Gerald Almy: Niagara River great fishing destination

Gerald Almy

Chunks of ice, some as big as a car, floated in the 32-degree river as we slipped away from the dock and began our winter angling adventure. Well, for me it was an adventure. For my fishing partner, guide Joe Cinelli, and his brother Chris, it was just another day at the office. Both are outfitters on the Niagara River, one of the best fishing holes in the entire world.

And unlike many fishing destinations, this one offers fabulous sport right through the middle of winter and into spring. The quarry: jumbo-sized steelhead.

The air temperature was about 8 degrees when we headed out. But there was no wind and both brothers deemed it a “beautiful day.”

Chris was first to draw action. His rod tip throbbed in the cold air. Then with a sharp hookset, he was fast to a lunging steelhead. When he worked it close, Joe slipped the net under the 11 pound hen fish. I connected next on a slightly smaller dark-colored male steelie. Then Joe followed by landing an enormous 13 pound migratory rainbow.

While we released many fish, we kept a few for eating. The firm, orange flesh of these fish is delicious. And the eggs make terrific bait to catch other steelhead with.

We moved downstream next to a deep hole Joe likes to work for lake trout. That’s another species that cooperates during winter on the Niagara. We landed several of those in the 6-9 pound class, plus a plump brown trout of about five pounds.

Later that morning we switched to fishing flies instead of eggs, but still using spin gear because of the deep water and swift currents. The cooperative steelhead continued to put bends in our rods, snatching up the yarn egg flies with abandon.

That was one of many trips I’ve taken during winter to this far away, but productive fishing spot. We landed over two dozen fish that day, which is better than a typical day’s tally of 6-12, but definitely a possibility any day on the water.

That trip taken a few years ago was one of the best fishing outings I’ve ever been fortunate to experience. But it’s indicative of the angling sport the Niagara River offers if you want to take the 9-10 hour drive north from the Shenandoah Valley.

This river is well known for its famous Niagara Falls as a tourist destination, but sportsmen have come to realize it’s also an angling mecca. The deep, swift river offers great smallmouth, walleye, white bass, and muskie fishing from spring through autumn. At that point coldwater species such as king salmon, brown trout, rainbows, steelhead, and lakers take over the angling agenda, offering action right through the coldest winter conditions.

The salmon run only lasts a few months, but it is incredible in September and October. These fish average over 20 pounds apiece and can be caught fishing with egg sacs or trolling plugs such as the K-11 Kwikfish. One of my favorite outings involves fishing for smallmouths in the morning and then king salmon in the afternoon.

The steelhead gets red hot in November and continues right through into March and April. These fish are often accompanied by brown trout up to 10 pounds and lake trout of 5-15 pounds.

Prime spots to fish for steelhead include the Devil’s Hole, Art Park, Pine Tree, Stella, and Jackson areas. Locals can tell you where these spots are. A better bet if you’re new to the sport is to hire a guide.

The river is always in the low 30s this time of year and falling overboard could be extremely dangerous. The currents can also be tricky to negotiate and ice chunks might be floating around you as you fish and motor to new spots. That’s why I like to always use a guide.

I’ve enjoyed many trips with Joe Cinelli and can heartily recommend him. He can be reached at 716- 773-7910. You can also call Niagara County Tourism at 800-338-7890 for information on other guides, lodging and restaurants. The Holiday Inn on Grand Island is a good location to base out of since it’s very close to the fishing.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.