Fishing can often be a humbling experience. We were recently on a shoot in Niagara Falls for browns and steelhead in late Autumn and had allowed ourselves a day and a half for shooting in the Gorge section below the Falls where we would we doing most of our fishing. The fishing had been good in the days prior to our arrival and water levels had remained normal despite the heavy rainfall on Lake Erie. A few days before one of our friends had landed a mind-blowing eighty-six browns in a single day!
We arrived at the first parking lot of the glen section and began the long and arduous walk down towards the Whirlpool. The stairs at the top were covered in ice and as the first one to hit them my feet slid out from under me and, much to the derision of my companions, skidded on my ass halfway down the stairwell. Fortunately, only my pride was hurt and no equipment suffered any damage. On the path section we came across a field mouse and Glen decided he needed a pet and spent a few minutes capturing and playing with the tiny furry mammal in his hands, talking to it and making funny faces as if it could understand. I think he was already missing his kids.
When we arrived at the Whirlpool there were already a few guys fishing the corner pool and one of them was tied into what looked to be a large fish, as he seemed to be having a hard time bringing it ashore. A few minutes later we were helping him land a twelve pound brown trout hen, beautifully coloured with golden and reddish orange hues, like the fall foliage on the ridges above. As we lifted her out of the water tiny golden eggs spurted from her belly and slowly sank and drifted into the current. This fish was ready to spawn and we gently released her back into the turquoise water.
After exchanging information with our new friends we quickly ascended the wall of the gorge and headed along the rocky trail towards the narrows section of the Glen, below the maelstrom of water that is the whirlpool. This section is largely unfished yet there are some excellent holding pools where steelhead and salmon will stack up like cordwood as the water levels begin to rise or fall. On one particular day over a decade ago, my last visit to the river, we had caught sixteen fish in a row off one of the rocks, in a pool we came to know as the Golden hole.
It was the first time for both Nick and Glen and it felt incumbent upon me to ensure that they both had a chance to experience the great thrill of fishing this powerful river and its mighty fish. They were both awed and inspired by the Jurassic landscape as we descended towards the water and marvelled at its greatness when it first came within view. The sheer cliffs of stratified rock stood hundreds of feet above the water, and large chunks of stone lay at its base along the shoreline of the river. Everything was so big and prehistoric looking, even though it was only twelve thousand years old, young by rivers standards.
It took us a little over a half hour to reach the first pool and Nick set up the cameras on one of the rocks while Glen and myself set up the rods. We decided to both opt for a different presentation and it was agreed one of us would bottom bounce spawn sacs while the other would float fish. In this way we would cover most of the water, from the bottom to the top of the water column. One method or another, perhaps even both, would soon provide results upon which one of us could switch over to whatever method proved most effective.
We fished the first three pools without any result until Glen finally nailed an acrobatic steelhead and fought it for a good ten minutes before bringing to hand. It was a great fish and had jumped several times for the camera. Finally, the ice had been broken and our optimism was renewed. Certain there were more fish in the pool we concentrated on it for another hour without getting so much as a sniff from another fish. It began to rain and Nick stored the camera away in the case before we headed back over the slick rocks towards the next hole downstream.
The Honey Hole was so named because of its inherent sweetness in that it always held fish, no matter what the conditions. It was one of the largest pools with an eddy that fished best on an upstream drift. Within a few minutes we both had hook-ups almost simultaneously and lost both fish a few seconds into the fight. The brown that had come up and smacked my lure near the shoreline took me straight down into the jagged rocks and broke the six pound test line like it was sewing thread. Glen’s fish took to the air, a beautiful chrome steelhead, and fresh run from the lake, full of energy as it somersaulted repeatedly until it managed to throw the hook.
By late afternoon we had hooked into half a dozen fish between us without managing to land anything other than Glen’s first steelhead. We were both mildly frustrated and disappointed with our results because we knew the fish were there but just couldn’t manage to get a hook into them. Nor was time on our side as it soon became apparent that we would have to walk out of the gorge before nightfall as we hadn’t foreseen a night fish and had no lights. As the sun set behind the cliffs, the rocks of the walls and the beautiful fall foliage, for just a moment, were bathed in a gold aura that gradually faded into a deep brown.
At the whirlpool we ran into another guy that had taken over the spot occupied by our new friend with the brown earlier that morning. The usual pleasantries were exchanged, we told him about our miserable results, to which he replied matter-of-factly that he had landed over twenty fish in the last two hours without so much moving an inch, and that he was, in his own words, just a nobody. Little did he know as I plodded away up the trail towards the parking lot that in my mind, compared to us he was like the next coming of the saviour, truly a god among such mere mortals as ourselves.