Mike Rzucidlo of Niagara Falls is an angling gladiator. His battlefield is the Niagara River, especially in the gorge below Niagara Falls. His weapons are fishing rods, some modified by him to the specifications he has encountered through four decades of combat. His projectiles are lures that are also made by him – spinners and jigs (although he does purchase some hard baits to expand his arsenal of ammunition).
“I started fishing in Lake George as a 3-year-old while on vacation,” Rzucidlo said. “That’s when I was hooked. I lived near Gill Creek in Niagara Falls, where I fished as a kid growing up in Niagara Falls. It was when I was 12 that I discovered the Niagara River and the gorge. That’s where I have been fishing the most ever since.” He’s 50-something now, a water-weary warrior of anything that swims. He is the all-species guru.
Rzucidlo doesn’t know how long he'll be able to last. His passion has battered his body. Hiking into the gorge over 100 days a year to fish takes a toll on one’s arms and legs. His arthritic knees now feel every step as he descends some 350 steps at the state parks of Whirlpool and at Devil’s Hole. And that’s just to get down to the path along the water. Depending on where he wants to fish, he still has to negotiate rocks and a rugged shoreline to get to his favorite fishing holes. He must have some mountain climbers in his ancestral lineage. And don’t forget that he needs to come back up those same set of stairs. He also has a “fishing elbow” from setting hook, among other things. A rugged outdoors can do that.
In addition to the difficult terrain he must also battle the elements. His fishing exploits take him through all four seasons, encountering different species at different times of the year. Salmon, trout, bass and walleye are all available in the fall. Winter is mostly trout species – browns, rainbows and lake trout. In the spring, trout are still around but spring runs of silver bass peak his interest along with anything else that swims. During the summer months, it’s mostly warm water species, but this past July he caught some nice steelhead in the gorge as a surprise.
Because he delves into the depths of nature year-round, she often blesses him with magical moments, like the time he witnessed a big school of sturgeon spawning along the shoreline. He was able to film an impressive video of this interaction and he takes pride in witnessing this unique process. He’s actually been taking videos since the mid-1980s and has a YouTube video of scuba fishing with a rod in his hand that has 1.4 million views. Yes, he scuba dives, too. It’s a great way to retrieve some of the lures he’s lost.
“This is an outstanding sport fishery,” says Rzucidlo, the master spin caster. “The lower river is hard to beat as far as variety of species. In July I was down there catching gar pike, using a rope fly that doesn’t even have a hook on it. The frayed rope gets caught in the teeth of the fish. I catch salmon, trout, bass, walleye, silver bass, smallmouth – pretty much whatever swims in these waters. You never know what you are going to catch.”
Rzucidlo attacks his bigger fish (like salmon) with a fly rod blank (his favorite is a 2-piece, 9-foot base rod, 9 or 10 weight) to which he attaches spinning rod guides. He then adds a spinning reel and uses this to target kings in the fall. His line is 12-pound XT, more of an abrasion-resistant line to deal with the rocks. His best lures are No. 3 or 4 spinners or 3/8- or ½-ounce jigs, a good match with his 12-pound test line. “You need to get your lures down near the bottom to be effective,” says the Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters No. 276 worker. “I’ll usually attach a split shot to help get the lure down and also to help keep moss of the lure. Cast upriver and let the lure sink as the current brings the lure back into play and perform a slow retrieve back.”
“Fishing is a lot like golf,” he said. “You have different rods for different applications or fish species. I will use a lighter rod and lighter line for bass or walleye. I will use lighter yet for silver bass when they are running in the lower river. It’s also dependent upon where I am fishing. I haven’t even mentioned along Artpark, a favorite area for several different species of fish. I’ve been doing well on walleye and bass there recently and it won’t be long before trout start to move up into the river system. Access was impacted a bit by the high water levels, but you can still find some good spots that produce fish consistently.” The key is learning to read the water, from current rips to back eddies. Find out where the fish are hanging out
His favorite hard bait is a perch-colored shad rap that is perfect for walleye. For his homemade jigs, if he is targeting fish with “teeth,” he’ll add a short 4 to 5 inch piece of thin wire to keep them from biting through his fishing line. “I can’t tell you how many lures I have lost to sharp teeth.”
“The Artpark trails in Lewiston and the New York Power Authority Fishing Platform are both good places to get started,” says Rzucidlo. “Start out simple and work your way into some of the more difficult spots. Cast some hardware or use an egg sac and a split shot.” If you ever make it down into the Niagara River gorge to fight some fish, there’s a good chance you will see him casting a lure or walking the shoreline. He will be by himself, running reconnaissance for the legions of soldiers looking to battle fish and the mighty Niagara’s current.
Back in 1983, he was featured on the cover of both Great Lakes Fisherman and Salmon-Trout-Steelheader magazines, an early tribute of what was to come as he shared information and insight into a unique and spectacular fishery. He is still sharing his knowledge today. Rzucidlo is the general, waging a personal battle on anything with fins … that’s legal of course.