More often than not, the lack of accessibility to fishable water is cited as the key reason why many people don’t fish on a regular basis. But, there exists a body of water in Niagara County which can readily smash this misconception. It traverses the state for some 350 miles, is connected to over 170 more miles of networked waterways, supports hundreds of miles of adjoining trails, and is within 25 miles of 80% of the upstate population. This accessible, marvelous water way is none other than the Erie Canal.
The most famed portion of the 524-mile New York State Canal System, the
Erie Canal was opened in 1825, serving as that century’s key trade
route, opening up the West to settlement and economic development. It
sped the flow of resources from the Midwest to the Atlantic and within
15 years of its opening made New York City the busiest port in the
America’s, moving more goods than Boston, Baltimore and New Orleans
With its economic boom long since gone thanks to rail, roads, and air,
the Canal has made a comfortable transformation to a recreational
destination. Boats of all types and sizes frequent the Canal. Hikers,
bikers, and joggers have made the adjoining trail system a very popular
stop. The Canal is now managed by the New York State Thruway Authority,
an organization that has made a concerted effort to market the waterway
both nationally and internationally.
The Canal is a fishable waterway
Despite the Canal’s recreational uses being well-known and
well-advertised, one of the greatest recreational pursuits of all-time –
fishing – has become an afterthought. The Canal is perceived by many
anglers to be a dirty waterway, devoid of all but rough fish (carp,
catfish, etc). It is also looked upon as a poor angling choice due to
its artificial and uniform channel-like appearance.
Adding further to this stigma is the fact the Canal is drawn down or
dewatered every winter, which tends to make one believe a healthy
fishery could not be sustained.
Such stereotypes are unfounded. Although at first glance the Canal does
not appear overly fishy it does provide excellent fishing opportunities.
Smallmouth bass, rock bass, and sheepshead are quite common and you
will also find a smattering of largemouth bass, walleye, northern pike
and crappies throughout the Canal. Furthermore, being that it is
book-ended by the Upper Niagara River and the Hudson River, and fed by
numerous waters in between, the Canal has become home to any number of
fish that frequent those waters. So, the occasional hook-up with other
fish is not uncommon: I once landed an impressive brown trout under the
Gasport lift bridge and I have heard reports of anglers catching
muskellunge near Lockport’s locks.
More than just quantity, the Canal produces quality as well. For proof,
one need look no further than the leader board in 2014’s Erie Canal
Derby, a family-style event that has been going on since 1991. Last
year, anglers in Niagara and Orleans county caught a 4.9-pound bass, a
6.3-pound pike, and a 5.9-pound walleye; all decent fish no matter the
The Canal is accessible
Not only do you have an endless supply of fish to chase, you have a
nearly endless means by which to do so. Totally unlike the situation
with most bodies of water within the area, the land-based angler has an
incredible amount of access. The entire canal system supports over 240
miles of trails, over 15 of which can be found on this end of the
Entrance to the towpath can be had at any number of bridges that cross
the Canal. A good portion of the shoreline along the trail is tree-free,
affording the chance to cast to your heart’s content.
Such ease of accessibility coupled with a rather refined environment –
the towpath is well-maintained soft gravel – is what makes a trip to the
Canal a great place to get youngsters into fishing. The Erie Canal is
what turned me into a fisherman: The first fish I ever caught was a pike
in the Canal, back when I was maybe 6 years old.
The Canal’s ability to get kids hooked on fishing is proved by the
aforementioned Erie Canal Fishing Derby. Founder Steve Harrington has
often noted that the Canal’s accessibility allows the derby to bring
families together by getting them to do something exciting outside, a
rarity in this day and age of electronics, computers and TV. The Derby
has led to a tradition of fishing in many a family.
Much more than just a shoreline fishing destination, boating can be
another peaceful means by which to fish the Erie Canal. It is navigable
May through October and you could launch at Widewaters in Lockport or
the boat launch on Telegraph Road in Gasport. As a matter of fact, you
could throw in a kayak almost anywhere.
A pass is required by all motorized boats and there are certain periods
when the Canal is open for business, giving larger boats the chance to
navigate through the locks and under lift bridges. So, before hitting
the water make sure to do some research via the Thruway Authority’s
How to catch fish in the Canal
Getting to the fish is easy. Catching the fish is just as easy. Much of
the canal’s fairly uniform shoreline is supported by large rocks that
were deposited by those who toiled in the Canal’s construction and
reconstruction. These rocks provide shelter to very healthy populations
of crayfish and minnows that ultimately end up supporting the upper end
of the aquatic food chain.
Therefore, to catch the Canal’s gamefish bounty it is imperative that
you offer an attractive presentation in such rocks, and there are no
better lures for this task than soft plastic twisters and crankbaits.
The old stand-by of many a tacklebox - 3" white twister tails (the
venerable Mr. Twister) - work wonders in the Canal. They can be slowly
bounced among the rocks, getting into the cracks and crevices where the
crayfish hide and the bass and walleyes hunt. Hang-ups will be numerous,
as is always the case when jigging in rocks, but break–offs will be
minimal. By walking upstream or downstream it is very easy to dislodge
Small, crayfish-hued crankbaits work equally as well in the Canal. The
best method is to walk the shoreline and cast downstream - parallel to
the shore - retrieving the crankbait rapidly and bouncing it off the
rocks in five feet of water or less. This method will produce
smallmouths all day and walleyes at dawn and dusk.
Other methods work quite well, too. In the dog days of Summer, small
surface lures cast in the shallows prove quite effective on bass in the
evening. Live worms and minnows jigged amongst the rocks or besides
structural walls under bridges, docks and guard gates has produced many a
decent fish. Spinners cast along the shoreline are great at catching
bass, but, beware, they are more apt to snag as compared to the more
The Erie Canal is truly an asset to New York State. It helped make the
USA what we are, one of the most powerful economies in the world. It now
offers unlimited recreational potential and historical value. And, it
is home to a very diverse, very exciting, and very accessible fishery,
one that will please everyone, from the youngest of anglers to the
most-experienced of outdoorsmen.
So, get out and enjoy what the Erie Canal has to offer. You won’t be disappointed.
+Bob Confer lives
in rural Gasport where the Canal has afforded him many hours of
pleasant fishing through the years. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the 07 May 2015 East Niagara Post