Niagara County Fishing: Wilson is a Hidden Jewel

A picture of Wilson Pier, a place where Niagara County fishing is excellent

How to Find the Port of Wilson For The Best Niagara County Fishing

Twelve miles to the east of the mighty Niagara River and the famous Niagara Bar fishing hole is the hidden port of Wilson – one of the hidden gems in the Niagara County fishing crown. Sitting six miles west of Olcott in the Town of Newfane, NY, Wilson never seems to get the recognition it so justly deserves. That time is slowly starting to come around. 

Early History of Wilson, NY

The Town of Wilson, established in 1818 after the early structures were destroyed with the War of 1812, has remained in its natural, quaint style carrying much history along its tree lined streets and sidewalks. The Village of Wilson was incorporated in 1858 and things are on the upswing throughout this small community. In the middle of it all is the fantastic fishing in Wilson.

A Safe Harbor

Wilson Harbor, a Federal Harbor overseen by the Army Corp of Engineers, is very well protected from the winds and waves that Lake Ontario is known to produce.  There are several small marinas and yacht clubs within the one mile of navigable waters that extend from Twelve Mile Creek – hence the 12 miles distance from the Niagara River and Fort Niagara.

Popular Family Boating Destination

Man and girl holding a large brown trout caught on the Niagara River
Mike Johannes helps Alysia from BigBrotherBigSister hold up a 17 lb. brown trout she caught during a special outing in front of Wilson.

Wilson is in close proximity to many popular areas that are accessible by boat – such as Toronto, St. Catharines, Niagara-On-The-Lake, Rochester, Olcott, Youngstown and Lewiston – making it a great place for families to spend some vacation time aboard their vessels.

Amazing Places for Fishing in Wilson

The largest draw to Wilson and the surrounding waters is undoubtedly the fantastic fishing that is nearby.  Once again, Wilson is the closest harbor to the mighty Niagara River and the famous Niagara Bar – the outflow of where the river empties into Lake Ontario.  When fishing near the Niagara River, the Niagara Bar is the place to be – offering a huge area that provides critical structure for the fish.  In general, the water depth near the mouth of the river is approximately 60 feet deep and as you troll north it suddenly drops off to over 200 foot depths, creating a vertical wall below your boat.  

Early Spring – a Great Time for Fishing in Wilson

In the spring, beginning in mid-April, this vertical wall and associated structure combined with the warmer Lake Erie and oxygenation from Niagara Falls all becomes a super draw for the early salmon and trout fishing.  A quick look back at the spring Lake Ontario Counties Derby results ( will show that approximately 60 to 70 percent of all the winning fish come from the Wilson, Olcott and Niagara Bar area.

Smelt, Salmon and Trout – Oh My!

“In April and early May the strong current and volume of water flowing out of the Niagara River make for the largest upstream spawning run of Rainbow Smelt in Lake Ontario,” says Capt. Mike Johannes, operator of On The Rocks Charters out of the Wilson Boatyard.  “The massive schools of baitfish in turn attract the predatory salmon and trout to our area early on, making the spring fishery one of the best in the Great Lakes.”

Off-Shore Salmon Fishing in Wilson

“Once the early spring Niagara county fishing slows down, the off-shore fishing near Wilson gets hot.  With 100 – 150 foot depths less than two miles off shore, the preferred water temperature for the species of fish you are after is always nearby.

Once again the flow of the Niagara River has a huge impact on the offshore fishing as well.  Quite often the river water can easily be detected by its off-color greenish tint.”  At times this will be a distinct water temperature break causing the well known “slick” to form.  This, in turn, will draw and hold the schools of smelt and alewives.  King salmon, Coho salmon and Steelhead are known to hang out just under these schools of baitfish and they can easily be caught there using baitfish imitations like spoons or flies. 

Summer Fishing Spots

During the heat of the summer months, the offshore steelhead bite in front of Wilson and the Niagara Bar can be the best found anywhere.  “With deep water being close by and not far from shore,” says Johannes, “lake temperatures are much more stable and hold fish in a consistent area and feeding pattern.  Over the last several years the kings have remained within a couple of miles of shore making for some outstanding fishing.”  

Deep Water Fishing for Steelhead Trout

Angler on a boat in the Niagara River holding up a big steelhead trout.
Mike Marra of Lewiston shows big summer steelhead caught aboard Reel Rush Charter out of Wilson.

However, if steelhead is your fish of choice, all you have to do is head towards deeper water and watch for that river current or any kind of a temperature break.  Thermal structure is important for these fish. Normally there are many schools of baitfish that can be seen on your sonar which, in turn, holds the predatory fish nearby. 

 If you do choose to fish in deep water offshore, 10 miles will take you to a depth of approximately 350 feet, while at 15 miles near the Canadian border you will see approximately 500 feet of water.  This deep water is famous for holding monster-size steelhead, such as the New York State record, which was caught in 2004 and weighed in at 31 pounds, three ounces in nearby Olcott.

Wilson and Niagara County Fishing

Once August rolls around the kings begin to show back up in increasing numbers. Once again, the huge drop off on the Niagara Bar is a great attractor and holds the big kings along with some monster browns and lake trout. Wilson gets it share of fish, too.

Wilson Harbor, Olcott Harbor and the Niagara River

One of the reasons  Wilson and Niagara County fishing is so great,  is because of three pen-rearing projects that are situated in Wilson Harbor, Olcott Harbor and the Niagara River at Youngstown. The Wilson Harbor effort focuses on steelhead trout and the local community does a stellar job improving the survival rates of these fish and also helping to imprint them to the flow of 12 Mile Creek when they finally mature.

Community of Wilson, NY

We mentioned the community of Wilson and there is a mountain of pride that coincides with this town and village. Take the Wilson Conservation Club for instance. The recipients of the Niagara County Federation of Conservation Club’s Leroy Winn Award for top club in 2010, this is a club that leads the way when it comes to special projects. Every year they run a Kids’ Fishing Derby the third Saturday in June, set for June 18 this year. For more information contact Mike Melcher at 716-930-7500. 

Wilson, NY Fishing Opportunities

This past spring Wilson hosted its first-ever bullhead contest, with over 100 participating in the Niagara County fishing competition. In February the community put their first ice fishing derby together in Wilson Harbor and over 250 people showed up to walk on water. These are just a few highlights to show where the club leads by example – time and time again.

Wilson Boat Yard

There are other examples of community pride as the area is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Kevin Jerge, along with his father, Bob, has been running the Wilson Boat Yard for several years. In 2010, Kevin took that a step further by coordinating the First Annual Wilson Harbor Invitational Tournament May 13-14. And before spring even hit in March, the event was sold out – offering a grand prize of $20,000 for the top team. The event is the new kid on the block but it’s already a success. Segue into a more established event.

Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament

The Lake Ontario Pro-Am Salmon Team Tournament has been running since 1985, using Wilson and Olcott as the two ports for the event. Last year the tournament shelled out over $70,000 in cash and prizes as 90 some teams competed for top trout and salmon team on the lake. Wilson, because of its location on the lake, is becoming more of a destination for tournaments and derbies. The community is becoming more accepting of this as anglers invade the area from afar to enjoy the Niagara County fishing.

Fall Fishing Trips in Wilson, NY

Late August, September and early October can again be the perfect time for a family weekend or vacation getaway in Wilson.  Wilson is nestled within the best fruit orchards, grape vineyards and wineries in Western New York.  The area around the harbor lends itself to family fun and tranquility. 

There is an Olympic-size swimming pool adjacent to the Wilson Boatyard and the Wilson Boat House Restaurant. About a dozen small shops can be found on the boardwalk along the water at the Marina to be enjoyed by all.  They normally have transient slips available for out-of-town boaters as well.  Not to mention the several well established captains and charter fishing boats there.  There are several restaurants within walking distance, ranging from fine dining to ice cream stands.  

Wilson-Tuscarora State Park

On the far west end of the harbor is Wilson-Tuscarora State Park.  The handicapped-accessible park offers picnic areas, a new playground, a boat launch, a disc golf course and all of the amenities. There are even several handicapped accessible fishing piers for anglers.

A Winter Anglers’ Paradise

When we get into the fall and winter angling action, we don’t want to neglect the tributary fishing in Wilson. The east and west branches of 12 Mile Creek can both be very good spots for anglers to make a catch if there is decent water flow. Each year, the state supplies substantial stockings of rainbow/steelhead and brown trout. Capt. Dan Evans, who operates Lone Wolf Charters on the lake out of Wilson, is also a stream guide that works these local tributaries for some of the best Niagara County fishing. The fact that these tributaries receive relatively limited fishing pressure compared with 18 Mile Creek to the east is a big plus. 

On-Shore Fishing Spots

A final mention should be on the shore options for fishing in Wilson. While we mentioned some of the piers in Wilson-Tuscarora State Park and the tributaries, there are also some good pier fishing options that line the harbor or extend out into the lake. Casting hardware or fishing live bait will work well for perch, pike, bass and trout certain times of year. There is also a short pier that extends out at the foot of Route 425 that can also be a very productive spot to enjoy some Niagara County fishing in the spring and fall.

Fishing Charters in Wilson NY

For more information on charter fishing opportunities in the Wilson area, contact Capt. Mike Johannes at 716-791-3646 or visit Mike operates a 31-foot Baha Supersportfisherman boat.

To contact Dan Evans call 716-863-0018.

For other information on Niagara County fishing and the surrounding area, pick up a copy of the Niagara County Visitors’ Guide at 877- FALLS US or visit Be sure to ask for a copy of the free Greater Niagara Hotspot Fishing Map that has a listing of charters, tackle shops and license issuing agents.

Like Brad Clark (a local Town Board member and also a member of the Niagara County Fisheries Development Board) says in every email he sends out: “Wilson, a great place to live and fish.” There’s definitely some truth to that statement.

Original Article By Bill Hilts, Jr.

About the Author

Bill Hilts, Jr. is Niagara County’s Sportfishing Promotion Person and Outdoor Sports Specialist for Niagara County Tourism and Convention Corporation.  He is currently president of the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Council. 

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