Erie Ice Paving Good Steelhead Bite on Niagara

By Ted Kessler | 03/22/2015

While the cold has brought a lot of ice to Lake Erie this year its spelled great things for the Lower Niagara River here in Western NY and for the guys fishing it on the Ontario, Canada side. That ice has kept our water from getting muddy and sets us up so we don’t have to worry about muddy water through May. It’s a guarantee that we’re going to be able to fish daily now. If there was no ice on Lake Erie, we got a hard west wind and it got rough within two days we’d be surrounded by mud. That ice protects us.

Lake Erie froze completely this winter, which creates a barrier protecting the river from mud flows, but also brings challenges, namely extremely clear water. Anglers not adjusting to the clarity find tough outings whether on shore or in a boat. Right now most of the river is yielding 18 feet of visibility. Just before we had a little runoff a few days ago I was in 18 feet of water and you could count the pebbles on the bottom.

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When Lake Erie has this much ice for this long, our water on the Lower Niagara River (below the ice boom above Niagara Falls) becomes gin clear. This makes fish very spooky. It’s always clear this time of year, but clarity varies and this year we’re contending with very clear water. We’ve had a situation where we’ve had a nice, slow thaw, which is good for fishing, but keeps visibility high. Typically, when you have a strong ice season your water gets very clear, like it is now.


March is always a transition month because our steelhead spawn, but they also go on what we call a mircobite. That microbite tells us it’s time to downsize. And were doing this because of the clear water and the spawn, which makes the fish pickier on the bite. When they get finicky, you go to small, subtle baits, nothing bold.


That mircobite consists of two things: spawn sacks and live bait. We’re using tiny egg sacks and live emerald shiners. On the eggs sacks I’m curing them in Natural BorX O Fire and not fishing anything larger than 8-12 steelhead eggs, which is about the size of your ring fingernail or the size of a dime. Make sure you downsize your line, too. We’re using 6-8 pound P-Line fluorocarbon as our leader line and a main line of 10-pound Trilene Big Game.


Steelhead are dispersed throughout the system. You can catch fish on any of the drifts right now. Every drift has steelhead in it from Devil’s Hole to Lake Ontario. And, when not being bothered by wind or frontal changes we’re catching a dozen fish per boat and usually about 16 hook ups. Today it slowed due to the cold front that came in, but prior it’s been exceptional. Some days we’ll catch one-third steelhead, brown trout and lake trout. It’s been a nice mix. We aren’t just hooking steelhead.

There hasn’t been much pressure the last few weeks, but now that everybody is able to get out again after the long winter pressure is increasing. There have been a lot of shore guys the last week and that’s increasing daily. The past few months we had so much snow and ice bank access was cut off, but now that trails are accessible the shore guys are back in the game. They are fishing the same way we are.


Editor’s Note: Ted Kessler is a veteran Niagara River guide. He operates River Master Charters. For more information on his winter and spring steelhead trips please visit