Hamilton, Ontario native Paul Castellano has been fishing for as long as he can remember.
“The oldest pictures I can find are from when I was three or four years old,” he says.
His dad was a “steelhead guy,” who was also a competitive bass and walleye reeler. He’d chase bass and walleye all summer and steelhead all winter.
And like father, like son.
Paul Castellano started working at a lodge as a dock hand at 17, and by age 24 was running his own guide service, Cast Adventures.
The multi-species reeler is now 40, lives in Niagara Falls (Ontario), and has kids of his own. And he still chases the same fish that he grew up fishing for with his father. As a guide, though, he will target steelhead whenever they’re running.
“That’s one of the unique things about the fisheries Niagara Region; the fishing is year-round. There is no closed season for any species except lake trout, so I can go after brown trout or steelhead whenever they’re in the river,” Castellano explains.
The Niagara River — especially the lower section below the eponymous falls — is not particularly conducive to shore fishing for steelhead because of the terrain.
“You can’t really walk the shore, so you’re options are limited when it comes to getting to the fish,” says Castellano.
The Lower Niagara is where Castellano goes for steelhead “99 percent of the time,” as they make their seasonal runs out of western Lake Ontario. So, when he takes guests steelheading, he uses his big AlumaCraft boat.
“The boat,” he says, “gives me more mobility on the river, to reach more places where fish may be, and offers my guests the best experience.”
Castellano’s guests can’t argue with his choices. The veteran guide tells about the time he was drifting among ice floes and one of his clients hauled in a “big winter buck, 19 pounds, long and lean.”
“It was big. If we hadn’t boated it, I probably would have called it twenty-five pounds, easy.”
According to Castellano, winter steelheading is one of the most unique experiences the Lower Niagara offers.
“It never locks up. The river is open all winter. And when you’re steelheading in a blizzard, surrounded by ice floes, the boat filling up with snow, and you’re boating fish — it can be a pretty cool experience,” he says.
Castellano loves the challenge of the fishery’s unpredictable environment.
“You’ve got to keep an open mind. It changes all the time. The river changes. Location changes.”
Everything from current to water quality can change from day to day and season to season. For example, if the wind is blowing off Lake Erie, from where the Niagara River rises, it stains the water, making it dark or even muddy in places.
On the other hand, if Lake Erie freezes in winter, “We have clear water all winter,” Castellano says.
A willingness to adjust to the conditions and to the fish is crucial.
“But don’t overthink it,” Castellano says. “Try different things, like a place outside the traditional drifts. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But when it does, and you’re the only one doing it, it’s pretty cool.”