You couldn’t ask for a better place to fish than Ontario. With a quarter of a million lakes and more rivers and streams than any sane person would try to count, Ontario fishing is about as varied as freshwater gets.
Explore four of the five Great Lakes and some of the best rivers in Eastern Canada. Fish on the shores of Canada’s largest city, or fly out to Northern Ontario’s isolated fishing lodges to wet your lines in some of the most untouched waters on the planet. They don’t call it “the Province of Opportunity” for nothing!
Ontario’s Top Catches
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to Ontario’s fish species. There is something for each weight class and pretty much every technique out there. Here are just a few of the fish you can target while you’re here:
Lake, Brown, Brook, and Rainbow Trout all thrive in the Heartland Province, as do Splake, a tough Salmon-Trout hybrid. Lake Ontario
has the most varied Trout fishing, with Steelhead, Brown, and Lake Trout throughout spring and summer. Lake Huron
has incredible Steelie action, both in the lower lake and in the watersheds of the Georgian Bay
. Lake Superior
arguably trumps them both for Steelhead fishing if you can get to the remote northern shores.
After something a little different? Brook Trout (known here as Speckled Trout) are a local favorite, especially in northern spots like Algonquin Park and Lake Nipigon. Head to Manitoulin Island on Lake Huron, and you’ll find both Specks and Lakers in some spots. If it’s big Brown Trout you’re after, you’ve got to hit the Grand River. We did warn you – you’re spoiled for choice with fishing spots in Ontario.
You have plenty of choice with Salmon species, too. Chinook, Coho, Pink, and Atlantic Salmon have all been stocked in Ontario’s lakes, with varying amounts of success. If you’re after Chinook, Lake Huron is a springtime heaven. Fancy some Cohos as well? Head to Lake Ontario in early summer or mid-fall – you might even find an Atlantic Salmon while you’re at it. Lake Superior has Pink, Chinook, and Coho Salmon in decent numbers. The difficulty getting there puts some anglers off, but that just means fewer charters fighting for space.
Known locally as “Pickerel,” Walleye are one of the province’s favorite fish, both to catch and to eat. The Walleye fishing Ontario is best known for is out on Lake Erie
, but Lake St. Clair
and Lake Ontario also have a great Pickerel bite. May and June are the best times to target them, except in Lake Ontario’s Bay of Quinte, where the biggest fish show up in late fall.
But it’s not just the Great Lakes that have great fish! Northern Ontario’s Lake Nipissing has plenty of smaller, eating-size Pickerel, even if it lacks trophy-sized fish. Down on the border with Minnesota, Ontario’s half of Lake of the Woods
is a great summertime spot, with its fair share of 10-pounders. If you want to try the ice fishing Ontario
is so well-known for, the Ottawa River is the winter home of many hardy anglers.
Yellow Perch are one of Canada’s favorite food fish. They may not put up much of a fight, but they sure do taste good. Lake Erie has some of the best Yellow Perch fishing in Ontario, either nearshore in May and June or up to 10 miles out as the water warms in summer. North of Toronto
, Lake Simcoe has some of the biggest Perch, although they’re harder to find than on Lake Erie. You can target them after their spring spawning season, but the best time to fish Lake Simcoe
has to be winter – they don’t call it “Ice Fishing Capital of the World” for nothing!
Black Bass need no introduction as a freshwater gamefish, and you can catch both Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass all over Ontario. Lake Erie’s shallow weed beds are a great place to start, fishing in early or late summer. The Niagara River is another productive summer fishery, and further East, so are the Thousand Islands and the Bay of Quinte. If you fancy getting off the beaten trail, head north from Toronto and you’ll hit the Haliburton Highlands. These remote waters offer some of the most unspoiled Bass fishing Ontario can give you.
Known as “the fish of a thousand casts,” Muskellunge are about as tough as it gets in the Heartland Province. Anglers dedicate their lives to combing the Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers for these large, keen-eyed predators.
But Ontario’s Musky fishing isn’t limited to the rivers. Lake Nipissing is a long-running Musky hot spot. Lake St. Clair also has more than her some real monsters, especially since the invasive zebra mussels cleaned up the water. Out in the East, Lake of the Woods throws out a few 30-pounders every season, but the biggest fish are said to lurk in the remote Dryden District, in the Northwest of the province.
And So Much More!
There are over 150 species of fish in Ontario, from Black Crappie in Lake Simcoe to Catfish in the St. Lawrence River
. If you want a genuine Ontario fly in fishing experience, the far north has Northern Pike up to 35 lbs, along with rare cold-water fish like Arctic Char. Northern Ontario fishing lodges may be hard to get to, but you’d struggle to find a more untouched fishery anywhere on the continent.
Ontario Fishing Techniques
Between Bass, Pike, and an incredible 10 different Salmonids, it should come as no surprise that fly fishing Ontario’s rivers is an obsession for a lot of local anglers. Steelhead and Brown Trout are great fun on the fly, but nothing beats the mighty Chinook when it comes to heavy fly fishing battles. You can also troll for both Salmon and Trout. Brook Trout react best to spinner-and-worm setups, while Salmon go wild for minnow-imitations spoons or plugs dropped on downriggers and planer boards.
Walleye and Perch are always fond of a trolled lure or bait, but you can also take them by jigging and drift fishing, depending on how deep they are. Ice fishing is another classic way to bring in these tasty fish.
Muskies are sight hunters, so trolling spoons and large plugs will draw these aggressive predators out faster than trying to cast for them. Many fly anglers are still happy to put in the fabled 1,000 casts on the hunt for a trophy Musky, though.
Need to Know
Ontario’s fisheries are broken up into various “zones,” each with its own rules and regulations. Fishing with a guide is the easiest way to stay within the law while still landing that fish of a lifetime. Otherwise, you can find extensive information online. You need an Ontario fishing license to enjoy any of these fisheries. You can choose between a “sport fishing” or a “conservation fishing” license. Sport fishing licenses are more expensive, but allow you to keep more of your catch. Conservation fishing licenses are designed for anglers who release most of their fish. If you’re fishing for more than one day, you will also need an “Outdoors Card,” which is valid for 3 years.
Ontario is a huge place, with dozens of gamefish to choose from. You can find Ontario fishing guides specializing in anything from remote hike-out fly fishing for Char to exciting summertime bowfishing for Carp. Whatever you’re after – and wherever you fish – you can rely on great guides and some of the most stunning scenery the country has to offer. So get out there and start exploring it. As the license plates say, it’s “Yours to Discover.”