Great Lakes, Great Fishing
Summer is prime time to catch muskie, bass, salmon, walleye and more in Lakes Erie and Ontario
By David Hart
One of the most spectacular sights in the country sat just a few miles upriver, but the only thing that mattered at the moment was the fish pulling on the end of my line. It was, figured Captain Frank Campbell, a muskie, an elusive, toothy game fish known among anglers as the fish of ten-thousand casts. Niagara Falls could wait.
Campbell, Cabela’s media relations specialist Chuck Smock and I were drifting with the current of the Niagara River 20 miles below the world-famous falls and just a few hundred yards from Lake Ontario. We were casting spinner baits and jigs for the legendary smallmouth bass that lurk in these waters, but when my rod doubled over from the pull of a fish I knew it was no bass. Ten minutes later, a 46-inch muskie, a trophy by anyone’s standards, lay on its side next to the boat. Campbell slid a net under the exhausted fish as Smock and I high-fived. We snapped a few photos and then eased the fish back into the green water to be caught again. Not a bad way to start a day.
That muskie was just one of a half-dozen species Smock and I caught over a three-day excursion to the Niagara Falls region. Campbell, a full-time guide and lifelong resident of the popular tourist area, fishes 12 months a year, even during the brutal winters that settle over western New York every year.
“The river doesn’t freeze and we have a real good steelhead run in the winter. Brown trout and lake trout also run up the river in good numbers,” says Campbell. “It gets pretty cold, but if you dress warm, you’ll be OK.”
July and August, however, are two of his favorite months. They offer a chance to peel away the layers and fish under the comfort of a calm, cool northern summer for a variety of species. That is, unless the weather turns ugly, a distinct possibility on the vast open water of the Great Lakes. Minutes after Campbell turned the giant muskie loose, we drifted past Fort Niagara and into the open water of Lake Ontario only to be greeted by wind-whipped waves and whitecaps that pounded the rocky Canadian shoreline. We planned to fish the lake for smallmouth bass, but that would have to wait.
“Not a problem. We have plenty of other options,” said Campbell. He spun the boat around and motored up the Niagara River toward the falls.
Campbell’s fishing boat isn’t equipped to go over the violent rapids that lie between Lake Ontario and the falls, but he can push it far enough up Niagara Gorge to reach calm pockets of water where smallmouth bass congregate. We motored through the powerful, swirling current and stopped adjacent to the towering concrete wall of a hydroelectric plant. Smock and I baited hooks with live crawfish, lowered them to the bottom and bounced the bait up and down directly under the boat. Bites came as soon as the crawfish touched bottom and the two of us cranked up one smallmouth after another as Campbell maneuvered the boat.
It’s not just the 35-mile river between lakes Erie and Ontario that offers such incredible fishing. The next morning, we joined guide Terry Jones on the clear waters of Erie in the shadow of downtown Buffalo. We caught chunky walleye and more hard-fighting smallmouths. A day later, we were back on Lake Ontario aboard a 32-foot fishing boat idling across the glassy surface a mile offshore in search of king salmon. They were scarce, but three to 10-pound steelhead couldn’t resist the lures trolling behind the boat. Is there a better way to spend a few days in Niagara Falls? Smock and I talked about making a side-trip to the falls, but we never made it. There was, we agreed, too much fishing to be done.
For more information:
Frank Campbell, Niagara Charters:
Niagara USA Tourism: