Fishing the Lower Niagara River and the Niagara River Bar
Having spent three decades covering fishing in New York State, I’ve had the chance to try just about everything, yet one experience really stands out – the Lower Niagara River Fishing fishing and the Niagara River Bar. The Bar is an area where you can catch darn near anything, and my trip out there certainly proved that to be true.
What is the Niagara Bar?
Remember when you were in school and the Earth Science teacher showed the class a river model? The water washed the sand away, changing the course of the model river, moving the sand to the end of the table and depositing it in a lake where the flow slowed down enough to drop the sediment to the bottom and spread out.
The Niagara Bar was formed the same way, and this geologic phenomenon created an extended shallow flat that goes out into Lake Ontario in a fan shape with a deeper river channel in the middle. The flat area gradually drops off in depth. From the mouth of the river, there is a deeper channel that extends out into Lake Ontario about a mile or so, but the bar area extends outward well beyond the area where the channel ends.
The Bar is an extended area of shallows with a large section that is 20 feet deep or less gradually moving out to around 40 feet deep, and then the depth drops much deeper and quicker from there. Within the shallow flat there are also a number of shoal areas, shallow submerged islands on the bottom that attract and hold fish.
It is a Prime Destination for Fishermen
This area is a prime destination for fishermen within a huge Great Lake that can be counted on to hold various species of fish and also has plenty of public access. The Bar can be fished with many types of fishing boats, unlike going out deep on the main lake where larger vessels are needed. Typically anglers fish with 16-20 foot long V-hull boats suitable for a big lake. Care is needed on the Bar though, because even shallower areas of the Great Lakes can get ugly in bad weather.
A good navigational map for the Niagara River fishing is a must. Part of the Bar lies in Canadian Waters, so anglers have to be aware of where the border lies or meet the requirements for fishing on the Canadian side of the line. A navigational map also makes it easier to find offshore shoal areas.
Fishing Season on the Bar
Fishing on the Niagara Bar takes place through much of the year with the exception of the worst winter weather conditions. What varies is the type of fish that are out there in a given month.
Let’s start in the spring. As early as March and through the month of May, it attracts a number of salmon species. This is one of the best times of the year to catch coho and Chinook (king) salmon in shallow water without needing sophisticated trolling gear. Brown and lake trout are also present along the Bar at this time of the year. The springtime draw for these salmonids (lake trout, etc.) is the smelt and alewives that pile up there once they leave the lower river.
Except for lake trout, during the late spring, typically from May through June, anglers target yellow perch, a favorite panfish found in this area. The perch in the lake is big, typically around 12 inches in length or even longer. Yellow perch fishing also picks up again in the early fall.
The summer months are the best time to catch warm water species on the Bar. Salmon and their forage foods move out into the deep part of the lake, but during July and August there are good numbers of smallmouth bass and walleye hanging around the Bar area. Lake Ontario has good numbers of big smallmouths with plenty around the 3 pound size. And the occasional smallmouth bass going over 5 pounds. Going out and catching smallmouth bass – over 50 – in a day’s fishing is not unheard of.
In addition to smallmouth bass, walleye are another summertime favorite out on the Niagara Bar. Lake Ontario is not typically thought of as a prime walleye lake, but in recent years anglers have been catching some really nice walleye there, including specimens that go all the way up to 12 pounds or so! While the huge walleye are not in large numbers, there are enough 3-5 pound walleyes in Lake Ontario to make it a prime destination.
In fall angler’s attention shifts back to lake trout fishing and the best salmon. Spawning runs of adult Chinooks concentrate on the bar during late August and into September before they run up the Niagara River. Keep talking about lake trout fishing…After the salmon arrive and start moving up the river, steelhead follows in the river behind them. Steelhead fishing continues through the winter months. And the whole cycle. And then the steelhead fishing starts again.
Fishing Technique for the Bar
I learned on my fishing trip there that anglers who regularly fish the Bar and the lower Niagara have perfected the art of the drift. The prevailing winds in the area and river current will usually push a boat out on the bar, and anglers use this to boat drifts through their favorite bottom cover. A couple of popular drift-fishing rigs are used there. Three-way swivel rigs with a pencil sinker or bottom bouncer are used to drag baits and lures along the bottom behind the boat.
Walleye anglers use a rig called a drifting iron, made out of a brass rod to drag baits along near the bottom. Planer board rigs are also popular when walleyes and other fish species are feeding shallow. Bass anglers bounce jigs along the bottom, and in recent years drop-shotting has become very popular.
Niagara River Fishing: Guided Trips
The Niagara Bar is a big place and while going out there on a Do It Yourself trip can certainly be productive, there is no substitute for learning how to fish the Bar with a professional guide. Fortunately, there are a good number of guides who fish the area, many of them near Lewiston, who can take you for whatever species or time of the year you prefer. One of the best places to get a listing of area guides is the Buffalo/Niagara Tourism website at:
When dealing with any prospective guide service, ask for a couple of references and check them out before booking. The guides in the area are all skilled professionals and should have no trouble coming up with a couple of references.
Area Boat Launches
There are two good public launches where you can get out on the Bar. The first is the Lewiston Marina (Sand Docks) at the foot of Center Street (Route 104) in the Village of Lewiston. The launch has parking for 30 cars and trailers. There is also a launch at Fort Niagara State Park, off Route 18F in Youngstown that can handle 44 cars and trailers.
After you’ve spent a whole lot of years fishing, it gets harder and harder to find unique experiences. If you have never done the Niagara River fishing or the Bar, give it a try. It is a type of fishing that is specific to this area; but best of all, if you hit it right, it’s possible to get both the chance of catching a real trophy and also catching a good number of fish at the same time. So if you want a great time on the water, head for the Niagara Bar!
Original Article By Rob Streeter
About The Author
Rob Streeter enjoys fly fishing for many species, especially trout and salmon in the Lake Ontario tributaries. He is the outdoor columnist for the Albany Times Union and freelances for several publications. He is a member of the NYS Outdoor Writers’ Association and the Outdoor Writers’ Association of America. Get in touch with Rob at robstreeter.com