Although many sportsmen are hard-hunting now for everything from deer to pheasants, in the Niagara River area of western New York, the fishing couldn't get much better, and plenty of folks are enjoying it.
For lake trout, steelhead (lake-run rainbow trout) and brown trout, the Niagara River between Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario is loaded with bundled-up anglers drifting in boats with spawn sacks and bright-color Luhr-Jensen Kwikfish plugs from 3-way swivel rigs. They commonly catch 8 to 20 mixed fish per boat, per day — most weighing 5 to 12 pounds, but with some pushing 20 pounds taken regularly.
And it's not all boat fishing. Shore-bound anglers on both the Canada and U.S. sides of the Niagara River cast flies and spawn sacks for trout, and do surprisingly well.
At the Niagara River mouth, where it feeds into sprawling Lake Ontario, anglers work the Niagara River bar — a sand-and-gravel structure pushed up by the deep and powerful river a mile out into the lake.
The lake bottom rises from over 70 feet near historically-famous Fort Niagara at the river mouth, to just 20 feet deep. Lakers and brown trout hold there through winter, and anglers deep and slow trolling with emerald shiner baits tally trout in impressive numbers, with the Toronto skyline rising picturesquely 35 miles in the distance.
If small stream fishing is more to your liking, steelhead and brown trout action in many of the waters that feed lakes Erie and Ontario offer truly world-class action. Steelhead and browns average 5 pounds, and 10 pounders are common.
Fish to 20 pounds and more are available, though holding such powerful trout in water usually less than a dozen yards wide is dicey. Dozen trout days are not unusual for good stream anglers.
Fly-rodders using yarn fish egg imitations take trout, and there are a number of fly-only designated waters. Spin fishermen using spawn baits and hardware also have streams they may tap.
Many streams offer good trout fishing, with famed Eighteenmile and Cattaraugus creeks tops for Erie-run steelhead. Salmon Creek near Pulaski is a hot one now for Lake Ontario-run browns.
In addition to trout, the area's renowned smallmouth bass fishing can be exceptional even in late autumn and winter. Bass are caught from the Niagara, but the best action is on Erie, in water 15 to 30 feet deep, near reef structures not far off Buffalo.
Erie smallmouths have always been big and abundant, but in the last five years or so remarkable numbers of bronzebacks weighing 5 to 7 pounds have been caught, and 100 fish days for a boat of anglers is not uncommon.
If you needed one more reason to tap the area's fishing, how about muskies about as big as they grow?
Late fall and winter fishing for this oversize water wolf can be brutally cold, with long days casting oversize plugs, big jigs and soft-plastic jerk baits in the upper Niagara River above the falls. But monster muskies are available, with fish well over 40 pounds recorded.
Frank Campbell has guided anglers in the area for 20 years, and has taken muskies over 50 pounds. No brag, just fact, says Frank, and his buddies and clients bear out his boasts with photos as endorsement.
Plenty of fishing guides, motels and restaurants dot the region, and for an angler looking to headquarter in the middle of it all, Lewiston is perfect.
Guides like Frank Campbell are nearby (phone 716-284-8546; www.niagaracharter.com), and motels like the Riverside Motel (phone 716-754-4101) can be found right on the bluff-banks of the Niagara.
For more information on the area's fishing, other recreation and facilities contact Niagara USA www.niagara-usa.com. Their "Hot Spot Fishing Map" is a must for visitors.