5 common fish you can catch in Ontario rivers and lakes

Fisher in boat on lake [Photo by Markus Spiske]

Fishing is one of the great summer pastimes. Whether you’re into hands-on fly fishing or prefer to attach a bell to your rod and fall asleep, catching your own dinner fresh out of a river or lake is one of the most rewarding and quintessential cottage experiences.

But you can’t fish just anywhere, as two men recently learned the hard way after fishing for trout in a closed area on the Ganaskara River near Port Hope, Ontario. According to Global News, altogether, the two men were fined $3,000 under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation act, half for fishing in an enclosed area, and the other half for “allowing flesh suitable for food to spoil.”

The Ganaskara River is open for trout fishing all year in certain areas, but there are restrictions in some parts of the river and in fish sanctuaries, with some limits on how many of certain types of fish can be caught.

Still, there’s plenty of fishing action to be had around Ontario. Here are a few of the most common fish varieties found in lakes and rivers around cottage country, and where to find them.

Brook and lake trout

Hands holding a caught lake trout
[Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]

Trout were the fish that got the anglers in Port Hope into trouble, but there are lots of legal spots for fishing for brook and lake trout around Ontario. In fact, they’re practically everywhere — in ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. They’re most active in the spring and fall, when the water is cool and they can come closer to shore, which makes it possible to catch them without getting into a boat. Otherwise, they like the cool, deep water in the middle of bodies of water. Lake trout are significantly larger than brook trout (they can get up to about ten pounds, whereas brook trout usually average up to about three). You can catch them around most of Ontario, minus the James Bay and Hudson Bay lowlands. Lake Superior provincial park, Algonquin Park, and the Nipigon River (where the largest brook trout on record was caught in 1915) are all good spots.

Bluegill

Bluegill are what’s known as a panfish — small edible fish that can fit, and can be fried up in, a pan. These are great starter fish for kids, usually weighing about half a pound.They’re native to Ontario and can mostly be found in south of the province, in warm lakes and ponds and slow-moving streams.

Northern Pike

Fisher in boat on lake
[Photo by Markus Spiske]
Northern Pike underwater
[Photo: Flickr/katdaned]

If you want to go for the big fish, Northern Pike fishing may be for you. These long fish, with their speckled skin and distinctive pointy faces, are often about ten pounds can get as large as 30 pounds or more. In fact, the heaviest fish on record caught in Ontario was a massive 42 pounds! Spring is a good time to look for them, when they come to the shallows to spawn. They can be found in lakes and large rivers, and often go for live bait or noisy lures.

Small and Largemouth Bass

Bass fishing is such a large cultural touchpoint that there have even been video games created to simulate the experience. But in Ontario, you can easily take part in the real thing, as bass are everywhere, in thousands of rivers, lakes, and creeks. They’re most common near the lower Great Lakes, particularly around (and in) Lake Superior, and are most active from early summer to early autumn. At around one to four pounds, a small or largemouth bass makes a pretty decent meal for a summer evening.

Salmon

When Canadians think of salmon fishing, they often think of BC. But there are salmon to be caught in Ontario too, if you know where to look. Chinook and coho salmon are good candidates for boat-fishing on Lake Ontario and Lake Huron. River salmon are best caught in late August through late October, after the first big rains, but salmon can be caught year-round in the Great Lakes. Chinook salmon are prized for their size, often running between 10 and 30 pounds. There are few fish that are as prized as salmon, both as food and as natural specimens, making them one of the crown jewels of Canadian wildlife.

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