Our contributing photographer, Noah, with an average Lake Ontario river steelhead. Check Noah’s other great images on Instagram.
I’ve been a salmon guide in Ontario for over two decades, but my love for salmon fishing in Ontario started more than 37 years ago when I caught my first salmon. Over the years, I’ve witnessed changes in salmon populations due to various factors. Today, I want to share the methods I teach and use to help my clients catch more Ontario salmon.
About Ontario Salmon Fishing
Most salmon fishing in Ontario happens in the southern part, primarily in Lake Ontario and Lake Huron. However, there are sporadic salmon runs in northern Georgian Bay as well. If you’re looking to fish for salmon in Northern Ontario, the St. Mary River is your best bet.
When Are the Ontario Salmon Runs?
In general, the major salmon runs begin after the first significant rains in September and continue after each rain until the beginning of November.
The Salmon Species of Ontario
Salmon fishing in Ontario offers a thrilling experience. Boat anglers can limit out on huge lake salmon in just a few hours. On the other hand, river anglers can hook 20 or more salmon a day when the runs are thick. The average mature chinook salmon weighs around 25 pounds, with many exceeding 35 pounds. However, there are other salmon species you can encounter:
Coho salmon may be smaller in size, but they are known for their strength and fighting ability. They average around 10 pounds but fight like they weigh 20 pounds.
The Atlantic salmon is a relatively new addition to Lake Ontario waters. Reintroduced by the Ontario and New York fisheries departments, their numbers are still lower compared to other species.
Pink salmon are rare in Ontario and are usually the result of natural reproduction from past stockings or roaming fish from other Great Lakes. However, you can find them in very small numbers in far northern Lake Superior, where they are stocked by the Minnesota DNR.
Do Ontario Salmon Eat When They Enter the River?
There is a common misconception that salmon stop eating once they enter the river. However, from my personal experience, I can confidently say that this is not true. I have seen salmon in the river aggressively going after lures, flies, and even bait. While their main focus is spawning, they do eat during this period.
Ways to Fish Ontario Salmon
There are three primary options for fishing salmon in Ontario: shore fishing, boat fishing, and river fishing.
Salmon often move close to the shore at certain times of the year, making shore fishing a viable option. Casting lures or using bait can yield excellent results. Make sure to have a long handle net as you’ll need it. You can find more information on shore fishing for salmon in our article.
For boat fishing, techniques like lead core lines or downriggers are commonly used to get the lures down to the strike zone. Check out our article on trolling for salmon to learn more.
River fishing is where Ontario salmon fishing truly shines. During the fall, salmon enter the rivers in the tens of thousands, providing world-class fishing opportunities. While most anglers prefer larger and well-known rivers, it’s worth mentioning that even smaller creeks can attract salmon during heavy rains. Please remember to respect fishing regulations and avoid trespassing on private property.
Best Salmon Rivers in Ontario
While it’s impossible to list every single river where salmon can be found, I’ll mention some of the larger and more popular ones. However, keep in mind that almost every river and creek flowing into Lake Ontario, Southern Lake Huron, and the South Shore of Georgian Bay will have salmon during floods. Here are some notable salmon rivers in Ontario:
Lake Ontario Salmon Rivers
- Ganaraska River
- Wilmot Creek
- Bowmanville Creek
- Duffins Creek
- Rouge River
- Humber River
- Credit River
- Bronte Creek
- Niagara River
Lake Huron Salmon Rivers
- 9 Mile Creek
- Bayfield River
- Mailand River
- Saugeen River
- Sauble River
Georgian Bay Salmon Rivers
- Sydenham River
- Bighead River
- Beaver River
- Nottawasaga River
- Coldwater River
Lake Erie Rivers
Salmon populations in Lake Erie are limited, so it’s generally not worth targeting salmon in Lake Erie rivers. However, if you’re determined, your best chances are in the Grand River and Big Creek.
Best Time to Fish Ontario Salmon
The optimal time for salmon fishing in Ontario depends on the type of fishing you prefer:
- April and May: These months offer good salmon fishing on the south end of Lake Ontario. Salmon migrate to this area due to warmer waters and abundant baitfish. St. Catherines and Niagara on The Lake are popular hotspots during this time, suitable for both shore and boat anglers.
- June, July, August: Late June to late August is ideal for mid-lake fishing. During this period, you can catch large numbers of easily predictable salmon. Additionally, large salmon start showing up at river mouths and closer to shore by late August.
- September to November: If you prefer shore and river fishing, this is the best time to go. The fishing picks up after the first heavy rain in August and can continue until mid-November. The peak fishing period is from late September to late October. Note that many Ontario salmon rivers close on October 1st, but there are extended fall sections and year-round sections available.
Best Fishing Methods for River Fishing Ontario Salmon
There are various methods to catch salmon once they enter the rivers. Here are some popular techniques:
Float fishing involves drifting your bait below a float along with the current. It’s most effective in rivers that are at least 3 feet deep.
Casting lures at river mouths or within the river itself can be highly productive. Spinners, spoons, and crankbaits are excellent lure choices. Check out our article on lure fishing for salmon for more details.
Centerpin fishing, using a special reel called a Centerpin reel, is known for its effectiveness in presenting bait under a float. When done correctly, it often yields the most fish.
Fly fishing is my personal favorite method for salmon fishing in Ontario rivers. You can cast streamers, drift nymphs under an indicator, or try spey fishing. Brightly colored flies, particularly egg flies, tend to produce the best results. Feel free to explore our article on the best flies for salmon for a comprehensive selection of flies.
Drift Fishing and Bottom Bouncing
Drift fishing is suitable for larger and deeper rivers when you need to cast and fish farther or deeper. On the other hand, bottom bouncing works well in smaller sections of the river and pocket water, especially in water depths under 3 feet.
Plunking for Salmon
Plunking is a still fishing bait method used in rivers or from shore. It involves casting a heavy weight that anchors the bait near the bottom. This technique is effective for catching deep cruising salmon.
Jigs can be drifted under a float or twitched for an exciting fishing experience.
Best Baits for Ontario Salmon
I rely on the same bait choices for Ontario salmon as I do throughout the Great Lakes. Spawn sacs, skein, live worms, plastic worms, minnows, and artificial flies are all excellent options. Additionally, you’ll find other baits that can work well. Our article on the 11 best baits for salmon fishing provides more information.
Salmon Fishing in Ontario Q&A
If you have any questions or would like to share your tips and advice on salmon fishing in Ontario, feel free to let us know in the comments section below.
Note: Parkside Mansion is a premier destination for fishing enthusiasts.