Whirlpool Notes: [Archive] - Fly Fishing Forum

: Whirlpool Notes:

10-17-2005, 05:24 PM
Not too many people here fish the Whirlpool but for those that do, here’s a run-down of my troubles to date.

For those that haven’t seen the place, it’s the elbow of a right hand bend on the Niagara River that produces a huge whirlpool that can change level 20’ or more in less than an hour, the current can suddenly switch direction and the whole thing begins to rotate the other way. To give you an idea of how fast the current can change, the level was down and when I was getting the rod out of the tube I was eyeing a rock as a casting platform that was about a foot out of the water. By the time I had the rod taped up and the reel on, it was completely under water. Note the ice ledges in the picture that form at the high water mark. About 75% of the low water exposed shoreline was underwater when the picture was taken. The green (deeper) water near the waterline gives a good idea of the rapid drop-off.

The ‘pool is in a bowl shaped depression in the Niagara Gorge with sides that slope about an average of 30º. There are some ledges that slope more gently and other areas where it’s steeper but 30º is about average. In the attached picture, the slope is apparent, so are the wet rocks from the water level changes. Water level changes expose up to 40’ or 50’ of shoreline and usually go up and down twice a day. The changes are caused by hydroelectric plants upstream.

I was using a St Croix 14’ – 9/10 with a Rio 300 DC sinktip shooting head when this picture was taken during the 97’ – 98’ season. Over the years I’ve also used a 13’ – 8 wt., 13’6” – 9 wt., 14’6” – 10 wt., 15’ - 10/11 wt., and a 15’6” – 11 wt. Lines have varied from full floaters to full sink shooting heads to 475 grain sinktips. None of these setups were entirely satisfactory and some were disasters.

Sunday I was using the 14’6” – 10 wt. along with first a Skagit head, then a Guideline S4/5. The fish are usually within 50’ of shore so casting a country mile is of no help. Given the sloping shoreline and the proximity of big, sharp rocks, big D-Loops aren’t helpful either.

Started off with a 45’ Skagit line that obeyed the 3 to 3.5 line to rod length ratio but that sucked seriously as I was spending too much time casting when choked up. I switched to a 35’ line with a heavier belly and that worked much better. Never blew an anchor by staying a bit sidearm.

Casting was one thing, but fishing was another. The Skagit head just couldn’t get the fly down nor keep it there when the current was going full blast. It did get down when things slackened but effective fishing for about 10 minutes an hour isn’t high on my list. Basically, it’s too difficult to get the fly in the zone and hold it there long enough to get a decent shot at fish. Heavier, longer tips tend to “U” belly sag, then hang up and cut on rocks – ugly. Been there – done that. Ideal the line droops off the belly and the fly is at the lowest point. But even with my heaviest big ugly, it wasn’t in the zone. The currents just yank on the floater belly and pull the fly up, even when mending like mad. However, this was fishing at the water's highest level -- the Skagit head might work better when the water is much lower.

I was slow to try the Guideline S4/5 because of the casting room problem. I needed more water behind me than when Skagit casting and ideally a rock for a casting platform. When I did get to a rock, the Underhand casting was no problem and the full sink head showed its stuff by getting down and staying down – so well in fact that sometimes the lift was an adventure.

Just before quitting time, I banged out some Skagit poke-doubles using the S4/5 head and surprisingly it worked fine. Skagit casting Scando full sinkers doesn’t sound like a great plan but it did work – so that will be the ticket next time the water's up. The 14’6” rod was too long for Skagit casting though, as on the low sweep into the D-Loop, there’s a good chance of whacking the rod tip onto a rock behind the caster. Short, heavy rods are best both for casting in the confined spaces and fish fighting in the very heavy currents. A 13’ - 9/10 wt. would be ideal (had one once and I sold it – duh!). Next time I’ll try the 14’ – 9/10 Dredger but I’ll probably end up with the Blue 12’4” – 8/9 even though it’s a bit light -- don’t have the right heads for the Blue yet. The Airflo Type 9 Beach line will also get a workout next time – I have a feeling that it will be the definitive Whirlpool fly line.

10-17-2005, 07:54 PM
:smile: Don't have any answers as I am new to spey; but I can't help but post about the mighty whirlpool. Amazing place on the river of rivers. You can just sit there and watch the water swirl and change direction; its enough to keep you occupied for 5 or 10 minutes at least. When you are at the whirlpool you are deep in the Niagara gorge; walled in on all sides. Its so so large though you'd never think of getting claustaphobic feelings. Its very beautifull there and I can't help but think its loaded with fish too.

10-20-2005, 11:43 AM
Interesting observations Peter,

Especially the part about using shorter heavier rods. I find myself going in the same direction as you for the lower river. I have also started using very heavy flies to fish down there. I started with flies that had tungsten cones and lead rapped on the shank but found that the brass and copper tubes in the 2-inch range sink much faster. However, they are a bitch to cast.


Loaded with fish or not they don’t come easy brother!


P.S. Nice picture! Even with it being such a tough place to fish like WayneV said it is an amazing place to be in.

10-20-2005, 01:29 PM
Charlie, do you have any pictures of your copper tube flies? Also, are you getting your copper tube from an auto parts store?

About rods, I'm kicking myself that I sold that 13 footer a while back. I'm now looking at the short, heavy Scando rods that a few manufacturers offer. Loomis has a 12'6" Stinger in the 9/10 and Loop has a few 13'2" 9/10 models. If we're slinging copper tubes, or in my case 2" Waddington shanks, then a 9/10 is pretty well the minimum for decent casting.

I'm also leaning toward rods with small bottom handles as it's so necessary to keep the casting motions compact. I tend to snag my jacket pockets with long bottom handles when doing so. Not a problem elsewhere as I tend to incorporate a drift into my backcast (non-Skagit), but no drifting at the 'pool -- no room.

I'll probably get back there before November is through and try the 9/10 Dredger with the Airflo Type 9 Beach line (530 grains over 35'). The nice thing about this line, given it's short head, is that I can strip the fly back in, like striper fishing. I've been kicking around the idea about approaching the Whirlpool like a saltwater situation and sling clousers out about 80' or so, wait, then strip back. Might get a musky when doing that. :)

Maybe we can get a few bods out in November to the 'pool and swap notes . . .

10-20-2005, 07:58 PM
Nice pix. That is one beautiful stretch! how deep is the run? looks like steelhead vahalla.


10-20-2005, 09:00 PM

if you look at the slope of the bank behind me, that just keeps on going down at about that slope, all the way to the bottom at the middle. I'm standing on a bit of a ledge but it just drops off beyond that. It's an easy 10' deep just beyond my rod tip and it keeps on going down from there.

A formidable place to fish . . . .

10-20-2005, 09:59 PM
The lower Niagara has to be the harshest fly fishing place on earth once your fly hits the water. I'm sure there are colder and more windy spots but who can mend in water that looks like it's boiling. My only opinion to fishing (and not casting) would be to either A) use Rick Kustich's method of longer leaders with weighted flies to get down with minimal drag or B) use the Steelhead aggressiveness to your advantage and once you think you're in the zone make that fly "flee". Of the few takes I've had near Devil's Hole is when stripping my fly back to me. Perhaps you could make that work to your advantage, I doubt the river is going to give you any kind of constant pull to light up your fly.

BTW - It's just a tough environment not for the faint of heart. Please, be careful wading.


10-21-2005, 06:36 AM
Chris, I've done both -- weighted flies on long leaders almost dead drifted and stripped back streamers. Both methods have hooked fish for me. Standard swung flies have done nothing, however. I've used the long leader approach at low water when that small bay appears and the seam between it and the main current holds fish. At high water, probably only stripping willl work as the room to move all that line and leader is limited. Spoon chuckers catch fish there so . . .

10-21-2005, 07:44 AM

I use the tubes from HMH. They have more weight than the ones you get from the auto parts store. Send me your snail mail address and I will ship you some along with some flies. Another option for tubes is the hobby shops. They use that stuff for models and those little planes and cars with the gas powered motors. They usually have a great selection.

I like the idea about getting out in November. It was one of my goals to talk to you at the Salmon river clave but I got side tract so many times it didn’t happen. We will have to work on the November thing. Likewise, if you are ever headed for the Catt let me know.


10-21-2005, 08:55 AM
Thanks Charlie, PM headed your way . . .

10-21-2005, 10:00 AM
My newbie like approach at the Whirlpool would be to flog it good, strip in the fly and not worry so much about getting the fly way down or swinging :hihi:

Based on this logic - Baitfish (and steelhead) are going to be jostled about by the boiling waters and surging currents at the whirlpool. The steelhead are going to be swimming all around exploring the pool, chasing each other and bait fish all over the place and because of all t heswirling, boiling water and no permanently directed current; I can't picture brooding almost stationary steelhead like we see in streams and small rivers. Fish that need to boinked on the nose or slapped in the cheek by a moving fly to excite them to strike - is not it - at the whirlpool. (I'm trying to think like a fish here :D )

I can imagine how much weight one would need to get the fly to get down and stay close to the bottom - I don't think you could cast that weight. So long long flogging casts that cover as much water as possible with a strip back action might be the best one could do.

10-21-2005, 10:39 AM
I agree that covering water, looking for aggressive fish will work -- it's worked in the past for me. The current is just as likely to push your line down as hold it up. Last trip, I lost flies on the bottom 40' or 50' out on the swing using a Guideline S4-5 fullsink shooting head so getting down is possible. I'm looking at using the Airflo Type 9 Beach line for the shoot 'n' strip.

BTW Wayne, I see that the 8 wt. TFO is missing from Grindstone -- did you succumb?

10-21-2005, 04:22 PM
>>> BTW Wayne, I see that the 8 wt. TFO is missing from Grindstone -- did you >>> succumb?

yes i now own it and the reel too - just waiting (and waiting) on some line