trout, brown trout and a solo smallmouth. Boats nearby also collected some cohos. I think we passed the exam.
Frank Campbell, outdoor promotions director for Destination Niagara USA, as well as a charter fishing guide, says it’s a 12-month fishing destination, a “sportfishing paradise when you consider the size, number and diversity of available fish.”
Anglers can bring their own boats or hire one of the many experienced guides in the area.
Oh, by the way, I tried to eat my body weight in delicious chicken wings. My vote for the best two wing locations, The Brickyard (the House Rub version) in Lewiston and the Craft Kitchen and Bar in Niagara Falls. Campbell sums it up, though. “There are no bad wings here in Niagara County. We do them right.”
Salmon Filleting Clinic
I usually clean/fillet my own fish, with the exception sometimes being offshore charters where the fish cleaning comes with the trip or the fish, such as big tuna are more easily processed with equipment and a cleaning facility designed for the chore. Lewiston, New York, has an exceptional fish cleaning house right next to the boat trailer parking area by the Niagara River landing. The facility has ample cutting boards surrounding a slide that carries fish remains through a chute into a grinder. A hose with a variable pressure handle lets you quickly rinse your fish and fillets and clean up the cutting boards and work surfaces when finished. A large sink is available for cleaning hands and knives and there’s even an electrical outlet for electric knives or other appliances. Best of all, the facility is free – no charge for using it, unlike some fish cleaning stations around the Great Lakes.
I had filleted a walleye earlier in the trip and was about to take Smith's 7-inch Lawaia Fillet knife to a couple of salmon on the last morning of the expedition when in walked Mark and Jake Romanack, a father and son fishing team from Michigan who host the popular Fishing 411 TV series, available on a variety of channels. They had six salmon. As I laid out my first fish and contemplated the cut, I watched in amazement as Jake, all business, pulled out a very large, very sharp knife and proceeded to completely fillet an entire king salmon in about 30 seconds. He had two fish done before I even inserted the knife blade, his fillets looking suitable for packaging, wrapping and selling in the finest fish markets.
I swallowed my pride and humbly asked him if he would mind tackling my two after he finished. “Sure,” he said.
“He never does that for me,” Mark laughed. Slice, slice, trim, trim – voila, my fish were done. Not only did this young man graciously, expertly fillet my two salmon, they offered to share some of their catch with me once they learned I was leaving that morning. “We catch salmon all season,” said Mark, “We have plenty.” Jake’s skilled knife work obviously was earned with lots of practice. Their generosity was much appreciated. Thanks gentlemen.
Fresh fish graced my Virginia table for a week upon returning home from Niagara Falls. One of the tastiest dishes was a gourmet effort by my neighbor Jennifer. She made a baked salmon with a Tuscan cream sauce. Dessert was a no-bake cheese cake with a blackberry coulis. Check out the recipe here.