Fishing the Niagara River with John Long        An Outdoors Niagara Exclusive!

Fishing the Niagara River Successfully

Updated February 1 2007

Reprinted with permission of John Sander's, Author of Sander's Fishing Guide, First Edition, and John Long Sr. 

Part 2 of 2          Back to part 1

Fishing the Niagara River with John Long
Continued from Part 1

Walleye, Bass, Trout, Salmon Spots etc.

The most productive fishing areas will vary little from those of the old days. The major drifts going downstream on the American side and back upstream in Canadian waters begin above Lewiston at the Artpark Drift. This is marked by the high red shale cliffs above the Artpark dock and the drift runs past the “Wagon Wheels”. I like to fish it fairly close to shore. It never was my favorite walleye drift, but some nice fish are caught there. It is a superb rainbow drift.

The next drift [Stella] is several miles down the river off Stella Niagara School. Again, I like to fish fairly close to shore, just far enough out to be sure the current takes you on a good drift. On days of heavy boat traffic you will have to fish in deeper water.

This drift begins where the high banks end and the Stella “Flats” begin. The Little Chapel is a good landmark. It is a long drift ending around the next major downstream point at the Joseph Davis Park fishing dock. Just below that is the Johnson Drift. It can be productive if the wind is right, but is far down on my priority list.  

The Coast Guard Drift begins in front of the Fort Niagara State Park boat launch and continues past the Coast Guard Station out into the lake. It is not a long drift for walleyes, but it is a tremendous spot for smallmouth bass if you start further upstream and drift out into the lake. For walleye I like to drift it very close to the dock. It is very snaggy and must be fished with great care.

Returning up the Canadian side of the river your voyage will take you past the historic Old Fort George. Even before there was a smallmouth fishery in the lower Niagara a good fisherman could pick up the occasional bass in these waters. Now it is excellent for bass but not a good walleye drift.

The next drift upstream is above the marina. It is called the Jackson Drift and begins at the ruins of an old concrete dock extending downstream to the point above the marina. It is an excellent for walleye drift and like Stella always produces big fish. Vary your distance from shore until you hit fish.

The Pine Drift, sometimes called the Lone Pine Drift today, is another favorite of mine. It ends at the next major point above the Jackson Drift and begins somewhat upstream from the beginning of the Stella Drift. Fish moderately close to shore. It holds some nice fish. I like to trade back and forth between the Pine, Stella, and the Jackson until I find the fish.  

Following the river further upstream to the next big point you come to the Queenston Long Drift. It ends at the point. This is an excellent place for smallmouth when you fish the eddies near the weedlines. The drift begins several hundred feet below the Queenston Docks, just above the small boat launch. This is a very productive drift. It can be fished close to shore or some distance out. I always experiment on this drift.

The Queenston Back Drift is unique in that your drift will take you upstream towards the gorge. It is a very fast drift, fishable in nearly every wind direction. It begins some distance out from the south end of the Queenston Dock, sweeps you in toward shore off the sand piles and continues very close to shore until it swings you right out into the middle of the river. As you start out toward the center, reel in and go back to the beginning. This is an excellent backup drift if the winds are bad on the others.

Wind is a serious problem for drift fishermen on the river. A strong north wind makes things miserable, since all but the Back Drift are northbound and the wind stops your boat dead in the water. Gentle south winds are the best, but the high banks let you fish on the leeward drifts if the wind is out of the east or west.

Heavy boat traffic, especially that of the high-speed variety, will drive the fish to deeper water. Start close to shore early in the morning, as you start to se more boat activity, particularly on weekends, and fishing seems to slack off, try moving out to deeper water.

The old timers never varied their terminal tackle with the exception of the color of the spinner or the fly. The time-honored rig consisted of a three-way swivel attached to the end of the line. To one eye attach an 8-pound leader with a spinner the size of your thumbnail attached to it. The spinner can vary from copper to silver to brass, and some days a hammered finish seems to work better. Flies vary from the time-honored “Yellow Sally” to White Millers, Eries, and various fluorescent shades. Don’t be afraid to try a variety of them. For some reason, this can make a difference. Finally, attach an 8-inch length of 6-pound test leader to the last eye of the swivel. Depending on the wind, add a sinker of somewhere near an ounce. Add a half of a night crawler to the hook and you are in business. Fish right on the bottom, bouncing or carefully dragging with just enough line out to touch. When a fish hits I always allow it to tug at the bait for a second or two before I strike. Other fishermen disagree. You’ll have to develop your own technique. Some anglers, especially on quiet days, cast and let the rig settle to the bottom then slowly reel in as they drift. This works well where there are few snags.

Some drifts have more snags than others, but all have areas where you can comfortably drag bottom. I always have the most problems at the Artpark Drift and the Coast Guard Drift, although the Stella Drift and the Back Drift also have bad spots. You’ll soon learn the areas that require special care. The light leader on your sinker will allow you to break off a lot of snags without losing all of your rig. Don’t let the snags keep you from fishing right on the bottom. That is where the walleyes seem to stay.

One advantage that the old timers’ boats had over most of today’s were oarlocks and the ability to keep the boat drifting straight by keeping one oar active in the water. An electric trolling motor can be used for the same purpose today. Modern boats have more freeboard and are higher in the water. Wind has much more effect on them. They will drift better in light winds, but mush faster in stronger winds. A heavier sinker may solve the problem in these cases and some fishermen resort to backtrolling.

Walleyes are sometimes caught from shore in the lower river. Casting in the gorge results in some nice fish, but is impossible to target one species in those waters. It is not uncommon to catch walleye, lake trout, rainbows, and bass from the same place using the same lure. For those who wish to target walleyes and fish from shore, the best place is from the Artpark dock downstream past the storm water outlet. White jigs work well and some good fish are caught there.

Night fishing for walleyes was quite common forty years ago. It was accomplished by anchoring with a lantern hanging over the side of the boat. Minnows were used as bait because the light drew in schools of minnows. Most action was the very beginning of the Back Drift and below the Lewiston sand dock. It might be interesting to try it again.

The lower Niagara River enjoys a tremendous smallmouth population. The gorge is of course, excellent for any species, but bass cooperate all summer. It is truly a shore fisherman’s bonanza and casting lures and spinnerbaits of all kinds work well. Bait fishermen use soft-shelled crabs, leeches, and minnows with much success, although less desirable fish play havoc with live bait.

All of the walleye drifts produce smallmouth bass, but usually near eddies and close to shore. Sheepshead usually makes short work of live bait, but rattling lures and other popular bass baits work well along the weed lines. Jigs and weighted Twisters are probably the most effective lures.

The best place for bass is the Coast Guard area and out into the lake on “The Bar”. Fish the bar in about 18 feet of water, generally by trolling. The area around the first green buoy is excellent. Drifting the area a mile past the one-mile buoy is very productive, as is trolling about a quarter mile offshore both east and west of the river. The water is about 12 to 18 feet deep on the Canadian side. The drift along the clay banks just below the sand docks produces well if you fish just off the drop off.

Panfish are available in large numbers in the lower Niagara. Yellow Perch are available to shore fishermen off the Lewiston sand docks, Artpark, the Queenston dock, Joseph Davis Park dock, and the Youngstown dock. For boaters the “Wagon Wheels” below the foot of Tuscarora Street off Lewiston is a great producer, and lake trout and silver bass are abundant there in June. Anchor about 50 feet from shore and use worms or minnows. The same is true just below the Lewiston and the Queenston sand docks and at Peggy’s Eddy near Joseph Davis Park.

Silver bass fishing is good throughout the river, but nothing short of spectacular at the Power Authority plant in the gorge in late June and early July. These fish can be a real pest to perch fishermen.

The Power Authority has constructed a new fishing pier. It offers truly superb fishing in the spectacular setting of the Niagara Gorge. This facility is truly the “icing on the cake” for the already tremendous lower Niagara River fishery. It provides excellent bass and walleye fishing in addition to the superb salmonid fishing already enjoyed there.

My father was right when he told me that no one could ever take my education away. But he missed another treasure that will never leave me either. That is my memories of the old days on the river. They remain vivid, and I only speculate on the memories the young people of today will have of the rebirth of the lower Niagara River.

We are on the brink of something wonderful!

Back to Part 1

Go to “Yellow Sally” page

For Information on fishing the Upper Niagara River GO HERE There is a lot of information about how to fish it, hot spots, and a hand drawn map

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