Of all the types of fishing out there, fly fishing is probably one of the most underrated. This sport offers a lot of enjoyment for anglers, along with plenty of great creek and river destinations around the world. Of course, even in bigger locations like the Niagara River, you’ll be sure to find a great fly fishing adventure.
Don’t waste a fortune on hiring a guide or paying someone else to plan your perfect fly fishing excursion. With this handy guide to fly fishing the Niagara River, you’ll be able to create your own DIY trip on a budget and make sure that it’s everything that you want.
Fly fishing for big steelhead in Niagara River in New York
The Niagara River is 36 miles in length, connecting Lake Ontario to Lake Erie, forming the international border between New York and Ontario, Canada. The river is massive, with a flow of around 200,000 cubic feet of water per second, and is home to the infamous Niagara Falls.
For the sake of this guide, we’ll be discussing fly fishing the Niagara River in New York, also known as the Lower Niagara, which runs 14 miles from the Falls to Lake Ontario. This river is open year-round and features various species throughout the year. Fly fishing enthusiasts come for the brown trout, salmon, and steelhead that can be found here.
It’s important to remember that the border literally runs down the center of the river in the lower portion. You’ll need to remember which side you’re on and follow appropriate regulations. The river is well-signed, though, so it shouldn’t be hard for you to stay on the U.S. side, which this guide is discussing.
Niagara River Map and Fishing Access Sites
Chinook and Coho salmon come to the river in September, giving anglers options for salmon in addition to the steelhead and trout found in the river. It’s important to note that two large hydropower facilities release water on a different schedule, which impacts river flow and water levels. The section near Lewiston is most affected by this.
It’s important to have the right type of boat and equipment when fishing the Niagara River to navigate safely. Fortunately, bank access is also available up and down the river, and there are several popular fishing points along the river, as well. Depending on what you want to catch, you’ll want to head to different sections, which we’ll discuss next.
Best Places to Fish the Niagara River
The Niagara River has a lot of different options for fly fishing and accessing the river. Whirlpool Park, located in the city of Niagara Falls, is the furthest upstream bank access that you will find. You will also find access via Devil’s Hole State Park, and both are a steep descent to the river.
There is over a mile of public access at the Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park, where people love to head for steelhead in the winter months. The New York Power Authority has a really popular fishing platform, but it’s closed during the winter. There’s also shoreline access in Lewiston.
Here, guests can visit Lewiston Landing Front Park. In Youngstown, you’ll find shoreline access at Water Street Village Park and Constitution Park. Perhaps the best resource is the Department of Environmental Conservation’s River Fishing Access Map, which highlights all shore fishing, boat drifts, and boat launching locations.
If you’re not fishing on the shoreline, you’ll need a boat. Because of the inflow of water and uncertain levels, the most common option is to boat below Lewiston. Anyone wanting to go upriver from here will either need to be an expert or hire an experienced charter, as the waters get really rough and unpredictable.
Best Time to Fish the Niagara River
When to fish the Niagara River depends on what you want to catch. Overall, the best season is from late summer through early spring. In the fall, you’ll have the most variety, but there’s something for just about every season.
Coho and Chinook salmon can be found during the season, which runs from September to November. Steelhead are in the river from November until late May, and trout can be found all winter long, although lake trout fishing might be restricted in the fall.
If you do fish during the summer, which isn’t the best time, you’ll find a lot of smallmouth bass, walleye, and muskellunge. There may also be regulations about when you can fish and what you can catch at various parks and access points throughout the region, so be sure to read up on the rules before you go.
You can find good fishing into late May, but it’s best to check out the fishing here between November and April, except for January and early February where a few cold days may keep the fish away.
Best Flies for Niagara River
Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Niagara River:
- Glo Bug (#8 - 16)
- Sucker Spawn (#8 - 12)
- Nuclear Roe (#10 - 16)
- Black Stonefly (#12 -18)
- Brown Stonefly (#12 -14)
- Hare's Ear (#10 - 12)
- Woolly Bugger (#6 - 10)
- Muddler Minnow (#6 - 10)
- Pink Panther (#6 - 10)
- White Bunny Spey (#6 - 10)
- Pot Bellied Pig
- M.C. Hammer (#4)
- Spawntruder (#4)
If you like to swing flies, RiverBum offers a great selection of classic steelhead flies that will catch fish anywhere. Set includes 30 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and durable fly box.
If you prefer to dead drift flies, BASSDASH offers a great selection of some of the most effective egg flies and attractor patterns. Set includes 57 flies (see list below) and high-grade double-sided fly box.
A single-hand 10-foot, 6- or 7-wt fly rod with a weight-forward floating line is perfect for fishing nymphs and small streamers on Niagara River.
Similar weight switch rods 10 and 11.5 feet in length are also popular. If you like to swing flies, a 12-foot-6, 6- or 7-weight rod is all you need for trout and steelhead.
If you are fishing for salmon, you'll need to size up your gear to an 8- or 9-wt to handle the larger fish.
A 9- to 14-foot leader, tapered down to 12- or 10-pound-test is pretty standard.
A standard leader configuration for use with a floating or intermediate line is:
- 2 feet, 25-lb monofilament (mono)
- 2 feet, 20-lb mono
- 2 feet, 15-lb mono
- 2 feet, 12-lb fluorocarbon (fluoro)
- 2 feet, 10-lb fluoro
- 2 feet, 8-lb fluoro
A standard heavy sink-tip leader is:
- 2- to 5-feet straight 15-pound Maxima
- 2-feet straight 12-pound Maxima
Heading out to do some steelhead or salmon fishing and need an affordable fly rod, reel and line to get started?
Look no further than the Orvis Encounter Fly Rod Outfit. An 8 Wt. setup that is perfect as a first big-game outfit or backup travel rod.
Niagara River Fishing Report
Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide a Niagara River fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:
The state of New York requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.
You can purchase a New York State fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Trip Planning Tips
If you’re not local, you’ll be happy to know that almost all of the towns with access points also have some kind of accommodation and plenty of options for dining and even grabbing extra fly fishing gear. If you’re flying in, you’ll want to come through Buffalo-Niagara International Airport. It’ll be worth your time to rent a car, too.
If you’re not familiar with the area, always err on the side of caution when it comes to international border concerns. Boating is less particular than other activities, but there are still rules to follow and you could get in trouble for going too far across. Follow the signs or posted rules, and if you’re not sure, ask.
Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in New York
Feature image CC by Daniel Mayer