Our Man In Canada
July 5th, 1999

Blue Ribbon Fly Fishing in Ontario
By Scott E. Smith

Excerpt from, Ontario, Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide
Published by: Frank Amato Publications, Inc.
P.O. Box 82112, Portland Oregon 97282 Phone: 503-653-8108,
email Frank Amato Publications

Ontario, one of Canada's ten provinces, stretches from longitude 82 and latitude 42 at its extreme southeastern tip near Leamington Ontario at Point Pelee National Park - the most southerly point in Canada - to longitude 88 and latitude 56 at its extreme northwestern corner; spanning a total of 1,068,580 square kilometers. Within the confines of this vast tract of land one finds a multitude of extremes in weather, geography and wildlife, including fish. To be exact 158 species of fish. From large coastal brook trout rivers sweeping throught the tundra of the far north towards Hudson Bay; to farm meadow brooks stocked with brown trout gurgling under highway bridges along the Queen Elizabeth Way near metropolitan Toronto - it is all one place: Ontario. From garpike to largemouth bass; from arctic char and grayling to muskellunge and Northern Pike, steelhead, salmon (both Atlantic and Pacific), brook trout, brown trout and a whole lot more; they are all here to be pursued with a fly rod.

Ganaraska River east of Toronto

Ten million people live in Ontario - a full third of Canada's population. But to be specific, the greatest majority of these people live in the southern belt of the province within fifty miles of the U.S. border. In the remaining tracts of sparsely populated wilderness, countless streams, rivers, lakes, ponds and creeks are found. The average population density in Ontario is 9.4 persons per square kilometer. This means that in many remote areas of the province the population of black bears likely exceeds that of humans. And black bears do little fishing.

Prince Albert and entourage 
on Nipigon River, 1918

Ontario's fishing resources were first tapped into by British Royalty around the turn of the last century. Its lake and rivers were touted by the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Canadian National Railway for their trophy fish and unspoiled wilderness to wealthy European tourists. Since then millions of people, both resident and non, have enjoyed Ontario's fishing. The world-record brook trout was caught in Ontario waters; world-record muskellunge - yet to be caught - roam in some of her lakes; and world-class fishing for smallmouth bass, northern pike, steelhead, brook trout and brown trout can be readily obtained by the fly angler. One just needs a little direction on where to begin.

The primary purpose of Ontario Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide is to serve as a guide for the fly angler. Few, if any, guide books have been written about an area that is so vast and diverse. Subsequently the book is not a systematic run-down of every fishable piece of water in the province: This would be a prodigious task resulting in a book thousands of pages long, and too expensive for the average angler to purchase. Rather, Ontario Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide is meant to serve as a guide to the premier fly-fishing opportunities in the province. As fly angling is no longer focused on trout and salmon angling, as it once was, the book will also cover some of the more popular warmwater species that have proven worthy opponents on a fly rod. Nonetheless, coverage of salmonid fly fishing has been apportioned aptly to reflect their popularity with most fly anglers.

In identifying which areas to cover in this book, the following criterion was applied to ascertain whether or not the opportunity was worthy of mention: Accessibility; promimity to/and availability of guide services, fly shops and outfitters; esthetic acceptability; and ability to withstand considerable fishing pressure - either by the existence of special regulations, remoteness, agressive stocking programs, or the sheer abundance of fish. I also felt that species of fly-rod-amicable game fish that were unique or unusual to Ontario deserved mention; for example the aurora trout and the garpike. Without sounding too apologetic, it is impossible to give due credit to all fly-fishing opportunities in the province in one publication; rather, the primary objective here is to provide a guide to the highights, and to serve as a base on which to expand.

To put the size of the Province of Ontario into perspective, visualize the states of Texas, Minnesota and Michigan combined and placed on top of Ontario: they would just fit. The countries of England, France and New Zealand would also work for this equation.

To add to the size delemma, Ontario is inundated with lakes and rivers. Looking from a satellite, one would notice Ontario is ribboned with rivers, streams and creeks along the shores of the Great Lakes and along Hudson Bay and James Bay coast. The northern part of the province is jewelled with legions of blue diamond-like lakes embedded in Canadian Shield. Consider Michigan: truly a fly-fishing paradise, blessed with many beautiful trout streams flowing into the Great Lakes Basin. Ontario is seven times that of Michigan in area.

I can vaguely recall as a young boy, my dad's '52 Pontiac sitting at the back of our home in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Manitoba license plate on the back of this round, green automobile, bore the catch phrase "Land of 100,000 Lakes." This was in direct retort to Minnesota's license plate that at the same time boasted "Land of 10,000 Lakes." It was rumored that Ontario put an end to this friendly competition by threatening to manufacture license places that read "Land of 250,000 Lakes."

All things considered: Ontairio is a fly-anglers paradise. No matter where you are in the province, you can rest assured that there is some respectable fly fishing to be had nearby. Even if you are in downtown Toronto, with a metropolitan population of nearly three million people, the fly-fishing afictionado can find solicitude knowing that somewhere nearby are some rising trout or migrating steelhead. In direct contract, those anglers that have answered the call of the North and travelled to perhaps the shores of Lake Superior or the catchment streams of Hudson Bay, are really in no-man's land. This cornucopia of opportunity and variety of species, no matter where you travel, is where Ontario's wealth in fly-fishing experiences exist. There is so much to explore and so much to learn about that it boggles one's mind. You may choose to stay in a comfortable inn or hotel in a quaint Northern Ontario town and spend your days trekking streams and lakes teaming with wild brook trout. You may be in Toronto on business or perhaps catching a Leafs or Blue Jays game, and still within an afternoon - on an hour depending on the season - be into some dynamite fly-fishing action. After filling your boots (or waders) with streamside pleasures, you can then return to the city for a gourmet meal, and Phantom of the Opera at Pantages Theater. If you are the be-one-with-nature type, you can go the way of the true pioneer: Carrying all your provisions on your back or in a canoe, and really experience the wilderness of Ontario. If you choose this route take warning: Come prepared. There are no fly shops in Quetico Park in case you run out of tippet material. There are no phones or electricity in much of Ontario's far north. Forgetting to pack your fly reel or breaking a rod takes on a whole new meaning when you are floating down the Winisk River two hundred miles from Hudson Bay, sixty miles from the nearest phone and three-hundred miles from the nearest fly shop.

In many ways fly fishing has been slow to arrive in Ontario. Fly fishers being somewhat of a anomaly; I attracted strange looks and comments from other anglers when I first began plying the waters near my home town of Thunder Bay with a fly rod. Fly fishing is an old sport, but in some circles a forgotten one. But as the popularity of fly fishing spreads across North America, more and more people are digging their ancient fly gear out of the attic or dropping a few dollars at the nearest fly shop. For those folks and those that are "old-hat" at the sport, Ontario lies in waiting - like a new frontier - for those who will cast her waters.

Ontario Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide

Next time Coastal Waters! ~ Scott E. Smith

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