“I prayed every second I was in the barrel except for a few seconds after the fall when I went unconscious.”
Annie Edson Taylor
The first person to go over Niagara Falls
Dateline: Niagara Falls
This is a tale about daredevils.
It’s about this lady:
It’s about this dude:
But mainly, it’s about this fish:
Daredevils all, let the tail, er, tale begin…
“Anybody can jump a motorcycle. The trouble begins when you try to land it.”
I grew up between the 13th and 14th largest lakes on the planet, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, from where I stood their waters stretched to the curve of the earth, fresh water oceans surrounded by Earth.
And in between is the river where my grandfather took me fishing, in between is the river I wrote my first fishing story about, in between is the river that came out of the tap at my parents' home.
The Niagara River.
It's 36 miles long from Erie to Ontario, broken into two parts, the “Upper” and the “Lower” river, the natural boundary between America and Canada.
The Upper, as a kid I used to ride my bicycle to the “foot of Ontario Street,” with the only “outdoor guy” from the neighborhood, my buddy “Spaces,” named for the incredible space between his two front teeth, “outdoor guy” because his father was the only pop on the block with a subscription to Outdoor Life.
I heard about “Perch” for years before it dawned on me it wasn’t the thing his pet parakeet sat on.
I never drive by the “Upper” without smiling about the kid adventures I had with “Spaces.”
The “Lower” is my favorite river on the planet.
…it bursts into color that makes the Northeast famous.
By the way that’s my brother-in-law, Jim Niland, he was the one who arranged for my first fishing story trip on the river a decade ago, the dude hits the “Lower” almost every week it seems. (I know that fish he’s holding isn’t a bass but the bosses said it was okay to use the photo anyway.)
I have since been back on the “Lower” a bunch of times, in early spring I’ve caught…
…at least three icebergs as they float by, but also have managed…
…to catch a fish, as has my fishing buddy, Mac…
(See the above boss explanation for showing a non bass on Bassmaster.com.)
Now, we add this “Upper” and “Lower” stuff to the Niagara River because on the Earth here the “Upper” is actually upper, above, higher up than the lower, which in fact as I write that I think, “duh,” but according to Google “Upper” is 300-some feet above the “Lower” in elevation and in between the two stands these bad boys:
As you look at this photo of Niagara Falls, aka The American Falls, is on the left, on the right is Horseshoe Falls, aka The Canadian Falls, and that my friends is where the daredevils come in.
“I went through life big-bang-banda-boom-bada-boom.”
Meet Annie Edson Taylor…
…at 60-something she was the first person to ever go over “The Falls,” Horseshoe, and as the Buffalo Courier on Oct. 25 of 1901 so eloquently put it, “…and lived.”
Story goes Annie needed the money to “avoid the poorhouse” and came up with the stunt as a way to raise some cash. The barrel was made of wood held together by the iron things that hold all barrels together and she then stuffed a mattress inside it along with a 200-pound ANVIL at the bottom so it would float upright.
Turns out, she never really got rich from it, her manager supposedly took off with most of the money.
This guy, Charles Stephens, a daredevil from England wasn’t quite as lucky as Annie. Charles happens to be the first person to go over “The Falls,” also Horseshoe, and die.
He too had an anvil for a ballast but he was tied to it for some reason, the barrel hit the rocks, the anvil went through the bottom of the barrel, along with Charles, all they ever found was his arm still in a strap inside what was left of the barrel.
Now in one of those space-time-continuum things the smart people on The Big Bang Theory talk about, take a look again at that Buffalo Courier headline…
…you see what I circled there, HUMAN BEING, that my friends is the Buffalo Courier bending time and space so as to set me up 116 years later for this story. They didn’t have to say Annie was in fact a HUMAN BEING, but they did because they knew that somewhere in the distant future some dude would write a story about a NON HUMAN BEING going over The Falls.
And that would be me.
And this would be that exact NON HUMAN BEING…
…one tough smallmouth bass.
“I learned one thing from jumping motorcycles that was of great value on the golf course, the putting green especially: Whatever you do, don't come up short.”
Back last October the St. Catharines Bassmasters, an Ontario B.A.S.S. Nation club, had a tournament on Lake Erie. Here’s the tourney director Jason Clay, “It was kind of a bad weather day, most guys came off the lake and went into the Upper Niagara to fish.”
The club doesn’t have a live release boat. “We don’t have the money, we use the money from the tournament as payout to all the anglers, we can pay more that way,” so the bass get released right by the weigh-in site.
“At that tournament we tagged 100 of the bass caught and then let them go with tags on them, the tags had my phone number so that if you caught one you could call me and tell me where you caught it…”
Here’s how this looks:
Jason: “Once released the bass can either go downstream (1 on the photo) back to Lake Erie, or upstream to the Upper Niagara River (2 on the photo) or through the Power Canal to the Lower Niagara River (3 on the photo)."
In fact two of the tagged bass were caught both heading downstream, one actually at the mouth of the creek and Lake Erie.
In all, four of the tagged bass have been caught again and the position of where they were caught relayed to Jason.
“The whole goal of all this is to do a study to see if the fish we catch in Lake Erie and release in Chippewa Creek (in Ontario) make it back to where we caught them, if it shows the fish don’t go back to where they were caught maybe it’s time for us to buy a live release boat, but lets study it first.”
But then came a call that “floored” Jason. “I couldn’t believe it when Chris called and told me where he caught the fish, fish with the number 11 tag, couldn’t believe it…”
“db, I caught it in the Lower, caught the bass with number 11 on the tag, caught it in the Stella drift on the Lower Niagara River, that bass went over the falls, a 6 1/2-pound FISH went over the falls without a barrel.”
Thank you Buffalo Courier for that HUMAN BEING setup, props to you.
“I think I coulda landed on a dime. I really do.”
“We’ve never really counted how many fish go over the falls.” Michael Todd, Aquatic Biologist, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.
I’m told it’s a pretty good chance they’re not going to start counting any time soon either.
“It’s just a natural thing, probably occurs more than you think, my guess is that if the fish go over the American Falls, that outcome is not going to work out well for the fish, it’s pretty much all big boulders and rocks at the bottom. Horseshoe Falls, that’s another story, it isn’t as rocky at the bottom and actually has a pretty deep water pool that would be pretty survivable…for a fish you know.”
Yeah I know, Chris Cinelli, a fishing guide on the Niagara River for the past 20 years (and a friend who took me out in his boat on that first fishing trip of mine) had a client of his, Tyler Vargas, catch number 11 on April 27:
Then, in something that makes you want to go out and buy a lottery ticket, “On May 17, just a couple weeks later I’m fishing the Lower again and bang I land another bass and when I get it onboard I can’t believe it…
…it’s another of those tagged bass from the Canadian tournament and when I look at it I’m shocked to see that it is tagged number 12…I caught both 11 and 12, they must have went over together.”
The Honeymoon Capital for fish as well.
“I guess I thought I was Elvis Presley but I'll tell ya something. All Elvis did was stand on a stage and play a guitar. He never fell off on that pavement at no 80 mph.”
Jason though doesn’t believe the bass went over the falls, he thinks they took the long way, some 30-plus miles to wind up in Chris’ boat.
“I think when we released them they went up stream to this kind of triangle island and then turned left…”
Okay here’s the deal, The Chippawa Boat Ramp Park is where the tournament left from, the circle I drew is about where the bass were released, give or take, the short red line going upstream down the creek takes the bass into the Upper Niagara River, turn left and it’s a short swim over the falls, but make a left at that island…
“…and the bass can follow the Power Channel north…”
“…until it splits at the power dam…”
“…and if there is overflow that day they can just slip right over the turbines without getting caught in them…”
“…and can come out and turn right and swim up to the falls, or turn left and swim towards Lake Ontario which is down the way that Chris caught them.”
“I am a guy who is first of all a businessman. I'm not a stunt man. I'm not a daredevil. I'm - I'm an explorer.”
I’m not a fishing guide, nor a tournament director or an aquatic biologist, I am though somewhat of a daredevil.
I consider coming from the inside to the outside one of my greatest dares.
With that said, I’m giving bass number 11 and number 12 props for going over the falls.
In this crazy upside down world of ours, somewhere down deep we need to know that a fish can go over the falls without a barrel. Certainly not Earth shaking news, probably happens all the time, but when one of God’s creatures takes on the mighty Niagara Falls…and wins, there may in fact be hope for the planet after all.
Many thanks to all those who made this project work, Jason, Chris, Michael and whoever it is who runs the Google Earth satellite thing.
Final props go though to number 11 and number 12.
May all your days be filled with minnows and salmon egg sacks, and may your swim through the rest of your lives be smooth.
And should this ever happen to you again, swim upstream and may the wind and the mist of the falls once again fill your gills.
Because that my fish friends, is what life is all about.
Being a daredevil…
"I'd rather walk in front of a live cannon than do it again.”
Annie Edson Taylor