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The diver ducks of the Mighty Niagara offer some of the best duck hunting in the northeast!

By Captain Sparky McGranahan

When you think of Niagara Falls, you think of honeymoons, the majestic falls themselves and tourists. But, what could be an even bigger attraction is the fantastic diver duck hunting. The second half of the New York State waterfowl season is just incredible with the  thousands of birds that come to the falls each winter.
[Go to Photos at bottom of this page]

The Lower Niagara River and the mouth of Lake Ontario are bodies of water rich with game fish like Steelhead, Lake Trout, Brown Trout and Walleye, which are here for the abundant baitfish population, just like the diver ducks. The most often seen ducks are Scoters, Mergansers, Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, and lots and lots of Old Squaws. 

The Niagara River itself is the border between the US and Canada. There are two boat launches on the New York side of the River. This is important because most of the duck hunting is done from boats. So much so that local guides offer what are called " Cast and Blast Trips", which combines a morning duck hunts with an afternoon of fishing. The lower Niagara River, not only has outstanding duck hunting, but also offers some of the best winter fishing in the northeast. The first Launch is located in the town of Lewiston, New York. Which is about ten miles from the city of Niagara Falls and about eight miles down the river from the falls. This is actually the spot were the falls first began millions of years ago. The town of Lewiston along with the Niagara River Anglers Association maintains the boat launch year round and recently built a modern fish cleaning station. The other launch is down river six miles. It is located inside the Fort Niagara State Park. This ramp is the closest one to the mouth of Lake Ontario and the Niagara Bar. The State ramps are good ramps, but are not maintained in the winter and could be unusable because of ice in the colder weather.

Hunting Methods

The most efficient way to hunt these divers is two parts. The first part is simple. Most of the duck hunters run a gang line off the stern of the boat with a dozen magnum decoys. The most popular type of decoy is that of the old squaw, both male and female with a few scoter decoys mixed in at the far end of the gang line. One trick some of the hunters do to make their decoys more realistic is to insert a short length of a wooden dowel rod, painted black, into the tail section of the male old squaw decoys to give it that long tail itís famous for. 

The second part to a successful duck hunt is location, location, and location. I believe the single most important part of location is water clarity. On the Niagara River a strong southwest wind can often muddy up the river for a day or two. So, when that happens you have to go out into Lake Ontario, winds permitting. To find the mud line, thatís where the dirty river water and the cleaner lake water meet. The mud line is easy to find itís a very dramatic change in the color of the water. One side will be a brown, chocolate milk color and the other side will be a deep bluish, green color. This is where you are going to find the most ducks because the ducks need the clear water to be able to feed on the baitfish. If they canít see in the water, they have a much harder time feeding. On the days that the Niagara River is clear, you can leave the dock in Lewiston and get out into the middle of the river and float down the river with your decoy line. The ducks will fly up and down the river most of the day, offering excellent pass shooting over the decoys.

 Basic Necessities For Hunting Diver Ducks

Camouflage is not the same as if you were hunting from shore. First off youíre in a boat and you are sitting out in the open water and in plain sight. The best way I feel you can conceal yourself from the ducks, is to try to blend in with what you have. What I recommend is to wear dark clothing and wear a camo facemask to help hide your face while watching incoming ducks. Another thing is try to avoid shiny objects or cover up shiny surfaces on your boat. Two of the bigger things are the windshield and the outboard motor. You donít have to put a camo net over the whole boat, but put some over the windshield and the outboard motor. You will definitely attract more ducks even some of the high-flying ducks like the goldeneye and mallards. For guns, I recommend a 12 gauge in a three or three and a half inch. These are not the biggest birds but they are a tough bird, with a very heavy coat of feathers to protect them from the icy waters. For shot size I like twoís even though you will be pass shooting over decoys, I feel fours are a little light to get the job done. You donít want to cripple these birds. A crippled diver duck is not the easiest bird to recover, they can often still dive and come up out of gun range or in shallower water they will dive and hold on to the bottom and try to wait you out. These birds are also deceivingly fast. Iíve had them flying right along side my boat when I was doing fifty miles an hour and they were just cruising along. So Iím sure that when in danger they move even quicker.

Where and When

The season is a short one just fourteen days. Itís normally open two days after Christmas and goes into the new year. For more information: Contact Western New Yorkís Premier Guide Service, Sparkys Charters, at 716-837-3146 or on the web at www.sparkyscharters.com Email: Sparky

Once you have experienced the outstanding duck hunting the Niagara has to offer you wonít want to wait until next year.

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Jon, Craig and Anthony
from Pittsburgh on a cast and blast hunt

Collin McGranahan
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Duck Hunter in Upper Niagara River setting decoys.
Boat in background is U.S. Coast Guard Patrol
Woods in background is Navy Island, Canada

Hunters pulling their decoys.
[Upper Niagara River]

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