Muskie fishing in Ontario
If you target muskie, you also stand apart from other anglers. You are driven by the pure adrenaline rush you get from fighting this aggressive fish and can become obsessed with learning how to entice the cagey predator.
Called the “fish of 10,000 casts”, fishing for muskie is often compared to hunting big game. You don’t get a lot of chances to catch a big muskie, it takes time, patience and a great deal of expertise, but when it happens, the rewards are great.
Any muskie over 50 inches is considered a true trophy. Depending on girth, a 50-inch muskie can weigh anywhere from 25-40 pounds and Ontario waters are full of them. The province’s largest muskie weighed 65 pounds, measured 58 inches in length, and stands as one of the biggest muskies ever caught. It’s the presence of such large and evasive fish that keep muskie guides and muskie anglers hunting Ontario waters for that next life-changing jolt of adrenaline.
It’s an obsession bordering on addictive and plays out on Ontario waters all season long.
Muskie fishing through the seasons
In most Ontario waters, muskie season opens on the third Saturday in June, to protect these spring spawning fish, and runs to mid-December.
Trolling plugs or casting buck tail spinners in open water is a good technique early in the season when the water is cool. As the water warms up toward the 21 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) mark, muskie will feed in shallow bays with emerging weeds, or near rocky points, gravel bars and saddles between islands. As vegetation thickens into summer, pulling top water lures over cabbage weeds is an exciting way to draw muskie to the surface. Through mid to late-summer muskie can be found almost anywhere from weed beds to shallow reefs to deeper rocky humps. These ultra-efficient predators spend a lot of time relaxing in summer, secure in the knowledge that they can catch a meal of big baitfish, like herring or even sport fish like walleye or lake trout, whenever the spirit moves them. Long periods of slow fishing can be interrupted by episodes of furious activity when ravenous muskies go on attack. Landing several big fish in a short period of time provides excitement that you won’t soon forget.
In autumn, cooling water and shorter days trigger muskie to feed heavily in preparation for the long winter and the following spring’s spawn. This is a time when some of the biggest fish of the year are caught. As summer shifts to fall, muskie abandon weeds and their primary structure shifts to rocks and the hard edges of deep channels. Big rubber baits cast at rock structures or trolling crankbaits up to a foot long are reliable tactics for connecting with fall monsters.
Muskieg gear: Go big or go home
Muskie anglers tend to be lure hoarders, collecting a large assortment of sizes, colours and styles designed specifically to entice their favorite fish. There is a wide range of lure styles but the common denominator is big; bucktail spinners, rubber jigging baits, top water lures and a wide range of trolling plugs that can be anywhere from 8-14 inches long. Casting and trolling these lures demands heavy action 8-10 foot rods and large bait casting reels spooled with at least 80-pound-test braided line. The big, heavy lures are attached to the main line with low visibility fluorocarbon leaders of 100-pound-test or more.
Trolling these large presentations is an effective way to cover water and a lot easier on the arms, but you can also cast. Most muskie anglers finish each cast with a maneuver known as a figure eight. Rather than pulling your lure out of the water you simply trace a figure eight just under the surface of the water with your rod tip. Muskie are curious and often follow baits right to the boat. Rather than pulling your bait out of the water, the figure eight is simply a way of extending your cast. Keeping your bait moving at the end of your cast doesn't always result in a catch, but it’s a final enticement that can result in a hookup right beside the boat.
Fighting one of these powerful aquatic beasts is fast and furious and can often be over in less than a minute. The longer a musky is on the line, the more chance they have of shaking the hooks and modern gear is designed to minimize the length of the fight, which is also better for the fish. Although Ontario Sport Fishing Regulations allow keeping one muskie over a minimum size in most Ontario waters, catch and release is widely accepted amongst the muskie community which helps to maintain the world-class status of Ontario’s fishery.
There's a huge learning curve when it comes to muskie fishing. Getting out on the water with a guide helps newcomers learn critical skills and provides the specialized gear required. Even experienced muskie anglers will benefit from hiring a guide because every lake fishes differently and guides hold valuable local knowledge of their home waters. Whether with a guide or heading out on your own, the crucial ingredient is a healthy population of muskie.
Here are some best Ontario waters to find muskies:
Lake of the Woods
Not only is there a very good chance of catching a muskie over 50 inches in this massive body of water in Northwestern Ontario, but the shallow and fertile waters of Lake of the Woods can often produce numbers reflecting the strong musky population. With literally thousands of islands, there is a lot of shoreline structure like rocky points, saddles, bays and weed beds that hold fish. Once you find one muskie on Lake of the Woods, there’s a good chance you’ll find more. They are found throughout the lake but Sabaskong Bay near the Morson area is a recognized hot spot.
There are few muskie anglers who haven’t heard of Eagle Lake. This series of main lake basins connected by meandering narrows just west of Dryden has a well-deserved reputation for producing trophy muskie. The clear water of Eagle Lake holds classic territory like thick weed beds, plunging rock points and deep humps where you can experience the excitement of watching muskie of all sizes following your lure.
This remote expanse of water stretches northwest from the town of Sioux Lookout for more than 100 kilometres. It’s a giant, complex reservoir lake formed in the early 1900’s by the Ear Falls Hydro Dam. Islands, narrows, broad bays, and deep channels with current all hold muskie. The reputation of this wild northern lake for producing numbers of big muskie only grows as more and more anglers explore her waters.
From within sight of the Dryden paper mill, to the wooded waters southeast of town, Wabigoon Lake has a long history of producing big muskie. There is deep water but Wabigoon is essentially a shallow lake where thick weed beds hold the key to finding Wabigoon’s monsters. Fast-moving spinner baits buzzed over cabbage weed in summer or casting open pockets of weed beds in the fall can raise 50-inch fish. Connecting with trophy fish from waters as shallow as one foot deep keeps muskie anglers entertained on Wabigoon.
The stained waters of Lake Nipissing stretch from the sandy beaches of North Bay to the sculpted smooth rocks and pine-capped islands of the French River where this 65-kilometre-long lake flows towards Lake Huron. This immense lake changes in character from the large islands and deeper water of the South Bay and French River areas to the weedy shallows of Cache Bay to the multiple small islands and shallows of the West Arm. Plenty of access points and world-class angling for muskies of all sizes, including more than 50-inch trophies, keep this a popular Ontario muskie destination.
Lake St. Clair
Although relatively small compared to Lake Huron and Lake Erie, this 40-kilometre-long lake is as wide as it is long and is regarded as one of the best musky waters in Ontario. Most of this large, round lake is less than 15 feet deep and trolling is the most popular way of covering water quickly and locating Lake St. Clair muskie that spends their days corralling schools of baitfish. Casting is also effective around massive weed beds and both methods work well near the mouths of rivers along the south shore. There are big fish caught here but Lake St. Clair is best known for the possibility of hooking a dozen mid-sized fish or more on a good day. If you’ve never caught a muskie before Lake St. Clair might be the best place to start.
At 190 kilometres long, with thousands of islands, bays and inlets, Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay holds a lot of places for muskellunge to hide. The trick is finding areas with concentrations of fish and although that can be challenging, the rewards are big. Ontario’s largest muskie, a 65-pound beast caught out of Blackstone Harbour in 1988, is just one example of the trophy fish swimming these waters. Late summer is the best time when you can find muskies along steep drop-offs, weed edges and transitions from rock to weeds. In late fall muskies disperse into the open water but can concentrate in areas where lake trout, whitefish and cisco spawn.
This giant river flows hundreds of kilometres across the province but some of the best musky waters are found near the nation’s capital. The Ottawa River has plenty of muskie guides and lots of good access points to areas where 50-inch muskies are common. The character of this river varies widely but healthy populations of big muskie keep anglers entertained in shallow and fertile weedy areas, as well as in deep and rocky zones.
St. Lawrence River
From Kingston all the way to the Quebec border, the St. Lawrence River is a legendary producer of giant muskie up to 60 inches. Hot areas include the north shore from the Thousand Islands to Brockville areas where anglers troll along fast-breaking shoals or channel edges with crankbaits more than a foot long. This stretch of water is not known for its numbers, but if you are after a trophy, it’s well worth a visit.
Southern Ontario’s Kawartha Lakes provide promising waters for anglers who want to catch lots of muskies. The Kawarthas form a part of the Trent- Severn Waterway, connecting Georgian Bay in Lake Huron with Lake Ontario, and include Rice, Pigeon, Sturgeon and Buckhorn Lakes among others. Trophy fish are caught every year but these cottage lakes north of Toronto are well known for producing numbers of eager fish. Find rocky areas that transition into weed beds and you’ll find muskie.
Fly-in muskie lodges and outposts
Low fishing pressure and the unspoiled wilderness surroundings typical of remote angling destinations provide exceptional fishing opportunities for a wide variety of species, including muskie.
Kishkutena Lake is a 20-minute flight from Nestor Falls and known for its exceptional numbers where anglers can catch half a dozen or more muskie per day. This 11-kilometre-long-lake also produces trophies over 50 inches and is home to several outpost camps including Young's Wilderness Camp, Kelly’s Castaway and Northwest Flying Inc.
Rowan Lake is deep and clear and well known for its big muskellunge. With more than 60 islands and accompanying shoreline structure there is no shortage of muskie habitat to explore. Alexander’s on Rowan consists of a main lodge and cabins, built on an island in the middle of this 30-kilometre-long lake and is accessible by floatplane from Nestor Falls.
Upper and Lower Manitou Lakes north of Fort Frances offers a 50-kilometre-long series of main lake basins connected by narrows where muskie anglers fish everything from shallow weed beds to deep rock structures for famous Manitou muskies. There are several outfitters on the lake offering all-inclusive lodge accommodations as well as outpost camps. Manitou Weather Station, Green Island Lodge, and Barker Bay Resort and Outposts are accessible by floatplane or by boat.
Last updated: August 22, 2023