When it comes to fishing in Western New York, we’re spoiled. With two Great Lakes (Erie and Ontario), their corresponding tributaries, and the mighty Niagara River, we are blessed with some outstanding natural resources. Sometimes we forget just how good we have it. That is until people from outside the area sample the waters.
Outdoor media from around the continent arrive every spring to take advantage of the world class bass and walleye fishing on Lake Erie. The Niagara River spring trout fishery is outstanding, too, along with an underrated bass fishery. And some of the best spring salmon and trout fishing can be found in Lake Ontario from the Niagara Bar to Olcott.
The media are here to feel the scream of the reel as a spring salmon grabs hold, the leap of a steelhead trying to break free or to catch a personal-best smallmouth bass, something that has happened time and again.
They started arriving May 1, even though the official dates were May 4-11. Some media mavens are addicted to fishing in the area, no matter the obstacles tossed their way. At the top of the list was Mother Nature throwing a curveball with some unseasonably cool weather. Ice chunks were still bobbing along the Niagara River corridor as water temperatures struggled to catch up in Lake Erie. Lake Ontario was suffering through round two of high-water issues and launch ramps are starting to feel the effects. Let’s not forget wind and rain added to the challenges.
Despite the hurdles, the fishing is still pretty good when you look at the big picture. We need to keep things in perspective.
"The fishery in Western New York is a hidden gem in the United States,” says Mark Davis, host of Big Water Adventure, one of the top saltwater fishing television shows in the country. “I travel from Alaska to Australia annually chasing saltwater fish, but every year since 1998 I've been in Lewiston the first of May. Between Erie, Ontario, and the Niagara River, you have access to world class fisheries with multiple target species to choose from. Between the smallmouth, trout, salmon, walleye, perch and other species, you can literally go after whatever you want to catch that day. Throw in the friendly locals and some of the best food anywhere, and it's a destination that keeps me coming back every year."
Some media try not to come every year. It’s been two years since Gary Garth, contributing outdoor columnist with USA Today and a regular columnist with Kentucky Monthly, has visited. This is what he had to say:
“The waters of Western New York are delightful. In my time on the Niagara River, the fishing has been varied – smallmouth bass, steelhead, salmon and more; the action generally fast and furious. The area is also soaked in history, and the local hospitality knows no bounds. The guides and captains with whom I have worked are knowledgeable, top-flight professionals. It’s a fishing destination. Go and plan on returning.”
Mark Romanack of Michigan, who hosts the popular Fishing 411 Television Show with his son, Jake, on the World Fishing Network and The Sportsman’s Channel, is impressed with the WNY fishery, too.
“Being from Michigan, I was a little slow to discover the world class trout and salmon fishery Lake Ontario offers. Frankly, I was spoiled by having great fishing opportunities on both Lakes Michigan and Huron near my home. Unfortunately, the glory days of both Lakes Michigan and Huron may have come and gone and there is little fisheries managers can do to turn things around.
“It only took a couple trips to discover that Lake Ontario is the crown jewel of Great Lakes trout and salmon fishing. Being uniquely located at the bottom of the Great Lakes chain, nutrient rich waters from all the Great Lakes feed Lake Ontario. These nutrient rich waters support not only a viable forage base of alewife, smelt, emerald shiners and gizzard shad, but also a thriving trout and salmon population. Western Lake Ontario features not only world class fishing opportunities, but a year around fishery thanks to the Niagara River. In addition to attracting countless trout and salmon, the Niagara River also hosts outstanding fishing opportunities for smallmouth bass and walleye.
“The quality and consistency of the sport fishing found in Western Lake Ontario has encouraged me to make multiple trips per year to target my favorite species. Furthermore, the future of the Lake Ontario sport fishery looks bright thanks to progressive stocking and fisheries management efforts conducted in New York waters.
“Lake Erie’s Eastern Basin is well known as a walleye destination. Most of the media attention is focused on the Dunkirk area. Further east the Buffalo area is a sleeper, providing not only world class walleye fishing, but arguably the best smallmouth bass fishing on Erie.”
Outdoor Writer Matt Straw of Michigan regularly can be found in publications like In Fisherman and Great Lakes Angler, among other. He really enjoys his visits.
“Year in and year out, spring offers some of the best multi-species fishing in the Lower 48 in and around the Niagara River,” insists Straw. “So many species, so little time.”
“This year, however, spring fishing is unusually difficult for some species during a time of year that is typically paradise on the river, the bar, and the shorelines of Lake Ontario. Yet, for other species, fishing is even better than usual — which is saying a lot.”
“Lake trout have been scattered by record-setting high wind events and waters colder than most years, but some big loners are beginning to nose into shore as the water warms. Look for them in depths of 30 to 50 feet outside the river right now, but soon big ‘grays’ will be present in the usually magnificent numbers in even shallower water.
“Smallmouth fishing tends to be world-class this time of year, but bass remain grouped and barely active in depths of about 30 feet in the river and around the mouth. That will soon change, but eastern Lake Erie is warming faster, and bass are moving shallow and getting more aggressive. At some point soon, it will be possible to cash in on the greatest smallmouth party in the nation as those river fish turn on later than usual.
“The species to focus on right now are steelhead and chinook. Spawn, plugs, and yarn balls are highly effective for steel in all the usual haunts of the Niagara. And king salmon fishing is on fire around the Niagara Bar, Wilson and Olcott. Lake trout and smallmouth bass will soon regroup, so — this year — you late sleepers out there will have a field day.”
Keep an eye out on some of the national coverage that is realized from this gathering. Great stuff.