Fishing in Ontario: A Beginner’s Guide
Dec 6, 2021 | 10 minute read
Reading Time: 10 minutes

You’ll sometimes hear people refer to Ontario as the “Land of a Thousand Lakes.” We’d call that an understatement considering the pure angling potential this province holds. Featuring more than 250,000 lakes – four of which are Great Lakes – fishing in Ontario is amazingly diverse. Out here, even the most seasoned angler will get the chance to create new memories.

A scenic photo of the Toronto skyline at sunset.

Most of Ontario’s population is concentrated in the southern part of the province. Thanks to its milder climate and access to the Great Lakes, this part of Canada is a fantastic destination for families and pro anglers alike. On the other hand, if you’re brave enough to venture north, you’ll get to fish some of the most untouched waters anywhere around.

If you’re planning a fishing trip or you’d simply like to know more about the kind of angling the “Province of Opportunity” offers, stick with us. We’ll present a few of the most popular species you can catch, as well as where and how you can fish in Ontario.

Top Ontario Fish Species

Considering all the waterways you can find throughout the province, it’s no surprise that there’s an incredible variety of fish you can catch in Ontario. The season usually begins in spring and lasts throughout fall. This being said, it’s possible to catch something even during the depths of winter. You’ll just have to bring out the ice fishing gear. Let’s have a look at some of the species you may run into while exploring these waters.

Salmon

Ask any freshwater angler and they’ll tell you: few things can beat the excitement of Salmon fishing. These fish are equipped with thick jaws, so you’ll need razor-sharp hooks to even have a chance to bring them in. Once the hook is set, the Salmon will turn into spirited fighters, capable of making powerful, line-ripping runs. Of course, when the battle is over, the fish will make for a thoroughly delicious meal.

An angler holding a sizeable Chinook Salmon caught fishing in Ontario.

Fishing along the southern part of Ontario, you’ll get to tackle several amazing Salmon fisheries. Among the Great Lakes, Huron, Ontario, and Superior all offer outstanding Salmon fishing. As an added bonus, you can hit one of their many tributary rivers and catch your fill of Salmon there.

As far as species go, you’ll have a shot at Pink, Atlantic, Coho, and the prized Chinook Salmon. Also known as Kings (or Tyee they’re really big), Chinook Salmon are the largest and most sought-after species of Salmon. The season typically starts in spring and ends in fall when they start moving upriver to spawn, with high season taking place during summer.

Trout

Another prized fish you can find in this part of Canada is Trout. You’ll get the chance to target four different varieties of them in Ontario – Rainbow, Lake, Brook, and Brown Trout. Rainbow and Brown Trout are mostly limited to Southern Ontario and the Great Lakes. Meanwhile, Brook and Lake Trout can be caught in rivers and lakes as far north as Hudson Bay.

A closeup shot of an angler holding a big Niagara River Rainbow Trout with another angler next to him.

For those of you looking for big Trout, your best bet is to hit one of the Great Lakes. The Rainbow Trout that find their way to these waters are called Steelhead, and they can grow seriously big. Steelhead will put up a fantastic fight when you hook them, often breaking the water several times during the battle. Like other Trout, they’re also excellent table fare.

Muskellunge and Northern Pike

If you’re visiting Ontario, you might want to grab the opportunity to target the elusive Musky. After all, this fish is, with a few exceptions, only found in these parts of North America. They’re also a difficult fish to catch, often called the “Fish of a Thousand Casts.” This makes reeling in a Muskellunge a huge achievement among freshwater anglers.

An angler standing on a boat and holding a big Northern Pike with Harry Lake in the background.

Their cousin, Northern Pike, is another river monster you’ll encounter prowling along Ontario’s waters. They can also get fairly big, albeit a bit smaller than Musky, and they’ll give you a thrilling battle. Most of all, Northern Pike are not as picky in terms of habitat compared to Muskellunge, meaning you’ll have a way better chance to find them.

Walleye

We’ve introduced a few of our Ontarian favourites so far, but no such list would ever be complete without mentioning Walleye. With a delicate, buttery texture and fantastic flavour, these freshwater legends make for some of the finest eating around. The best part is that you can fish for Walleye whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned angler. They’ll put up a fun fight but won’t try to tear your line off like some other species.

An angler holding a Walleye caught fishing on Lake Erie, with blue waters behind him.

You can target these fish in all of Ontario’s lakes. This being said, you don’t really need to go any further than Lake Erie, as it’s by far the best place to fish for Walleye. On Lake Erie, the prime season to catch your limit of these fish is the summer. However, Walleye will bite throughout the year, even when the waters freeze over and you turn to ice fishing.

And More!

It goes without saying that there are many more species to catch besides the ones we’ve named so far. Different types of Bass, as well as species such as Sauger, Perch, Crappie, and Bluegill are just some of the other fish you can encounter while exploring this corner of Canada. 

A man holding a Smallmouth Bass and smiling with beautiful azure water and a forest behind him.

These waters are also home to Lake Sturgeon, a freshwater monster capable of growing to over 6 feet in length. While they’re certainly among the most exhilarating fish you could hope to find, they’re also heavily regulated. In most parts of Ontario, you can’t actively pursue Sturgeon. If you hook into one accidentally, they’ll need to be released right away.

Where to Fish in Ontario

So how do you decide where to start your angling journey? You could probably fish just about any of the couple of thousand lakes and catch something. However, the sheer logistics of planning a trip to the remote inland regions may prove too much for most anglers. Instead, let’s take a look at some of the major fisheries you can explore in Ontario.

Lake Ontario

Although Lake Ontario may be the smallest of the Great Lakes, it holds a unique advantage over the other four. Namely, the waters from the other lakes all make their way through Lake Ontario, before eventually reaching the ocean. Thanks to this, the lake boasts a vibrant ecosystem and provides a habitat to a whole range of fish species.

A photo showing rocky Lake Ontario shores with clear skies and beautiful, clear water.

While fishing on Lake Ontario, your main targets will likely be different species of Salmon, followed by Steelhead and other types of Trout, and finally Walleye. Toronto and its greater area will all serve as a great starting point for your adventure. Alternatively, you can visit places such as St. Catharines or Niagara-on-the-Lake and get access to both the lake and the prolific Niagara River.

Lake Superior

Lake Superior is known as a Coho Salmon and Lake Trout hotspot. However, seeing how the lake is fed by around 200 rivers, there are many more species you can catch. These include other types of Trout, as well as King, Pink, and the occasional Atlantic Salmon. The lake also holds Northern Pike, Yellow Perch, and Bass. If that’s not enough, you’ll also have the chance to reel in some delicious Walleye during summer.

A picture of Lake Superior with sailboats in the distance.

On the east end of the lake, one of the best places to start your fishing trip is Sault Ste. Marie. The city is located on the St. Marys River, which connects Lake Superior to Lake Huron. If you find yourself on the opposite side of the lake instead, try basing yourself around Thunder Bay. Besides the amazing angling it features, Thunder Bay is also famous for its cultural attractions.

Lake Huron

As arguably the most beautiful Great Lake, Huron’s many islands and pristine waters are a sight to behold. Of course, the fishing is absolutely fantastic as well. Trout will typically be your main target. However, based on what’s biting at the time of your visit, you may also catch a whole host of other fish. These include Walleye, Yellow Perch, Salmon, and Pike.

A photo of rocks sticking out of the water at Flowerpot Island on Lake Huron.

Lake Huron is famous for its breathtaking beaches and shorelines, making it an amazing destination for anyone looking to fish from shore. If you’d rather hop on a boat, there are plenty of guides offering trips along the lake’s western shores and in the Georgian Bay. Nearby, you’ll find Lake Simcoe, renowned for its winter fishing.

Lake Erie

From Lake St. Clair and the Canadian side of the Detroit River, all the way to the Niagara River in the east, Lake Erie offers some of the best freshwater fishing anywhere around. It’s the ultimate destination for any angler looking to put some Walleye in the cooler. And if you decide you need more variety, you’ll still have Yellow Perch, Bass, and even Steelhead to catch.

A photo of Lake Erie from the Canadian side, with rolling waves and beautiful clouds.

You’ll usually find fishing guides concentrated near the mouth of the Detroit River, in Long Point, and eastwards near the Niagara River. However, many guides “follow the fish,” meaning they move their departure spots as the fish migrate along the lake. Lake St. Clair, which is accessible via the Detroit River, also offers phenomenal fishing.

Lake of the Woods

With only the Great Lakes and Lake Nipigon exceeding it in size, Lake of the Woods is one of the most significant fishing lakes in Ontario. It boasts magical scenery and an incredibly diverse list of freshwater fish. From huge Muskies and Pike to Walleye, Sauger, Perch, and Bass, you’ll have something to catch no matter when you decide to visit.

A photo of a walkway on Lake of the Woods in Kenora.

The lake, and specifically the Rainy River, also provides a habitat for enormous Sturgeon, although you won’t be allowed to fish for them before their numbers improve and the regulations change. You’ll find a fair number of fishing lodges and camps on the lake, too. These can all serve as starting points for your Lake of the Woods fishing adventure.

Ottawa River

Flowing along the border between Ontario and Quebec, the Ottawa River offers anglers plenty of variety. Throughout the river’s waters, you’ll find Muskellunge, Pike, plenty of Smallmouth Bass, and Walleye. You’ll also have a chance to reel in some more elusive types of fish, such as the Longnose Gar.

A photo of Ottawa River with canoes in the foreground and Parliament Hill in the background.

If you venture upriver, you’ll be able to add Catfish to the list of your targets. This being said, you’ll get to catch something even if you set out from Ottawa itself. Near and in the city, you’re also most likely to find a guide to help you on your trip.

Best Ways to Fish

Guide and Charter Fishing

When it comes to fishing for Great Lakes favourites such as Salmon, Steelhead, or Walleye, trolling is the name of the game. For that, you’re going to need a boat and a proper trolling spread. If you have the equipment and the know-how, you can look into renting. However, the simplest way to get a boat with all the equipment set up is to hop on a fishing charter

A photo of a docked charter fishing boat in Ontario.

Pairing up with a guide is also your best option if you’re planning a trip to inland Ontario. Considering the vast number of lakes and rivers scattered throughout the province, it’s a good idea to get someone to lead the way for you. Also, many fishing spots are hard to reach, often requiring anglers to come by plane. This is where local guides and lodges step in to help handle all the logistics of a fly-in fishing trip.

Ice Fishing

If you miss out on fishing in Ontario during the warmer months, there’s no need to despair. Pack some winter clothes instead and you’ll be ready for an ice fishing adventure. Come December, many of Ontario’s lakes will start freezing over, allowing you to get on the ice and reel in all kinds of fish. 

A person crouching over an ice fishing hole at sunset, with ice fishing gear around them.

Over the course of winter, many fishing guides switch to offering ice fishing trips. While you can certainly go solo, a guide can provide you with equipment such as augers, sonars, and specialized ice fishing rods. They’ll often also set up shanties to protect you from the cold, making your trip not only fun but also warm and comfortable. Finally, a guide will know which lake to hit, what depths the fish like to lurk at, and which bait to bring.

Shore Fishing

Of course, if you’re not too keen on hopping on a charter and it’s not ice fishing season, there’s still plenty of fish to catch even from shore. To give you an idea, night fishing for Walleye on Lake Erie can be extremely productive. Alternatively, you can give the various tributary rivers that flow into the Great Lakes a try, and reel in different kinds of Salmon and Trout.

A man fishing from shore on a lake in Ontario, with a canoe in the foreground and forest trees in the background.

If that’s not enough, you can take a crack at any of the other, smaller lakes in Ontario. As long as you can get to the lake you’ve chosen, you’re likely to find some Crappie, Sunfish, Bass, Perch, and other fish swimming in it. Just make sure to bring your gear and get familiar with the local fishing regulations before you start your journey.

Ontario Fishing Regulations

An infographic that says "Ontario Fishing Regulations" and "What you need to know" against a blue background.

Before heading out, anglers between the ages of 18 and 65 will need to buy an Ontario fishing license. You’ll need this permit whether you’re fishing aboard a charter or on your own. As far as fish regulations go, charter guides will typically inform you on those. However, it’s still wise to look them up as you’re planning your trip, as you’ll get a good idea of what you can catch.

Ontario is also divided into different zones, meaning that even if you’re familiar with Great Lakes regulations, they might not apply elsewhere. The province of Ontario’s official website features a full breakdown of the size limit and season rules, so feel free to check it out.

Ontario: The Great Fishing Expanse

A photo of Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron, featuring a pier with a small house and the Canadian flag flying.

When it comes to fishing in Ontario, it’s best to let the provincial adage speak for itself, it’s “yours to discover.” Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly trip along the Great Lakes, an extreme fly fishing adventure in the far north, or anything in between, this province will deliver. Best of all, you’ll be fishing amidst some of the most pristine, breathtaking wilderness on the planet.

Have you ever been fishing in Ontario? What’s your favourite lake to fish in? Let us know in the comments below!

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