Southern Ontario Fall Report
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.
By A.J. Somerset
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
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.
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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