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Fishing the Lower Niagara River

Angler holding Lower Niagara River steelhead.

The Niagara River is a Great Lakes connecting channel and an international border between the United States (New York) and Canada (Ontario). The Niagara River flows northward from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario for a distance of 36 miles, conveying an average flow of about 200,000 cubic feet of water per second. The river is comprised of two parts, the Upper and Lower Niagara, separated at Niagara Falls. The Lower Niagara River is approximately 14 miles in length, and fishing opportunities exist from the Whirlpool north to the mouth of the river at Lake Ontario.

This mighty river supplies Lake Ontario with about 80% of its water, more than all other sources combined. The outflow of the river into Lake Ontario is a powerful attraction to trout, salmon and other highly sought sportfish. The Lower Niagara can be fished literally 12 months a year, with different opportunities during each season of the year (Table 1). The lower river is well known for its Chinook salmon, steelhead (rainbow trout) and walleye fishing, which supports a significant number of charter fishing boat trips each year. In addition, there are great opportunities to catch lake trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, muskellunge, yellow perch and smelt at different times of year. This is truly one of New York's finest trout and salmon fisheries, also offering tremendous overall fishing diversity!

In general, the international border runs down the middle of the lower river and each jurisdiction requires a fishing license when angling in their respective waters. Be sure to follow the regulations of the jurisdiction in which you are fishing as New York State and Province of Ontario have separate, and somewhat different, angling regulations. The emphasis here is focused on fishing access and fishing opportunities in New York waters. The Lower Niagara River Fishing Access Map (PDF) (417 kB) highlights shore fishing sites, boat launches and popular boat drifts.

Table 1. Species availability by month on the Lower Niagara River
Species Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Chinook Salmon X X X
Coho Salmon X X X
Steelhead X X X X X X X
Lake Trout X X X X C C C
Brown Trout X X X X X X
Walleye C C C X X X X X
Smallmouth Bass X X X X X X
Muskellunge C C C C C C X X C
Yellow Perch X X
Smelt X

X = Species present in river, C = Month closed or partially closed to fishing for that species, see Special Fishing Regulations for Lower Niagara River

Shore Access Sites

Thumbnail view of Lower Niagara River fishing access map.
Click on thumbnail for Lower Niagara
Fishing Access Map (417 kb PDF)

Whirlpool State Park
Located off Robert Moses Parkway near the City of Niagara Falls, Whirlpool State Park offers shore anglers the furthest upriver fishing opportunity. The shoreline is accessible by walking the almost 300 vertical feet of trails and steps that descend into the gorge. This area is not for the faint of heart; carrying a large salmon back out of the gorge is quite a task. A trail runs along the river for over a mile, from the Whirlpool downriver through Devil's Hole State Park. Use extreme caution when shore fishing at Whirlpool State Park as slippery/icy rocks, water level changes and very strong currents make this area hazardous.

Devil's Hole State Park
Located off Robert Moses Parkway and bordering Whirlpool State Park to the north, Devil's Hole State Park offers some of the best salmon and trout fishing along the Lower Whirlpool Rapids. The shoreline is accessible by walking the almost 300 vertical feet of trails and steps that descend into the gorge. The return trip out of the gorge is quite strenuous, especially if carrying fish. This site is very popular for salmon and steelhead during fall and winter as well as smallmouth bass or other warmwater species during the summer. Good numbers of fish hold close to shore as shallower areas and rocky reefs offer sportfish refuge from the swift currents. Use extreme caution when shore fishing at Devil's Hole State Park as slippery/icy rocks, water level changes and very strong currents make this area hazardous.

NYPA Fishing Platform
The New York Power Authority (NYPA) fishing platform located at the NYPA Power Vista is a popular access site from spring to late fall (closed during winter). The fishing platform is open to the public and is universally accessible by persons with disabilities. The facility also features a fish cleaning station and restrooms. Parking is available at a small lot at the foot of Power Authority Service Drive and in an additional lot at the top of the gorge. Power Authority Service Drive is accessible from Hyde Park Blvd. (Route 61). This is a popular site to target trout, salmon and bass, however you can catch just about any other river inhabitant at this site. A long-handled landing net is helpful to bring large fish up to the fishing deck.

Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park
Located between Lewiston and the NYPA Power Vista, Artpark State Park has over a mile of river shoreline. A network of trails lead anglers down to the river's edge in a few locations. A stairway near the parking area off South 4th Street offers anglers the easiest access to the river's edge. While Artpark anglers do catch some salmon during the peak of the salmon run, this site is better known for quality steelhead fishing opportunity from November through April. In addition, the area at the base of the aforementioned stairs is the top river site for smelt dipping in April.

Joseph Davis State Park
Joseph Davis State Park is located north of Lewiston off Lower River Road/Route 18F. The park offers some shoreline fishing access as well as a universally accessible fishing platform for anglers with disabilities.

Additional Shore Access
Anglers can fish from the shoreline at Lewiston Landing Waterfront Park in Lewiston. In Youngstown, anglers can fish from Water Street Village Park and Constitution Park.

Boat Launch Sites

Village of Lewiston Launch
Located near the foot of Center Street, the launch at Lewiston Landing Waterfront Park is the most upriver launch site on the New York side of the Lower Niagara River. There are loading docks on each side of a two lane concrete ramp. The facility is maintained by the Village of Lewiston and provides anglers with year-round access, restrooms, fish cleaning station and parking for 50 vehicles with trailers. Fee charged when launch attendant present.

Village of Youngstown Launch
The Youngstown Launch is located at Water Street Village Park, off Water Street in the Village of Youngstown. The launch is a one lane concrete ramp. Parking is limited on Water Street, however additional parking is available for trailered vehicles on Hinman Street (stairway leading back from foot of Hinman St. to launch site). No fee.

Fort Niagara State Park
A launch is available within Fort Niagara State Park, which is located just north of Youngstown. The park entrances are off Lower River Rd. /18F and the Robert Moses Parkway. Two separate launches are available (one for launch, one for retrieval), each with two lane concrete ramps. This park also offers restrooms, a fish cleaning station and parking for 50+ vehicles with trailers. A fee to use the park may be charged, depending upon time of year.

Fishing by Boat

Water releases from large hydropower facilities on both New York and Ontario sides of the river can significantly affect water flows and water levels in sections of the Lower Niagara River, especially those sections upriver (south of) of Lewiston. Boating conditions upriver of Lewiston can be treacherous; it is recommended that boaters without capable equipment and extensive experience avoid these waters. Fortunately, there are numerous skilled and experienced fishing charters available to guide anglers in the area upriver of Lewiston.

The most common method used by trout, salmon and walleye anglers is drifting with a three-way bottom bouncing rig. For this rig tie the main line to a three-way swivel. From the swivel, run a 5-7 foot monofilament or fluorocarbon leader to the bait or lure. From the third eyelet on the swivel, run an 8-10 inch monofilament drop-line to a pencil sinker. Make sure that your drop-line is of lighter weight than your main line, so snags will only cost you a sinker instead of the entire rig. Recommended line and sinker weights vary depending on what species you are targeting (Table 2). The three-way rig can be used to present a variety of natural baits including shiners, crayfish, leeches, salmon eggs and salmon skein, as well as several types of artificial baits such as Kwikfish, flatfish, yellow sallys or worm harnesses (with night crawlers).

When fishing a three-way rig, drift control is critical. Keep the bow of boat pointed toward the current for safety and bait presentation reasons. The current is often a bit slower on the bottom than at the surface. Therefore, a trolling motor is key (bow mounted ideal) to keep boat moving slightly slower than the surface current, allowing bait to precede sinker and boat downriver. Try to keep mainline as vertical as possible as you drift. Keep sinker in contact with bottom by bouncing as you move along, lifting to release snags.

Table 2. Fishing rod, line and bottom bouncing rig specifications for targeting different species
Species Fishing Rod Mainline (lbs) Leader (lbs) Drop-line (lbs) Pencil Sinker (oz) Bait/Lures
Chinook Salmon 7' medium heavy 14 - 20 14 - 17 8 - 10 1.5 - 2.5 egg sacs, skein, flatfish
Steelhead, Lake Trout, Brown Trout 7.5' medium light 8 - 10 8 - 10 6 - 8 1 - 2 egg sacs, skein, flatfish, live minnows