Boating Below Niagara Falls - A Different Adventure
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2019
By: Bill Hilts, Jr.
As the aqua blue waters from the upper Great Lakes plummets over the iconic Niagara Falls, it forms the last stretch of the Niagara River that continues to push its way into Lake Ontario. This is not the preferred method of travel for boaters seeking to sample this 10 mile stretch of water, dropping 170-plus feet into the bubbly depths. Starting from the north is much more practical from the fifth and final Great Lake before it flows out the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Atlantic Ocean.
If you are travelling from the upper Great Lakes of Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Superior, you must utilize the Welland Canal to bypass the scenic Cataracts of Niagara. A total of eight locks allow you to make the descent past the Niagara Escarpment. You will exit into Lake Ontario at Port Weller/St. Catharines. Head east if you are looking for a reason to visit the lower Niagara River.
The mouth of the Niagara River is a wide expanse that local anglers refer to as the Niagara Bar. It’s not your normal sand bar or reef that you may find in other locations. This bar extends more than two miles into the Lake and several miles on either side of the river. There are varying depths of 18 to 60 feet until you reach the drop off – a ledge that extends from 60 feet down to more than 220 feet in less than 100 yards on the surface.
The Niagara Bar area is one of the top fishing locations in the Great Lakes. Spring salmon and trout fishing is second to none. The Spring Lake Ontario Counties (LOC) Trout and Salmon Derby in May is a lakewide competition for the biggest fish. More than half of all the winning fish come from the Niagara Bar (including Wilson and Olcott to the east), producing the $15,000 Grand Prize winner nearly every year.
The lower river is also a year-round fishery for a wide range of fish species. Walleye, bass, muskellunge, salmon, trout, perch, and more can be found consistently in these waters through the various seasons they’re available. Check out the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) website for additional details and licensing information. A weekly fishing report is available online or call the Niagara County Fishing hotline at 877-FALLS US.
Finding the mouth of the Niagara River is not difficult in a water vessel because Fort Niagara stands as an historic sentinel on the New York side, the village of Niagara-on-the-Lake in the Province of Ontario on the Canadian side. Yes, the river is the international boundary between these two countries, the biggest flow of water coming into Lake Ontario.
Most boating will take place as far up as Lewiston on the New York side, Queenston on the Canadian shoreline. Anything further up requires a special set of skills. For example, Devil’s Hole in the Niagara Gorge is a favorite destination for trout and salmon fishermen in the fall and winter. There are plenty of local guides to take you up there, but going up on your own without any guidance is not advisable.
There are also special boating adventures that will take you up as far as the famous Whirlpool area in the gorge, but with specially-made boats that are equipped to handle the rough waters. Out of Youngstown at Fort Niagara, the Niagara Jet Adventure boats are semi-covered boats that will give you the ride of your life through what is billed as Class IV rapids. Out of Lewiston, NY, and Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada, the Whirlpool Jet Boats run a similar operation through the same tumultuous waters. These are rides that should be on everyone’s bucket list.
While in Youngstown, NY, Youngstown Harbor Marina (716-745-7121) is a perfect stopping point to gas up and walk into town for some grub. You can also tie up at Waterfront Park (complete with launch ramp). Next to that is the Youngstown Yacht Club, so this waterfront will have you covered no matter what your vessel is. If you are hauling your own boat, nearby Fort Niagara State Park has two newly-renovated double launches with transient tie-ups that provides excellent access. There are even modern restroom facilities and a fish cleaning station.
We mentioned food in Youngstown and the Mug and Musket, as well as the Youngstown Village Diner, are two that come highly recommended. For breakfast and lunch, it doesn’t come any better food-wise than the Diner. There are also quaint shops in the village, an abbreviated version of the Village of Lewiston a few miles up the river.
Historic Lewiston has a little bit of everything for everyone. You can tie up (or launch) at Lewiston Landing, across from Niagara Crossing Hotel and Spa. Also nearby is the Riverside Motel. Water Street Landing Restaurant offers diners the option of eating outside for a bar menu or inside for fine dining – both overlooking the scenic river. The Village of Lewiston Marina is located there (716-754-8271).
A short walk up the hill will take you to the heart of the restaurants and village shops. The quality of the restaurants is as good as any you will find on the Great Lakes, starting with The Brickyard if you are looking for a barbecue. Wash that down with some of the barley and hops from the BBC next door, the Brickyard Brewing Company. Other noteworthy eating establishments include Carmelo’s, Apple Granny’s, Tin Pan Alley, Casa Antica, Center Cut, the Stone House, and more. Or, simply tie up to the dock and walk up to The Silo Restaurant and have a world-famous Haystack sandwich at a very casual Lewiston Landing.
Information on the area can be found through Niagara Falls USA or through the Lower Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce, which is also a Welcome Center at 895 Center Street in the village (716-754-9500).
On the Canadian side of the river, Niagara-on-the-Lake is the best spot to access accommodations and restaurants on that side of the border. The Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce is a good starting point to collect information. One of the top attractions is the Fort George National Historic Site of Canada. To access this site, you can pull into the Niagara-on-the-Lake Sailing Club (905-468-3966). Reservations are not required, but are recommended. Approximately 1.5 kilometers upstream is Smuggler’s Cove Boat Club (905-468-3331), easily accessible via bike once you dock.
Accommodations range from 5-star hotels to quaint bed and breakfast operations. There is also an excellent selection of restaurants to choose from. This area, home to the first capital of Upper Canada in 1792, is also where the Shaw Festival Theatre is located.
Remember that this is another country and certain customs protocols must be adhered to if you plan on stopping over in Canada. Bring along a passport when traveling into international waters. The previous requirement to report to Canada Border Services when entering into Canadian waters for simply boating or fishing has been lifted, but you must report directly if you land and make physical contact.
If you’ve never been to this section of the Niagara River you need to check it out… and bring your fishing rod!
This article first appeared in the Spring Issue (Mar/Apr) 2019 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.