Our Man In Canada
May 28th, 2001

Ganaraska River, Lake Ontario Stream

By Scott E. Smith

Regional map

The Ganie', as she is affectionately referred to by those who love this stream, is one of Ontario's greatest steelhead streams. In fact, I experienced the best fly fishing for steelhead in my life on the Ganie'. Rivaled in number of steelhead by only Wilmot Creek, the Ganaraska receives in excess of 10,000 steelhead during the spring run. One can come to grips with the magnitude of this run by standing below the fishway on the Corbett Dam in the town of Port Hope and watching the incredible numbers of steelhead lining up below the dam and jumping into the fishway (understandably a fish sanctuary). Below the sanctuary to the mouth of the river on Lake Ontario is where the biggest steelhead in the province are caught each year. Numerous steelhead in excess of twenty pounds spawn in this lower stretch of the river rather than trek through the bedrock shallows and the upstream dam and fishway. It goes without saying that this stretch of river also gets a tremendous run of anglers, but if you're intent on a big silver steelhead, this is the place. The best bet to avoid crowds here would be to fish during absolute tough weather - when only the grittiest of die-hards fish this stretch.

Above the fishway is a substantial stretch of river that flows through rich farmland. There are numerous places to access the Ganaraska along country roads but many of these are posted, private property. Some research and planning, and polite inquiries, can result in opportunities on private water. There are also a number of stretches that are leased by private clubs, and if one is really serious about fishing the Ganaraska without the crowds this would be the best avenue to pursue.

Bob McKensie I was lucky enough to fish some private water on the Ganaraska with Sage rod representative, Bob McKensie, of Oshawa. We fished two nice stretches of river both during and after a heavy spring rain. In the morning, while the rain poured down on our heads, we had a number of hook-ups with steelhead until the river became so muddy that poor visibility made fly fishing fruitless. We returned the next morning and fished the entire day as the river cleared progressively as the day went on. Surprisingly, by evening the river was very clear and the fish were once again quite skittish, but during the middle phases of this clearing process, I hooked and landed more steelhead than I could imagine. In fact I lost count. And as evening approached I purposefully took apart my rod and stowed away my reel so I would have to stop fishing and take a rest. I landed several typical Lake Ontario steelhead in the eight- to twelve-pound class, a couple of fish in the low teens and a big, bad, dark male that likely went in the neighborhood of fifteen.

left to right, nympho and cactus flies

This was an interesting experience. Early in the day, when the river was still quite turbid with runoff, the flies that produced the best were bright egg/attractor patterns like and Cactus Fly and the Nympho.[Shown above.] As the day progressed and the water cleared, the fish began to disdain these patterns so I dug some natural-looking nymphs out of my trout box and continued to dupe big steelhead. In the low-light conditions of late evening I fished some more private water farther upstream and hooked both drop-backs and fresh fish that were moving through some shallow runs just downstream of prime spawning beds. I actually observed several steelhead open their mouths and take my nymph in the clear, shallow water. This was important for me to observe, as I have often heard steelhead anglers say that these fish do not feed on nymphs during their spawning runs, and most hook-ups by fly anglers occur in inadvertently "lining" fish: that is drifting the leader through their mouths and then setting the hook into the side of their head. Clearly observing these fish open their mouths and suck in my nymph pattern blew that myth out of the water. In steelhead fishing there are a lot of opinions, and one thing is for sure, opinions are like brains: everybody has one!

Ganaraska Steelhead

In additional to these memorable steelhead runs, the Ganaraska boasts big runs of Lake Ontario Chinook salmon, some in excess of thirty pounds. Like many other streams in this region, the Ganie' is also a good bet for migratory brown trout. ~ Scott E. Smith

Credits: From Ontario, Blue-Ribbon Fly Fishing Guide by Scott E. Smith. We thank Frank Amato Publications, Inc. for use permission!

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