Top fly fishing species in Ontario
Rising early, they listen to the call of the loons as they ready their coffee while watching the sun peek over the horizon. Taking their first sip, excitement builds for the upcoming day on the water, a day of fishing on the fly. This is performed nearly every morning by anglers in Ontario.
Fly fishing is fast becoming a mainstream sport amongst outdoor enthusiasts. Long gone is the pretentious and elitist aura it once projected. Today, it’s accessible to almost everyone in one form or another and it’s affordable. Technology has advanced fly fishing equipment such that anglers can get started and continue either on a budget or by making significant equipment investments – it’s up to them.
Fly fishing experiences
Ontario is blessed with seemingly countless rivers, lakes, streams and ponds and most of them are fly fishing friendly. Because every sportfish species is able to be caught on fly, fly fishing in Ontario really is an angler’s dream.
With over 250,000 lakes alone in the province, one can only imagine the number of rivers and streams to explore. Ontario is massive and has vast amounts of fishable water. So much so, there’s often little pressure on many Ontario fisheries. This makes most Ontario fisheries prolific with fish affording every angler the real chance of catching a fish of a lifetime. With a little sense of adventure, anglers can escape to remote lakes and quiet rivers where they won’t find themselves in the crowds found fishing in the American or Canadian West, Canada’s east or in the south. Grab a map and go!
Ontario offers a range of fly fishing experiences from intimate small creek angling for trout to targeting giants on our great lakes.
All anglers should be familiar with the regulations for the area in which they wish to fish.
Here are some of the more popular species fly anglers can target in Ontario.
Arguably one of the strongest freshwater fighters, smallmouth bass can be found in most Ontario lakes and rivers. They are extremely fly-friendly and relatively easy to catch overall. They are often acrobatic, sometimes leaping up to a metre into the air and rarely give up until netted. Generally, the season for smallmouth bass in central and southern Ontario runs from the third Saturday in June until the 30th of November, however, they can be legally caught and released in Zone 10, north of Highway 17 and in zones four through nine in Algoma Country, Superior Country and Sunset Country all year long. They readily eat crustaceans, insects, small reptiles, baitfish and even small mammals.
Equipment could be a six-weight rod with matching floating and intermediate sinking lines, tapered fluorocarbon leaders in a variety of lengths and strengths (six-foot to 12-foot leaders in six to 16 pounds test).
Flies anglers can consider using include crayfish patterns, minnow patterns (Clouser minnows, gamechangers or Murdich Minnows), frog patterns and mice imitations to name a few.
One of Mother Nature’s finest creations, the ornately coloured brook trout of Ontario are found in the tributaries of the Great Lakes all the way north to the massive inflow watersheds of the sub-arctic. They are an indicator species telling anglers that they are fishing in a pristine cold-water system.
Brook trout can be caught in still water lakes as well as rivers and creeks using a variety of flies. It’s important to note that brook trout are an “all or nothing” fish, meaning they are either easy to catch or near impossible.
They can grow to epic proportions. Seasons for targeting brook trout vary throughout the province depending on the watershed, but you can generally count on targeting them after the fourth Saturday in April through to Canadian Labour Day, the first Monday in September. The International Gamefish Association world record brook trout was caught in Ontario out of the Nipigon River. That fish weighed an astonishing six and a half kilograms.
Equipment to consider for targeting brook trout is dependent on the angler’s style of fishing. If they are in small streams targeting smaller fish in the four to 10-inch range, a two to four weight rod will suffice. If angling in larger rivers or systems with large fish, a five or six weight setup will do.
When fishing for brook trout, anglers should bring floating lines matching their rod weights as well as sink tip attachments in the two to six-inch per second sink rate. Leader material is varied to the presentation style of the angler. use eight to 10 pounds leaders for fishing larger flies such as streamers and larger surface flies and two to six pounds leaders for much more delicate presentations such as dry flies and smaller nymphs. Brook trout will eat anything they can fit in their mouths including sub-surface bugs such as caddis and stoneflies, baitfish, smaller gamefish, crickets and grasshoppers and even mice and voles.
Effective flies for brook trout in Ontario include nymphs, streamers such as white zonkers, muddler minnows, woolly buggers and surface flies such as foam grasshoppers, Chernobyl ants and beetles.
Consider northern pike to be the apex predators in Ontario’s waters. Growing to massive sizes, over a metre in some cases, these fish rule the waters. Opportunistic feeders, northern pike lie in wait to ambush their prey, which may include other pike, brook trout, smallmouth bass, walleye and other sport fish. They will also eat mammals, reptiles and even ducklings.
For fly anglers, they are the epitome of excitement. Targeting northern pike on a fly is an adrenaline game for every angler. These fish will follow flies, undeterred by your presence or your boat and violently eat unabashed right at your feet. They are 100% fun to catch and release on fly. While many zones in Ontario are open all year for targeting northern pike, some zones close during their spawn season for further species conservation.
Equipment for northern pike is a little heavier than that for smallmouth bass or brook trout for two reasons. Firstly, the fish are generally much bigger. Secondly, the flies fly anglers use to target northern pike are significantly larger. Consider eight through 10 weight fly rods for northern pike with matching floating, intermediate and sinking lines.
Target depth will dictate which line anglers choose. The deeper the fish are, the heavier the line that’s required. Leader material consists of 25 to 40 pounds fluorocarbon, to that attached 24 inches of bite wire. Bite wire is a knot-able tippet material that is resistant to the razor-sharp teeth of a pike. Anglers should consider using long shaft needle-nose pliers to protect their hands from rows of teeth should a fish take a fly deep into its mouth.
Flies for northern pike vary based on the season. For springtime, consider baitfish patterns such as perch, whitefish or burbot coloured streamers. Topwater flies such as frogs, ducklings and mice are also great throughout the year. In summertime, fish will be deeper in the water column. Consider larger fish patterns such as baitfish streamers. Finally, as the water cools in the fall, anglers can target pike with a combination of what has worked during the season as these fish are feeding for the winter.
Steelhead / lake run rainbow trout
Every year, there are two events that have fly anglers keen to migrate to their closest Great Lake tributary in search of “chrome”. Many steelhead or lake run rainbow trout enter the tributaries of the Great Lakes twice every year. Spring is the season of love for rainbow trout. They migrate up rivers to spawn and are catchable on fly generally after the fourth Saturday in April. By this date, spawning would be complete, and fish would be in recovery mode, voraciously feeding on whatever they can find.
In the fall, these highly migratory fish re-enter the Great Lakes tributaries in search of food. Salmonids will be in the systems completing their life cycle by spawning (and eventually dying) in the same rivers in which they themselves were spawned. Steelhead and other species follow the salmon into the rivers, gorging on the newly dropped salmon eggs. Often these lake run rainbow trout will stay over-winter in the rivers eating eggs, all the while being completely catchable by fly anglers.
Equipment for targeting both spring and fall steelhead is quite basic. Anglers should consider nine-foot eight-weight fly rods matched with floating and intermediate eight-weight fly lines. Leader material considerations include nine to 12-foot tapered leaders in the six to 10-pound test range. If anglers are swinging flies such as streamers, consider having small split shot weights on hand and if they are fishing egg patterns, consider a bobber or indicator to perfect their presentation.
Flies for both spring and fall steelhead are also quite simple. Here are a few fly patterns anglers should consider putting in their vests. Include a variety of sizes and colours, both weighted and non-weighted;
- Egg patterns
- Woolly Buggers
- San Juan Worms
- Stonefly nymphs
No matter the species anglers choose to target on fly in Ontario, no matter the water body which they choose to fish, it goes without saying, Ontario has the water, space and numbers of fish for angling success. From Great Lakes border towns to the vast expanse of sub-arctic watersheds and everything in-between, Ontario truly is a fly angler’s dream destination.
Last updated: March 2, 2023