LEWISTON - Every once in a while, I like to get out of the Adirondacks to explore other regions. In mid-October, I did exactly that, visiting Niagara County at the tail end of peak foliage season.
The purpose of the visit was to attend the New York Outdoor Writers Association's annual conference, which includes a dinner banquet and guided trips for writers around the region. I signed up for a pair of fishing trips: one on the lower Niagara River and another on 18-Mile Creek.
During both trips we saw large trout. Brown trout were piled up in a pool that we fished on the 18-Mile Creek and steelheads ripped the surface on the lower Niagara River.
Ernie Calandrelli nets a lake trout on the lower Niagara River in mid-October.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Although we couldn't entice the spawning brown trout, we did have some luck catching steelheads and also lake trout on the lower Niagara River. We had just missed the salmon run, which took place in September and early in October.
On the Niagara River, we fished about 7 miles downstream from Niagara Falls in a 20-foot charter boat captained by Joe Marra. We trolled a stretch just below the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge that connects the United States with Canada. When heading upstream, Canada was on our right and the U.S. was on our left.
Marra said there are two main ways of fishing this stretch, a popular fishing area that drew about a half-dozen similar boats that day. One is to float eggs and the other is to troll Kwikfish lures. Both methods required fishing on the bottom, which was about 15 to 20 feet deep.
"You're going to feel it vibrate," Marra said about the lure as we drifted downstream. "You're kind of just drifting through there. It's kind of a hard, reactionary strike."
That was especially true of the steelhead trout, a larger version of the rainbow trout. The steelhead trout is an active fish that will run and sometimes leap when hooked. At one point, I hooked what I believe was a large steelhead. Immediately after I felt its tug, it took off straight for the boat. I reeled the line as quickly as possible to keep it hooked. Then, the fish went under the boat. I tried unsuccessfully to bring it to the surface. Instead, it decided to continue at a wicked pace downstream, requiring me to walk the line around the boat's bow. Then suddenly the line went slack. The fish had apparently made a U-turn back toward the boat and dislodged the hook.
This fish was in contrast to a more tame, though very large lake trout, I caught that day. This fish, which weighed about 16.5 pounds, was as one women in the boat described it, like "pulling in a wet boot." This description was accurate to some degree in that the fish was hard to get up to the boat. But pulling in a 16.5-pound fish is obviously far more exciting and way more rewarding than catching a wet boot.
For me, catching such a large lake trout was unusual. I've actually never caught one this size, but for experienced anglers in this region it's more common than you might think.
Marra said the average steelhead, which we were targeting, is about seven pounds. But people do catch steelhead up to 20 pounds. That morning, I caught one in the eight-pound range. The lakers, which were spawning and out of season when we were fishing on the Niagara, can be even larger. As big as 30 pounds, Marra said.
The fish come from Lake Ontario, running up the Niagara River, which is why they so are large. The fishing was quite the contrast to the Adirondacks, where smaller brook trout are often the target for people fishing the interior, although Adirondack lakes, including Lake Placid, do hold some good-sized lake trout.
The fish on the Niagara seemed to be in the mold of the great waterfall upstream from where we fished. Large and powerful.
"It's one of the few places other than Alaska, you can catch steelhead, salmon and lake trout," Marra told us.