Ontario’s top game fish
Here is a look at some of the great game fish in Ontario, as well as tips on how and where to catch them.
No species in Ontario garners more angling attention than the walleye. These golden-hued fish are well known for having delectable flesh. Whether cooked as a shore lunch or baked in an oven, it is nearly impossible not to enjoy eating walleye. However, the walleye is also fun to catch thanks to a greedy appetite. While walleye can stop biting during cold fronts or during bluebird sky days, mostly they are willing to take a lure or bait.
Walleyes live in a wide variety of habitats, from clear, deep lakes to shallow, stained rivers. They tend to congregate off main lake points, around rocky reefs and on the base of drop-offs. Walleye in rivers like to lay in wait at the tails of pools or where the current is broken by pilings or boulders. Jigs tipped with a minnow or coloured twister are the number one presentation, but a Little Joe style spinner with a crawler or leech is great summertime trolling presentation. Don’t overlook casting a Rapala Husky Jerk or trolling #9 Rapala Shad Rap as both are exceptional crankbaits.
Walleye fishing lodges
There is an old cliché connected to smallmouth bass that pound for pound they are the best fighting fish in Ontario. That old cliché is true. Smallmouth bass are all muscle and attitude, ripping line off reels and leaping into the air when hooked. Ontario is renowned for its smallmouth fishing and they are found in great numbers right across the province. Smallmouth bass are an open water game fish and are especially active during the summer and into the fall. Anglers travel from all over the world to fish for Ontario’s plentiful smallmouth bass. Smallmouth can live in a variety of habitats, but they gravitate to rocky shorelines, reefs and main lake points. They also thrive in rivers, gravitating to deep pools but can be found in relatively swift water. Bass love eating crayfish and presentations like a jig with an orange or brown grub or tube will get results Casting a jerkbait such as the Rapala X-rap to shorelines or exposed reefs is a good technique. The most effective way to catch smallmouth is with topwater lures like the Rebel Pop - R or Rapala Skitter Pop. Few experiences in angling beat the sight of a smallmouth bass taking a lure off the surface. A topwater take is heart-stopping every time.
Smallmouth bass lodges
- Ole Resort, Whitefish Lake
- Kashabowie River Resort, Shebandowan Lake
- Totem Resorts, Lake of the Woods
- Birchland Cottages, Clear Lake
- Lauzon Aviation, Hastie Lake
The northern pike is perhaps the most unpredictable and exciting of Ontario’s game fish. The pike is an ambush predator and lay in wait in weeds or sunken wood for food to swim by. When that food appears, the pike bolts out and clamps it with a long mouth filled with needle sharp teeth. So, when a pike sees a flashing spoon pass by its lair, there are very few times that lure won’t be attacked. Sometimes pike will follow a lure up and take it right at boat-side. An angler must be ready for anything.
Ontario has good populations of pike right across the province, but the majority of the fishing is found in the north. Pike prefer cold, clean water and thrive in the northern lakes and rivers. You can expect to find pike living around large weed beds and near fallen trees. They will also patrol rocky reefs and rockpiles hoping to surprise a whitefish or sucker. Fishing for pike is relatively simple, as a spoon or spinner will always get attention. The Eppinger red and white Daredevle remains a popular pike lure, but the Johnson weedless Silver Minnow is a close second. The Mepps Musky Killer spinner is another proven pike bait that can be reeled quickly over the tops of weeds. Always use a steel leader when fishing for pike as those needle-sharp teeth can cut a fishing line like a pair of scissors.
Northern pike lodges
- Camp Narrows Lodge, Rainy Lake
- Sunset Lodge, Red Lake
- Hidden River Lodge, Whitefish Lake
- Bear Paw Lodge, Caribou Lake
- Chaudiere Lodge, French River
The brook trout is the crown jewel of Ontario’s sport fishery. These fish are both beautiful and remarkably sporting on spinning tackle and fly-fishing gear. Brook trout require the cleanest, coldest water and live in the most beautiful places on earth. So, it is easy to fall in love with these trout. Ontario has a unique claim to the brook trout fishing world as it is home to the world record for the species. In July of 1915, an angler named Dr. Cook caught a 14.8-pound brook trout in the Nipigon River. It was an unusually large specimen back then. When you consider the average Ontario stream brook trout is 8 or 9 inches long, a 31-inch fish is a monster.
Brook trout live a wide variety of habitats, from tiny, spring fed creeks to the huge waters of Lake Superior. Brook trout do surprisingly well in lakes but are most often targeted in tributaries and rivers. The largest fish usually come from the largest waters. Both Lake Superior and Lake Nipigon have huge brook trout. Yet places like Algonquin Park and the Haliburton Highlands have lakes that will occasionally produce trophy fish. Catching brook trout on spinning gear can be great fun, as they will hit a spoon or spinner with gusto. The Mepps Aglia spinner or Panther Martin Black Fury are both time-tested brook trout lures. Fly fishers can rely on some classic patterns to catch brook trout. The Muddler Minnow is tough fly to beat and can be fished on the surface or just under in rivers or creeks. The Woolly Worm and Clouser Minnow works well in both lakes and rivers. Bait anglers can catch brook trout with a bobber, sinker, hook and worm. There are special regulations in many areas on brook trout, so make sure you check the regulations.
Brook trout lodges
- Quebec Lodge, Red Rock
- Blue Fox Camp, Kirkpatrick Lake
- Esnagami Lodge, Thunder Bay
- Miminiska Lodge, Albany River
For sheer brute power mixed with large size, there is no sport fish in Ontario can match the Chinook salmon. These silvery fish are also delicious, so a successful day fishing often translates to a lot of fine eating. Chinook salmon are not native to Ontario but were introduced into the Great Lakes in the 1950s to help combat a surge of bait fish called the alewife. That experiment worked and soon anglers in all the Great Lakes were discovering what an exciting sport fish salmon are. They can also grow to impressive size, quite often topping 20 pounds. In many parts of the Great Lakes, Huron and Superior in particular, the salmon are reproducing and have become naturalized. Most angling for salmon takes place on big water, in boats.
There are charters available in nearly every Ontario community that has a salmon fishery. Fishing is usually done via downrigger which is a system that brings the lure down to a chosen depth and holds it there. When the salmon strike, the line pulls off a clip and the fight is on. In the fall, salmon head to rivers to spawn and this is where shore anglers can connect with these amazing fish. There are a variety of techniques used to catch river salmon, including fishing with bobbers and a coloured bead, fly fishing streamers or casting lures such as the Krocodile or Blue Fox Vibrax spinner. On larger rivers, where you can fish with a boat, trolling diving plugs such as the Rapala -J 13 or Live Target smelt accounts for a lot of salmon.
Famously known as the fish of 10,000 casts, the muskellunge has a lot of fans across North America. The level of passion for muskie is incredible when you discover how hard it is to catch one. Muskellunge are found throughout Ontario but are rarely common anywhere. There are some small lakes where high numbers of smaller muskie exist, but most anglers prefer chasing the big ones. Trophy sized muskie are old and smart and will reject lures again and again. Yet when an angler hooks up with a fish that is 50 inches long and weighs 40 pounds or more all that rejection suddenly seems worth it. A muskie is a fish that shows what it has right away, often jumping out of the water. Seeing a monster muskie, mouth wide and gills flared, is to see a true water dragon. Muskies are handsome, with mottle green sides and cream bars along the flank. Some larger muskellunge in deep water lose much of those marking and are called “clear muskie”.
The majority of muskies are caught by people casting large lures or bucktail spinners to weed beds or reefs. The lures can be 10 inches or more and the spinners just as long and heavy, with large single or double blades for the most water movement. Muskies are attracted to noise and vibration and will come to attention when a big lure flies by. Yet being interested does not mean strike, and many muskies will follow a lure right to the boat before turning way. Some muskie anglers perform what is called a “figure 8’ and push the rod tip into water to keep the muskies attention. When the trick works, the fish is usually hooked with just a foot or so of line. Trolling is another popular technique, especially in the fall when the water cools off. Large diving baits like the Jake or Headlock are a popular choice. The trick is to cover as much water as possible. Some of the best muskies each season are caught trolling in September, October and November.
Muskie guides and lodges
Another transplant from the west coast, the rainbow trout (or steelhead) has now naturalized in all the Great Lakes and there are inland populations that are naturalized or stocked. Rainbow trout are beautiful fish with a red or pink blush on top of a silver side. Rainbows are also hard fighters and are known to leap repeatedly when hooked. The name “steelhead” is derived from the nickel like colouration of a rainbow trout that lives in the Great Lakes. While anglers fishing for salmon or lake trout in the Great Lakes occasionally bump into steelhead, most of the angling is done in the tributary rivers where these fish spawn. Every spring, there are a lot of steelhead on the coastal streams along the Great Lakes. Most anglers use rubber egg imitations or yarn flies suspended under floats to catch them. Some anglers drift salmon eggs or rubber worms along the bottom.
Fly fishing is a popular way to fish for steelhead and coloured beads or small nymphs. Inland rainbow trout respond well to spinners and spoons too, as well as small crankbaits like a shad #5 Shad Rap. When mayflies and other insects are hatching, rainbow trout will hit dry flies.
Places to fish
One of the native trout of Ontario, lake trout is a very popular sport fish. Lake trout are found in all the Great Lakes and are well distributed throughout inland lakes in the province. They are closely related to brook trout but grow much larger. The Ontario record lake trout was caught in Lake Superior in 1952 and weighed 63 pounds. However, most lake trout average between 4 and 8 pounds.
There are also hundreds of inland lakes across Ontario that have good lake trout fishing. These fish spend much of the time in deep water between 40 and 60 feet, where the temperature is more to their liking. However, in the late spring and early fall, the water temperatures are cool enough that lake trout move shallow. During these periods, anglers in boats can cast the shallows with spoons and even shore bound anglers can try their luck. Mostly, lake trout are caught in deeper water either trolling spoons like the Williams Wabler or J plugs. Anglers also can vertically jig for lake trout in deep water with spoons such as the Swedish Pimple or Hopkins Smoothie. Laker trout are not explosive fighters but are determined to stay in deeper parts of the water and use size as an advantage.
Cabins and lodges
Last updated: October 10, 2023