Winter steelheading the lower Niagara -- the steelhead contestby jmaloni
by Mark Daul
Outdoors in Niagara
Throughout the winter around here you regularly see boats on trailers coming on and off the Moses Parkway, and up and down Center Street in Lewiston, heading for the Lewiston Landing. These are the guys I call the winter diehards that readily accept the challenge of catching steelhead trout from the Lower Niagara. People come from all over, and from as far away as Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and New Jersey. And I have seen license plates from as far away as North Carolina, all coming here to tap into our fishing resources. Niagara River charter captains do a brisk business and they bring a lot of out of town dollars to the area all winter.
In February of every year, for about the last 27 years, the Lower Niagara River has had a steelhead contest and it has grown every year. The first year it saw 19 contestants and was won by Joe Augustniak from Niagara Falls. Since then, the fishing has gotten better, the fishermen have greatly improved, equipment and boats got better, techniques have improved, and now there are more fishermen using the resource. The Niagara River Anglers Association were the creators of this event back then, and this February, on the 18th they will be sponsoring the 2012 edition under the guidance of Captain Steve Drabczyk at Creek Road Bait & Tackle. If you would like to join in the fun, you can sign up at Creek Road Bait & Tackle, Lewiston, 807-6248, or contact the Niagara River Anglers Association. Visit www.niagarariveranglers.com for more information. There is an awards banquet for all participants following the contest held at the 3F Club, Lewiston.
I've always said, this isn't a contest for sissies. The weather has a reputation of hardly ever cooperating on tournament day, and only diehards can make the grade. If you want to see what I mean, be at the Lewiston Landing before daybreak on the 18th and see the number of boats going out. Some boats will have no less than two fishermen and others will have three or four, all bundled in survival suits and wrapped from head to toe to catch a fish. There are prizes but never enough to make anyone rich, just enough to have bragging rights and get your name in the newspaper once.
This contest through the years has seen weather anywhere from 10 degrees above zero to weather that would hit in the 60s with 60 mph winds. The fishermen like Lake Erie to be frozen solid at tournament time, which gives the Lower Niagara better visibility water, the fish are happier, and bait and lure presentations can be seen better. At this point it doesn't look like Erie will be frozen solid so fishermen will have to cope with murky waters, especially if there are southerly winds. Most fishing at this time of year is done from boats and the most accepted baits are salmon eggs, egg sacks, Kwikfish (a banana style lure) and large minnows.
Most of us take winter fishing on the river for granted and never get out making use of this resource right at our own back door. Just like living in this area and hardly ever visiting the Falls when people from all over the world come here to see it and enjoy it; same thing for fishing. It's right here, no need to travel anywhere. The best is right in your own back yard.
If you don't have a boat, charter one, lordy, lordy, there are probably 75-100 experienced, licensed, insured charter captains available just for the Lower Niagara alone, and all are pretty darned reasonable. You can get some people together to share expenses, go out and learn from the captains how these fish are caught, when and where. But, I'll repeat, sissies need to find something else to do.
If you would like to learn more about this winter steelhead fishing, check out www.OutdoorsNiagara.com and click the link on the first page. That will take you to the steelheaders' page, pictures, and a live video link to the Lake Erie ice boom, and updated fishing reports. The Wilson Harbor ice fishing contest scheduled for Feb. 11 was cancelled due to lack of safe ice. Send your comments and suggestions to [email protected] or to [email protected].