Niagara River Fishing Adventure Below the Falls

Niagara Falls is the main draw to Niagara County, New York, but the fishing is a close second. I recently visited the region to fish with Captain Frank Campbell, owner and operator of Niagara Region Charter Service. Pairing excellent fishing with exploring the natural wonders and history of one of America’s most exceptional tourism destinations made this a trip I’ll never forget.

The Niagara River is 36-miles long and serves as a boundary between the United States and Canada. It flows out of Lake Erie and into Lake Ontario. Niagara Falls is located just about in the middle of the river’s course. The common nomenclature “Niagara Falls” is used to encompass a set of three falls – American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horseshoe Falls. Collectively, about 750,000 gallons of water go over the falls per second. This creates very rich fishing water from below falls to the mouth of Lake Ontario.

Steelhead, coho salmon, king salmon, walleye, yellow perch, musky, brown trout, lake trout, and smallmouth bass are the main game fish targeted by anglers at Niagara. Numerous other less desirable species of fish also call the water home, like sheepshead. When you hook into one of these hard fighting fish, you’ll likely spend a few minutes thinking you’re tangling with a giant smallmouth. When you realize what you caught, you may be disappointed for a moment, but if you keep in mind how much fun the fish was to catch the fish and how hard it fought, you should be thankful for the experience regardless of the species. 

“I don’t think there is a freshwater fishing destination anywhere else in the country where you can find the size, diversity, and numbers of fish that Niagara County has to offer anglers. It’s a 12-months per year fishery where you never know what the next bite may bring,” Campbell said. 

I agree with Frank’s assessment, because every time you drop your line into the water, it’s a guessing game as to what you are going to catch. The smallmouth bass fishing is world-class. We boated more than I could count, and none of them were small. The largest weighted five and half pounds. We caught lake trout in the 10-pound range and steelhead pushing the same. Our tactics were simple, often just jigging a minnow on the bottom in 10-20 feet of water. 

For history buffs, the region is astounding. Situated on point at the mouth of the river, where it dumps into Lake Ontario, is Old Fort Niagara. This is the oldest continually operated military site in the United States. It was built in 1679 and had been controlled by the French and British before becoming American controlled. The Fort played a role in the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812, during which the British torched Lewistown. Leaving little in the aftermath.  

During my trip, I stayed in the quaint Village of Lewiston, located down river 10-miles from the Falls. I spent three nights at the Niagara Crossing Hotel and Spa. The hotel is clean and comfortable and couldn’t be located any better for fishing the river and providing access to amenities. I walked each day to the boat dock to meet Frank and then to dinner each evening. Which I enjoyed at both the Brickyard Pub and BBQ and Griffon Brewery and Gastropub. I also had to try to Chicken Wings at the Anchor Bar where the staple in my diet was created. They were good, but not the best I’ve ever had.  

I visited Niagara Falls with my family when I was younger. I remembered how impressive the falls were but gained a new perspective on this trip by riding the Maid of the Mist right up to the base of the falls. This boat ride was worth every penny, and I highly suggest if you visit Niagara, you make a point of riding the boat as well. To be basically at the base of the falls, where you can feel the force of the water crashing down, is amazing. 

Niagara Falls is only an hour and a half from Toronto. Having never been to the fourth largest city in North America, I decided it was worth a detour to spend a night exploring and to catch a Blue Jays baseball game. I enjoyed the experience, and found Toronto to be vibrant, clean, and safe. A grand slam in the first inning led to a Blue Jays win. A sushi dinner to round out the day was a perfect ending.

Anymore, hunting and fishing is as much about the opportunity to travel to new places for me as it is about the collecting of fish and game. I’ll never tire of outdoor pursuits close to home, but the draw to see what’s beyond the horizon is what drives me to adventure. This recent experience fishing the Niagara River was one of the most complete, well-rounded fishing trips I’ve ever taken. I encourage you to consider a trip to Niagara Falls to mix tourism with angling. 

See you down the trail….
Brandon Butler

Pic: Brandon Butler and Captain Frank Campbell with a Niagara River Smallmouth Bass.

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