Fishing the Niagara River with John Long Sr.         An Outdoors Niagara Exclusive! 

This page dedicated to John Long Sr., 1933~2007
Lifelong Outdoorsman and Conservationist 
and New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame inductee

Fishing the Niagara River Successfully
Fishing the Niagara River with John Long Sr.
Printed with permission from my long time friend John Long Sr.

By Mark Daul

Mr. Long just reached his 74th. Birthday [July 2007] and is still a strong advocate of the outdoors having fished and hunted all his life and all the while giving back to fishing and hunting that most people could never accomplish in two lifetimes. The following story was written by Mr. Long on or about 1992 and it appeared in the Sander’s Fishing Guide. [Below is a description of Sander’s well-read guide and how to obtain a copy.]  In the story Mr. Long relates to his experiences spending his early days of fishing the Niagara River for blue pike and yellow pike and in the story he explains how  to and where  to of fishing the river by telling you how to and where to fish the famous drifts. Both shore fishing and boat fishing are covered in the article. 

John Long was elected to New York State Outdoorsmen Hall of Fame in the Spring of 2007!

1933 - 2007

Fishing the Niagara River with John Long Sr.
Written by John Long Sr.  - 1933-2007


Part 1 of 2 parts         Go To Part Two

For a recent photo of John Long go to bottom of this page

One of the most often repeated arguments that my father made as he waged his relentless battle to keep me in high school and college was that an education was “something no one can ever take away from you.” I was all for quitting school and living a life hunting and fishing on or near the lower Niagara River. Dad won and I earned my degree at Niagara University.

Like most college kids in those days I had to work to pay for my tuition. There were no educational loans. They, like the ball point pen, fiberglass and aluminum boats, and television had not been invented yet. So, we worked all summer to be able to pay our tuition in the fall. 

My spring, summer, and fall job was fishing the lower Niagara River. My pay was the sale of the fish, blue and yellow pike. This was a thriving business on the river in those days. Commercial netting enterprises lined the riverbank at Youngstown and commercial fish traps dotted both sides of the river at the point where the gorge ends and the more navigable section of the river begins just above what is now Artpark. 

The vast majority of the fish taken commercially were taken by the nets and the traps. The next substantial sources of commercial fish were those taken by spear fishermen in the gorge. This activity was legal above the old Lewiston suspension bridge and catches were astronomical. Stone piers called docks extending several feet out from shore were constructed in placed where the current ran close to shore and the water was 2 or 3 feet deep.

A stone wall a foot or so high was placed on the bottom of the river about 4 feet out from the dock and was flared away from shore to guide fish toward the waiting fishermen.

A kerosene or gasoline lantern was placed at the front of the dock and dimmed so as to cast just enough light to see the fish and not frighten them. 

Although fish could be taken during daylight hours, night fishing was most productive. The view from the old bridge during the hours of darkness revealed the glow of dozens of lanterns reflecting off the swift waters. Other lights and fires further up the bank marked the location of fishermen waiting their turn at the dock. There were far more fishermen than places to fish. Some camped in the gorge, using the same dock all summer, taking turns carrying the catches out for sale to hotels as far away as Buffalo. They brought back their supplies on the return trip.

In terms of numbers of fish harvested commercially, the boat fishermen were the least important. Since the rod and reel was the tool of the trade and outboard motors of more than 10 horsepower were almost nonexistent, these fishermen could cover only a fraction of the water that we can today. Rods were steel, level-wind casting reels were the only ones available, and braided line was the order of the day. It was well into the 1950’s before the 25 horse-power motor, the fiberglass rod, the spinning reel and the monofilament line were generally available. Equipment and tackle were primitive by today’s standards.

In spite of all this, catches could be awesome. Blue Pike thrived in those days and, although common in the river, concentrated in huge numbers on what we still call “The Bar”. This area is simply a large sandbar created from the sediment deposited by the river at its end in Lake Ontario. Depths over the bar range from 12 to 18 feet. Catches of a hundred Blue Pike a day were not uncommon.

Yellow pike, (called pike-perch in those days and walleyes today) were most common in the river. The same drifts that produced well in those days produce other species, especially trout, today. Catches of thirty to forty walleyes were a regular event and, in fact, a fisherman needed to do nearly that well to avoid the necessity of getting a job on shore. The going price wholesale was twenty-five cents a pound live weight and the average size yellow was about 3 pounds. Allowing for rain, unfavorable winds, muddy water, and the unreliable nature of those primitive motors, it was important to get a good catch when conditions were right. At best, it was a marginal business and the hours were long when fishing was at its best.

Shortly after World War II the traps disappeared from the gorge. A few remained on the Canadian side into the very early 1950 netters were next and, as we all know, the fish were all but gone by the end of the decade, along with the spear fishermen and the commercial boat fishermen. I caught my last blue, a monster of some eight pounds, during the summer of 1961.

Speculation regarding the disappearance of the blue and yellow pike runs rampant. At that time Lake Erie was reported to be near death and the fish disappeared from those waters at nearly the same time. After all, the theory went, Lake Erie is the source of the Niagara River. The same disease that killed the lake killed the river.

Some felt that the pike never did spawn in the lower river, but that the species received its stock from Lake Erie fish coming over Niagara Falls or through the Welland Canal.

Others figured that the appearance of two new predator species after World War II fed on the young pike. After all, smelt began their run up the river at the same time walleye were hatching, and silver bass choked the river at the time the walleye fry were growing to minnow size. Both appeared shortly after the war.

Many fishermen blamed the commercial fishing interests. In any event, the fish were gone!  

Since the early 1980s, the walleye has begun to reappear in small numbers in the river. No one seems to know where they reappeared from, and speculation again runs rampant. Some feel that they are again the product of the Lake Erie fishery, which has rebounded dramatically. One or two fish have carried tags from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. These fish were marked on the north side of Lake Ontario at the Bay of Quinte.

As those few walleyes began to appear, the Niagara River Anglers Association took interest. Believing that there could once again be an exciting walleye fishery in those waters, they formed a committee to explore the possibility of restocking the river with large numbers of walleye fingerlings.

A walleye rearing facility was constructed on the property of one of the members* in 1985, and the first stocking of the river was done in late June of 1986. Since then ever increasing numbers of small walleyes have been caught by anglers and one lucky sportsman caught and released over twenty undersized fish on a Saturday morning in 1988.

*Ed. Note: Mr. Long, is the property owner who graciously donated total use of this property [61 acres] Later after Mr. Longs death the property was purchased by the Niagara River Anglers Association with the intention of continuing Longs aspiration.

Many knowledgeable people are predicting a blossoming walleye fishery in the river beginning in the early 1990’s. **

Methods of catching these fish will be nearly identical to those of the good old days. Modern Equipment should make fishing much easier.

Faster and safer boats will allow the sportsman to cover much more water and change drifts in a matter of a few minutes. Modern rods and spinning reels eliminate backlashes and allow the use of a wider variety of lures, although our guess is that the old stuff will still work well. Monofilament has less water resistance than braided line and allows the use of much lighter sinkers. Fish-finders and other modern gadgetry will also give an edge to today

From the fish preserve the resource, and we still have to contend with unfavorable winds and muddy water. The end of commercial fishing and the continuation of the stocking program should all help to give the fish an edge. 

Go To Part Two  [fast loading]  Bass & Walleye Hotspots

We are on the brink of something wonderful! 

Bass and Walleye Hotspot Drifts Explained!..... in  Part Two!

ODN Note: The walleye fishery had certainly blossomed in 1990's and is now in full bloom in the 2000's in the Lower Niagara River due to fish stocking efforts, cleaner waters, fish migration, [Bay of Quinte, Lake Erie] increased size limits and lower creel limits have all combined to make this an envious fishery. Add this all up and throw in good Catch & Release efforts by the fishermen! ......Always practice Catch & Release!


For Information on fishing the Upper Niagara River GO HERE There is a lot of information about how to fish it, hot spots, and a hand drawn map

Left to Right:
Mark Daul, John Long, and Bill Henwood

John Long
Summer 2006

Sander’s Fishing Guide Western New York Edition written and researched by John M. Sander, is like an area fishing bible and covers all the major fishing areas of 10 counties in Western New York. Sander's Fishing guide has reached it's third edition. [$19.95] The guides include plenty of maps and descriptions. You can order from your favorite bookstore or contact the publisher: Sander’s Fishing Guide and Services Directory Inc. P.O. Box 0624, Amherst NY 14226
Go To Sander's Fishing Guides Website

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