Fishing Ontario’s Great Lakes has never been more exciting. Stocking levels and natural reproduction are up. It’s a diverse sport fishery for a variety of warm- and cold-water fish. Depending on where you wet a line, there are bass, walleye, pike, and muskie. Inflowing streams pulse with silver spring and fall, when migratory salmon and trout return on spawning runs. Extended and all-year seasons make many of Ontario’s Great Lakes tributaries the places to be for non-boating anglers seeking big-water trout and salmon.
There are more spectacular boat-fishing opportunities for trophy chinook and coho salmon, and rainbow, brown, and lake trout in Lakes Ontario and Huron. In Lake Superior, lakers of legendary proportions are the order of the day, with coaster brookies, rainbows, and chinooks as bonuses. Although Lake Erie is more noted for its world famous giant walleye and smallmouth bass, rainbows and salmon have added a new dimension to this already dynamic fishery.
Hiring the services of an experienced charter skipper is the fastest way for visiting anglers to get in on the offshore action, but
if you’re towing your own rig, you’ll find plenty of boat ramps throughout the lakes near popular hotspots.
At first glance, locating fish in any of these inland seas seems intimidating, but seasonal locations are predictable if you factor in water temperatures, baitfish movements, and spawning seasons. In spring, you don’t need a big boat and expensive gear to catch trout and salmon. The fish are in warmer near-shore areas, where they gorge on waves of spawning smelt or alewife. In particular, seek them near river and harbour mouths and off sandy and gravelly windward shorelines. Shallow-water trollers use 6- to 10-pound-test clear, low-stretch lines, especially for browns and rainbows. To minimize spooking fish, flat-line with long leads or use a planer board, either a fullsized or miniature in-line or on-line model.
Slowly troll small to medium body baits that imitate alewife or smelt. Natural finishes, such as black, silver, blue, gold, blue/silver and perch are top picks in clear water, while chartreuse or fluorescent red are better in off-coloured water.
During summer, fish disperse into deeper, cooler depths. Then, a faster troll is used to search for scattered fish. In addition, a temperature probe helps to locate preferred temperature zones of the different species, and a depth sounder/fish locator is standard for marking bottom, gamefish, and baitfish. Most summer trollers rely on downriggers to carry lures as deep as 100 feet (30 m). In conjunction with this, a beefy level-wind reel holding several hundred yards of 12- to 20-pound-test line and a long, limber downrigger rod are used.
Lures are mostly silver-blue, green, red, and pink spoons that resemble alewife and smelt. Some days, black, purple, strawberry, orange and gold/orange are effective.
As summer progresses into early fall, trout and salmon migrate back to streams and harbours. They stage near shore, opening up opportunities again for smallboat anglers.
All salmon and trout, except rainbows, are fall spawners, so fish near stocking and natural spawning sites. Both downrigging and flat-lining are options. For salmon, troll magnum spoons and plugs. Browns, rainbows, and lakers are generally more attracted to medium spoons and body-baits.
To increase your success, troll in a zigzag. The lure’s dropping action on wide sweeps, combined with the lifting and darting motion when the line straightens, is a great fish seducer.