Our Man In Canada
November 29th, 2004

Southern Ontario Fall Report
By A.J. Somerset

For steelheaders on the lower Great Lakes, things are looking up. With strong late-winter floods and a cool summer, 2004 should have produced a better year class than we've seen in several years. And on Lake Ontario's beleaguered tributaries, where fishing pressure has steadily been decimating returns, there's the promise of new management plans that, in the long term, should protect the fishery.

It's a process that's long overdue for the Lake Ontario steelhead fishery. While the high numbers of the heady 1980s resulted from unusual combinations of weather and other conditions that we may never see again, there's little doubt that runs have been swirling down into the toilet for years. The cause is no mystery; the MNR's own reports show that exploitation is killing Lake Ontario's steelhead runs.

The MNR is now asking for public input into future plans for management of the fishery, and steelhead will be one of the hot topics. The result will surely be the usual conflict of views between dedicated anglers, who form the membership of various fishing clubs and conservation groups, and casual anglers resisting reduced limits and special regulations. He who shouts loudest and longest usually carries the day, so now is the time for concerned anglers to make themselves heard—especially since opponents of the Atlantic salmon restoration program will be pressing their view.

Fly fishers tend to view themselves as the sole champions of special regulation (which leads to charges of elitism), but, in this case, many dedicated float fishers are already fully in favor of reduced limits and catch-and-release areas. Coalescing around the floatfishing.net website, this group is asking for a minimum size limit, catch-and-release only during the extended season, and for certain areas to be set aside as catch-and-release only.

Current Issue!

Lake Erie runs, ignored by most anglers, continue to do well. Even the larger Lake Erie streams, such as Big Creek, are small and relatively deep with steep banks, making for difficult fly fishing. On the other hand, they're beautiful streams and worth the effort for that reason alone. For those who prefer big water, the lower Grand River is as good as any of the better-known rivers, and if you stay away from Caledonia, much less crowded. The best reach for fly fishing is from Whitemans Creek downstream to Brantford.

Elsewhere on the lower lakes, things aren't quite so rosy. A sharp decline in baitfish numbers in Lake Huron and Georgian Bay has blue-water salmon anglers concerned, and will likely mean fewer and smaller fish returning to rivers this fall. Steelhead should be less affected by the baitfish crash, as their feeding habits are more flexible. In the long run, however, the as-yet-undetermined cause of baitfish declines may also affect other food sources used by steelhead.

Anglers looking for an alternative to the usual fall steelhead and salmon fishing should consider fly-fishing for muskie. The muskie season remains open into late fall, and muskie fanatics will tell you that fall is the best time to fish for them. The best fly-fishing will be in the early fall, before colder water moves the fish to deeper holes where they're harder to reach with a fly. The Saugeen River is earning a reputation as one of the best places to fly-fish for muskie; anglers east of Toronto can look to the numerous muskie lakes and rivers of eastern Ontario. ~ A.J. Somerset

We thank the Canadian Fly Fisher for re-print permission!

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