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Niagara River brown trout provide trophy winter fishing

  • Every spring anglers travel to the Niagara River to target brown trout, like this 8-pound trophy being netted by Capt. Frank Campbell of Niagara Region Charter Service typical of the fish to be found.
    Every spring anglers travel to the Niagara River to target brown trout, like this 8-pound trophy being netted by Capt. Frank Campbell of Niagara Region Charter Service typical of the fish to be found.
Published March 01. 2014 09:00AM

LEWISTOWN, N.Y. - For those trout anglers whose springtime obsession is catching river-run brown trout, there is the Niagara River and everywhere else.

For those who have yet to experience the joy of battling springtime browns that average 8-10 pounds in the lower Niagara, it is difficult to describe the action without it sounding like just another fish tale. Suffice to say, first trips are not last trips, and if ever that old advertising slogan "try it, you'll like it" described a fishing destination, that place would be the Niagara.

For nearly 20 years, Capt. Frank Campbell has operated Niagara Region Charter Service, fishing the waters of western New York, including Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Depending on the time of year, he targets every fish species the Niagara River has to offer, including all the trout and salmon species, as well as walleye, perch, smallmouth bass and musky.

Campbell's charters depart from the Water Street Dock in the quaint village of Lewistown, which is located north of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Many anglers find it most convenient to stay at the Riverside Motel, located across the street from the dock.

While each species can stand on its own merits, there is something special about making an annual spring trip from early March through the end of May to the Niagara for brown trout. For veteran anglers, including one group from Schuylkill and Northumberland counties, these trips are a rite of passage as much as signaling the beginning of another fishing year.

In a recent national poll of trout and salmon anglers, brown trout were voted the most popular of all the trout species targeted by spin and fly fishermen. On the Niagara River, however, most anglers chose baitcasting and level-wind reels to handle a heavy browns whose ability to challenge tackle is increase two- and three-fold by the strong, swift current.

To this day, many anglers refer to these beautiful, multi-colored speckled fish as "German browns" because the fish are natives to the cold, clear mountain waters found throughout Europe and even western. Brown trout were introduced to New York streams in the early 1880s, and after more than 130 years have become permanently established not only in all of the Great Lakes and their tributaries, but in waters from Maine to California.

Just as every smallmouth bass puts up a battle of a fish more than thrice its size, many consider brown trout the most sporting fish of the trout family because of its strength and ability to fight. Browns, however, can be challenging to entice into biting, and it is the combination of these qualities that make them so challenging on light tackle.

"What makes fishing for brown trout so enjoyable in the spring is that as the water temperature rise, they become more active and are aggressive feeders," Campbell said. "Browns can be found throughout the lower Niagara, from Devil's Hole at the power plant to the mouth of Lake Ontario off the point at Old Fort Niagara.

"I think to truly appreciate fighting a brown trout, they have to be caught on a rod and reel, rather than cranking them up on a trolling rod. That's why I have each of my clients fish with their own rod and use light tackle."

Campbell supplies all bait and tackle on the charters aboard his 21-foot Lund deep-v fishing boat. He rigs his rods with a drop rig that allows anglers to fish minnows just off the bottom, and his baitcasting reels are spooled with 6-pound test mainline.

Compared to some trout species, the habits of brown trout are relatively unaffected by bright sunlight - and a warm sun is welcome during the early spring on the Niagara River, which seemingly clings to winter as long as possible. One thing that does trigger increased activity by browns on the Niagara is melting snow flowing into the river and slush ice that is carried over Niagara Falls.

While it is difficult to think of any spring day as an "average" day of fishing for browns on the Niagara, it is typical to boat a dozen or more during an outing. As for size, well, one just never knows how big that aggressive, hungry brown trout at the end of the line is until it is brought to the net.

For more information on fishing the Niagara River with Capt. Frank Campbell, call 716-284-8546 or visit; for lodging information, contact the Riverside Motel at 716-754-4101 or visit

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