Here's a look at how you can get in on the great spring bass fishing on the Niagara River in 2010. (April 2010)
When folks speak of smallmouth bass fishing in the Niagara-Buffalo area, generally they are referring to the eastern end of Lake Erie, which indeed is one of the top brown bass spots in the country. But both the lower and upper Niagara River harbor good populations of resident smallmouth bass, and at times receive influxes of even larger fish from Lake Ontario (lower river) and Lake Erie (upper river).
Here's a look at the smallmouth situation in both areas for 2010:
LOWER NIAGARA RIVER
"The spring smallmouth bass fishing usually gets going when the water hits 40 degrees," said river guide Frank Campbell. "The timing of that temperature varies from year to year, but usually occurs around mid-April."
The 40-degree mark isn't just the level at which the metabolism of the bass perks up, though that is a factor. It also affects a primary food source.
"The warmer water pulls baitfish from the lake, including smelt, into the river," noted Campbell. "It's also the temperature where bass begin to get active."
Finding this warmer water is one of the keys to early-season success. Campbell said that though water temperatures are universal on the river (as compared with a lake), certain areas do heat up quicker. Calmer eddies where little to no current is present tend to be prime hotspots. Of course, variables come into play, such as cloud cover and wind, which influence the overall warming of the water. Most modern sonar units have a temperature gauge that makes monitoring surface temperatures a breeze.
The lower Niagara's resident smallmouth bass population consists of fish that run in the 2 1/2- to 3 1/2- pound range, with the occasional lunker in the 4-pound range.
"It seems that the bigger fish start moving quicker than the smaller ones," added Campbell. "Usually, those fish are found not too far from their wintering areas, which feature deeper, calmer water."
Campbell said finding these early-season calm water areas isn't difficult. Rocky points and shoreline projections alter the river's flow, something that's quite visible to an angler looking for such places.
"Anglers should look for the back ends of points, bigger stretches of non-moving water," he said. "There are smaller areas that have low current areas, but there's just not enough room to hold a bunch of fish. Bigger is much better."
Water clarity fluctuates in the river, and though local rain can influence fishing, the primary factor is what's happening on Lake Erie. Strong winds will stir up the lake, which of course, drains into the river.
"Wind will negatively affect the fishing if the water gets too dirty, but merely stained water can be a good thing," he noted. "Not only are the fish far less spooky, the stained water warms up quicker."
Spring fishing on the lower river isn't limited to the resident population. As the river pumps warmer water into Lake Ontario, heavy, lake-fed smallmouths move into the mouth of the river to feed on the bounty found there.
"The water in Lake Ontario is a lot cooler than the Lake Erie water that's flowing out of the Niagara," said Campbell. "Lake smallmouths will stack up at the mouth of the river. But it's a relatively small window and relies on stable weather. A strong north wind will push in cold lake water, driving those fish out of there."
Springtime location patterns will hold true until after the spawning season, at which time the fish will gradually disperse into higher current areas. The lower river area referred to here flows from Lewiston to the mouth at Fort Niagara.
Public access sites on the lower Niagara are at Lewiston and Youngstown.
Campbell specializes in fishing the Niagara River and other local waters from a small boat. To learn more, visit www.niagaracharters.com.
UPPER NIAGARA RIVER
Charter Captain Terry Jones specializes in bass fishing the waters of eastern Lake Erie, as well as the upper portion of the Niagara River.
Like the lower river, Jones said the average upper river bronzeback runs from 2 to 4 pounds. General fish location at this time of year mirrors what happens below the falls: Find the low current areas to find early-season bass.
Jones said the area around Strawberry Island, upriver of the front end of Grand Island, provides many good areas for early-season smallies. The East Branch of the upper Niagara (as it splits around Grand Island) is on the American side. Few areas of the West Branch fall under U.S. jurisdiction. Jones said many of the manmade cuts along the East River contain early spring smallies.
In addition to the excellent smallmouth bass fishing, certain niches of the upper river also hold big numbers of largemouth bass that see little fishing pressure. Whereas smallmouth bass will be in slower spots close to current areas, green bass will be tucked away in backwaters and channels far from the current, particularly in the springtime during the pre-spawn, spawn and post-spawn periods. Boat basins in particular will load up with largemouths. A lot of the fish are 1- to 2-pounders, but largemouths in the 3- to 4-pound range also show up with fair regularity. Use common sense when fishing these basins and canals, which often harbor private docks and boats.
Numerous boat launches provide access to the upper river. In Erie County, landings include one in Buffalo at the foot of Ontario Street. In Towanda, ramps are found at the foot of Sheridan Drive, off Niagara Street, in Isle View Park, and off River Road. In Niagara Falls, there's a ramp located off Buffalo Avenue.
Information on guide service on the upper Niagara River may be obtained by visiting www.1stclass-bass.com and www.braunsoutdoors.com.
On both the upper and lower portions of the Niagara River, standard statewide black bass regulations apply. As such, catch-and-release only is permitted during spring, a regulation that applies from Dec. 1 through the third Saturday in June the following year. All spring bass fishing occurs on the American side of this international border water because spring bass fishing is not permitted in Canadian waters.
Visit the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's Web site at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/fishing.html for additional information
This area has a host of ameniti
es. For exceptional travel assistance, visit www.niagara-usa.com.