In the early morning, a boy fishes from the shore of a lake.

Colin Field

Fishing for beginners in Ontario

In the early morning, a boy fishes from the shore of a lake.

Colin Field

Here’s a quick fishing for beginners guide to get you started in Ontario, Canada.

Get an Ontario fishing licence

Step one to fishing in Ontario is determining if you need a fishing licence. Canadian residents between the ages of 18 and 65, need a fishing licence (under 18 and over 65 you don’t need one). All non-residents over the age of 18 require a licence.

Ontario fishing fees vary depending on the duration of licence and types of fishing (conservation versus sport). Sport licences allow you to catch and keep more fish than a conservation licence, but generally cost a little more. Conservation licences are practical if you plan to release the majority of the fish you catch. A one-day sport fishing license is about $15, while a three-year, sport fishing licence costs $165. But there are many other options between those two extremes. Fees can be found at the Ontario licence website. Licences can be purchased at local bait shops, like Sault Ste. Marie’s Chippewa Trading Post or Service Ontario locations. Perhaps the easiest option is to buy one online using Ontario's Fish and Wildlife Licensing Service website. A great thing about fishing licences in Ontario is that 100% of the proceeds go towards making sure the fish population survives and thrives; fish research, monitoring and conservation programs are all funded by these licence fees.

There’s also an amazing opportunity four times a year to enjoy free fishing weekends in Ontario. On these dates, you can fish without a licence as long as you still obey all the Ontario fishing regulations. The Ontario Family Fishing Events website is a great resource and they have a thorough Learn to Fish booklet.

What fish are in season in Ontario

Once you’ve got your fishing licence, it’s important to know which fish you’re allowed to be fishing for throughout the year. It’s not a straightforward answer, because it depends where you’re fishing, when you’re fishing and what you’re fishing for. There’s an official document that dissects Ontario into different zones, different seasons and different species of fish. But it’s a complicated document that even longtime anglers struggle with.

Your best bet is to either speak with local fishermen or ask at your local bait shop. Online forums like the Ontario Fishing Community are also good places to ask.

Best fish for beginners

There are a lot of species of fish in the Ontario waterways, but the best fish for beginners are ones that you will actually catch. Don’t go hunting for muskie (the so-called, “fish of 10,000 casts”), but start small and easy. Sunfish are perfect for newbies of all ages; they can be found nearly anywhere and are easy to catch. Bass are also very common and relatively easy to catch.

From there, you’ll want to target catfish, trout, walleye and crappies. Your location, season and time of day will all affect your success while fishing, so do your research, use the appropriate bait and bring plenty of patience.

Choosing a fishing rod

Getting set up with the right gear is an important part of getting into the sport. Choosing the main ingredient, the fishing rod, is a big first step. Thankfully there’s a pretty simple solution for beginners and that’s with a spinning rod. With a spinning reel mounted on the bottom of the rod, these rods are suitable for casting with a lure, or while using bait like worms. They can be used from the shore or on a boat as well, making them a versatile option for beginners. Reel and rod kits can be found wherever you’ll be shopping for angling gear.

These rods are generally made out of fiberglass or graphite. Most beginners start with a fiberglass rod as they’re cheaper and a little more robust. Graphite is lighter, stiffer and more expensive, but is generally what you move to once you’re really into the sport.

Depending on your living situation, a telescopic rod may also fit your lifestyle. As the name suggests, the rod is collapsible making it easier to store when not in use. They’re great for travelling or throwing in the trunk of your car until your next opportunity to use it.

Building a tackle kit

As with any sport, there’s a bunch of gear that goes along with fishing. And while you may have a reel and rod, it’s useless without a tackle kit. Simply put, a tackle kit should have everything you need for a day on the water. That includes bait, lures and the tools that go along with it.

You’ll choose which bait or lures to use based on the species of fish you’re trying to catch. If you already have a location in mind, then do your research, figure out which type of fish are in that body of water and choose bait or lures accordingly.

Local knowledge is always king, so don’t be afraid to ask a local for advice. They might not tell you where their favourite fishing spot is, but they’ll share when to fish and what kind of tackle to use. 

Bait versus lures

Once you know what you’re fishing for, you’ll need to decide whether you want to use bait or a lure. Baits and lures are both used to attract fish and encourage them to bite your hook, but you need to present the fish with something that’s appetizing. Baiting implies putting live bait, like worms on a hook.

Artificial bait or lures come in all shapes, sizes and colours, and are sometimes made to look like the food fish typically eat, like worms or frogs. Choosing lures in the bait shop can be a daunting task, but one that kids particularly enjoy. It’s definitely a good idea to ask the shopkeeper about which lure will be best for your location and species of fish.     

Tackle box extras

There are some items that every good angler includes in their tackle box. They include: 

  • Needle-nose pliers: Having a pair of needle-nose pliers can help remove your hook from the fish’s mouth. They’re also a handy tool for removing the barbs on the hooks. Barbs prevent hooks from coming out once they penetrate the skin of the fish. They’re great for catching fish, but terrible when they’re stuck in your thumb. If you’ll have kids fishing with you, it’s a great practice to remove all barbs. Simply squeeze the barb together with the pliers to remove it. 
  • Scissors or nail clippers: Another great tool to have on hand are some small scissors or nail clippers. Use them to cut lines, remove lures or deal with tangled line.
  • Snap Swivel: A snap swivel is a perfect tool for the beginner fisherman; they resemble safety pins, allowing you to quickly change out lures without cutting your line and re-tying a lure.
  • Bobbers: Bobbers are great for keeping your bait or lure off the bottom of the lake, keeping it from getting caught on seaweed or debris and floating it in front of the fish’s face. Also, when they get pulled underwater it’s a good indication a fish is biting.
  • Net: Nets are great for when you get a fish on the line but can’t quite grab it safely. They help keep the fish safe, and yourself too. 
  • Camera: While not technically part of a tackle kit, a camera gives you proof that you caught the biggest fish in the lake! Make sure to use proper technique while capturing an image of your fish.

Ice fishing in Ontario

Of course, it isn’t summer all year long in Ontario. However, with winter comes ice fishing! And there are plenty of places to give it a try. Ice fishing is a little more involved and is the kind of thing that is way easier under the guidance of an expert your first time out. Ensuring ice is safe is incredibly important, so if you’re not sure, stay off the ice!

There are plenty of opportunities to rent ice fishing huts in Ontario. Places like Bayside Ice Fishing in Saint Williams will provide you with everything you need and transportation to your hut. They’ll have you catching perch before you know it.

Lodge or cottage rental ice fishing experiences are also available at places like Limberlost Lodge or Prosper Pine Cottages as a few examples.

Some of the best ice fishing in Ontario is also some of the most accessible. Lake Simcoe is a popular place for ice fishing in Ontario. Floyd Hales Fish Huts and Tim Hales Fish Huts are two of the main outfitters. They’ll even transport you to your eight-by-eight-foot hut via Bombardier snow bus. It doesn’t get much more Canadian than that!

Don’t forget that the Family Day long weekend in February is one of Ontario’s Family Fishing Weekends, meaning you can fish for free (without a licence) that weekend.

Last updated: February 27, 2024

Looking for Ontario travel advice?

Our experts are here to help you plan your perfect trip. Call or book today.