Fishing Lake Superior
Plunging to a maximum depth of 405 metres (1333 feet), this most northerly of all the Great Lakes contains 10% of the world’s fresh surface water within a unique mix of sand and cobble beaches interspersed with brooding headlands, sheer cliff faces and angular wave-worn rock formations. In fact, some of the oldest rocks in the world, formed 2.7 billion years ago, can be found along her Ontario shoreline.
Within this vast expanse of water, it should come as no surprise that there are a lot of fish. Among the more than 70 different species inhabiting Lake Superior swim many of Ontario’s most sought-after game fish. The clear and cold lake is perhaps best known for its stocks of trout and salmon, but this diverse fishery is also home to warm water species like bass, walleye and northern pike. It’s the most remote and wild of all the Great Lakes, yet with the Trans Canada Highway linking a series of communities along the lakeshore, there are plenty of places where you can access her waters and experience some of the best angling in the province.
Much of the Ontario shoreline is designated as a National Marine Conservation Area. Spanning over 10,000 square kilometres from the tip of the Sleeping Giant near Thunder Bay, south to the town of Terrace Bay, the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area is managed by Parks Canada to conserve delicate marine ecosystems in ways that traditional activities like hunting, fishing and boating can continue.
With the coldest and cleanest water of all the Great Lakes contained within shorelines that change from jagged rocks to fine sand, Lake Superior’s extremes work in favour of anglers who catch a wide range of fish in spectacular surroundings.
Fish species in Lake Superior
Big water, big salmon and trout
The first thing you’ll notice is the incredible clarity of the water. The average underwater visibility of Lake Superior is about eight metres (27 feet), making it the clearest of the Great Lakes and providing a pristine habitat for native lake trout to thrive. Although Lake Superior’s largest lake trout tipped the scales at more than 63 pounds, most lakers range from three to 15 pounds and join salmon as target species for anglers downrigging with flashy spoons and dodger and fly combinations. Chinook salmon regularly grow to 20 pounds or more, with coho salmon weighing in at half that size and pink salmon rarely exceeding three pounds.
There are many distant shoals and offshore islands holding great numbers of big trout and salmon, but these remote locations call for large well-equipped vessels with experienced captains. Fortunately, there are also many accessible locations where downrigging begins right at the first drop off from the boat launch in places like Thunder Bay, Nipigon, Red Rock, Marathon, Rossport, Wawa and Goulais Bay.
Even when fishing these nearshore locations it’s essential to pay attention to the weather and get off the water in anticipation of rough conditions. Lake Superior has a not-so-subtle way of reminding anglers of the approximately 350 ships resting in her depths, including the lake freighter “The Edmund Fitzgerald” that sunk in a storm in 1972.
Lake Superior can be an intimidating stretch of water but there are areas, like the cluster of islands off Rossport and the Slate Islands off Terrace Bay, where a small craft can find sheltered water. Even anglers in canoes and kayaks can safely angle protected waters amongst the numerous islands, bays and inlets. The deep water and rolling structure around these island groups also provide the perfect habitat for lake trout.
Brook trout stronghold
It would be remiss to discuss Lake Superior without mentioning her largest tributary, especially when it comes to brook trout. The world record brook trout, a 14.5-pound giant, was caught in the Nipigon River back in 1915, and trophy square tails over six pounds are regularly caught from the pools and rapids to this day.
A huge volume of water, 5,500 cubic feet per second, runs almost 50 kilometres from Lake Nipigon down to Lake Superior and was firmly established as a world-class trout fishery by the late 1800s. Following the construction of four hydroelectric dams from the 1920s to the 1950s, brook trout numbers plummeted.
Fluctuating water levels destroyed habitat and natural spawning areas and it was not until the mid-1990s that a water management strategy was implemented that helped to produce a comeback in the Nipigon River as well as in Lake Superior. Called “Coasters,” these Lake Superior dwelling brook trout can be caught casting lures along rocky shorelines from Thunder Bay south to the waters of Lake Superior Provincial Park.
Coaster brook trout also make forays up creeks and rivers and are occasionally caught by anglers working Superior tributaries for steelhead in the spring and fall. Steelhead, a lake-run rainbow trout native to the Pacific west coast, was introduced in the 1890s and has since become a naturalized species in Lake Superior.
Steelhead average about five to six pounds in Superior but regularly grow to twice that size. You can catch them from shore near the rivers in which they spawn or in the pools, riffles and runs of tributaries during spring runoff. Tangling with large and aggressive fish in small rivers and in tight quarters makes steelhead fishing one of the most exciting fisheries of Lake Superior.
Warm water species
Lake Superior’s image as a giant cauldron of deep, cold and clear waters providing a wild and remote home for salmon and trout is accurate for the most part, but it does not give the full picture. There are many areas sheltered from the main thrust of The Big Lake where nutrient-rich waters are shallower, warmer, and less clear.
These relatively protected waters found sequestered behind groups of islands, in broad bays and in coves and inlets provide excellent habitat for warm water species. Black Bay, Nipigon Bay, Batchawana Bay and Pointe Aux Pins near Sault Ste. Marie are just a few places to target superior-sized northern pike, smallmouth bass and walleye.
The largest fish ever taken from Lake Superior was a 310-pound sturgeon caught by a commercial fisherman named Frank Lapointe in 1922. The great fish was almost eight feet long and was pulled from a net in Batchawana Bay. These large bottom feeders still swim the depths but the sportfishing season is closed in most Ontario waters, including Lake Superior, to protect these freshwater monsters. Always be sure to check Ontario Fishing Regulations for the rules that apply to the area you will be fishing.
Even though it’s the most northern of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior rarely freezes over completely. Fortunately for ice anglers, virtually all protected waters along the coast have safe ice throughout the winter. From Thunder Bay south toward Sault Ste. Marie, the frozen bays of Lake Superior are dotted with a mixture of seasonal ice shacks, portable ice huts and anglers enjoying the open air by snowmobile, snowshoes or skis.
Lake trout and steelhead continue as popular target species but winter anglers also concentrate on perch, whitefish and burbot. Jumbo perch range from 10 to 14 inches and travel in schools. Perch generally provide fast action and high yields making them a popular species for family fishing. Plus there are several outfitters renting heated ice fishing shacks set up over perch beds.
Superior’s whitefish regularly surpass five pounds and can be caught on minnows, finesse bait like maggots and mealworms, as well as aggressive jigging with a wide variety of lures. These strong fighters are tasty and plentiful with a generous limit of 12 fish per angler.
Burbot, also known as lingcod, is another species that is sought after more in winter than summer. These slender eel-like bottom feeders are aggressive through February and March and are known for their peculiar looks as well as their tender flaky white flesh.
Lodges and resorts on Lake Superior
Overlooking Lake Superior near the mouth of the famous Nipigon River, Quebec Lodge is a well-established trout headquarters. Anglers stay in the comfort of a 4,000-square-foot historic log lodge built in 1937 as a retreat for executives of a local paper mill to experience fly fishing or spin casting to trophy brook trout amid the uniquely spectacular flat-topped rock formations that contain the fabled waters of the Nipigon River.
Located among the offshore islands that delineate Nipigon Bay from Lake Superior, an hour-long water taxi ride takes anglers to Bowman Island Lodge. Built on remote waters that relatively few anglers ever visit, the lodge offers guided and self-guided fishing for coaster brook trout and lake trout among the protected waters of the islands, bays, coves and inlets of St. Ignace and Simpson Islands.
With comfortable accommodations on Moss Island located along the Straits of Nipigon, between St. Ignace Island and the Black Bay Peninsula, North Superior Charters targets lake trout and coaster brook trout as well as the numerous other species that swim the remote and island-studded waters. Steelhead, brown trout, Chinook and coho salmon and walleye, pike, whitefish and perch are all target species in this rarely visited stretch of Lake Superior.
Based out of the town of Dorion, Bear Trak Outfitters offer shuttle service to their cluster of heated ice fishing shacks on the hard water of Black Bay. You can fish outside or nestle up to the woodstove and fish through holes in the floor of an ice shack over healthy schools of jumbo perch.
For a complete list of Lake Superior lodges and resorts visit Algoma Country and Superior Country.
Last updated: August 22, 2023