When is the best time to fish Ontario rivers is a question I get asked a lot especially when anglers are looking to book a guided trip with me?
When Is Best Time To Fish Ontario Rivers?
The best time to fish Ontario rivers is when the trout season opens in late April until late June. The steelhead and trout will be in the rivers at the same time until the second week in May so this is a great time to fish. After the steelhead leave, the trout fishing can be great until the rivers warm up too much in July.
There can still be great fishing throughout the summer for trout and bass until the salmon and steelhead return to the rivers in the fall.
For salmon, the best time is September and October. For more on salmon fishing in Ontario go to my Salmon Page
Best Times To Fish Ontario Rivers By Species
This is just a guideline to consider when trying to determine the best time to fish Ontario rivers for each species. But remember, the weather conditions and water temperatures will dictate when is the best time to fish for trout is, and the migration times will tell you when the best time for steelhead and salmon is.
When deciding when the best time to fish Ontario rivers you also have to consider the fishing regulations.
There can be good fishing outside of these times. As an example, O some rivers the trout fishing can be excellent in the hottest months if you fish the early morning hours when the water is cold enough and the trout are most active
The Best Time To Fish Ontario Rivers By Species
- Brown Trout – Trout Opener to July 1st
- Brook Trout – Trout Opener to June 15th
- Spring Steelhead – March 15 to May 15
- Fall Steelhead – October 15 to December 15
- Salmon – September, and October
- Migratory Brown trout – October – November
- Bass – late June to September
- Pike – May – September
- Musky – June to October
- Carp – June to September
Open and Closed Seasons for river fishing – In Ontario, each game fish is protected by closed seasons. This is the time when they close the season down for fishing which usually occurs when the fish are the most vulnerable which is often during spawning times.
The Ontario Ministry Of Natural Resources (OMNR) sets these times to help maintain each species maximum survival and to help maintain natural populations.
Because many of these species spawn at different times it’s possible that the best time to fish Ontario rivers is different but if you like to fish for multiple species the best time to fish Ontario rivers could be even be 12 months of the year if you fish different times for different species.
In general, our Ontario trout season is short and runs from the 4th Saturday in April until the last day in September, about 5 months.
However, the OMNR also has extended seasons and year round fishing opportunities to allow anglers more opportunities to fish during normal closed seasons, this allows anglers to fish the rivers 12 months of the year for different species and on different river or different sections of a river.
The best time to fish Ontario rivers might depend on the fishing season so it is recommended to check the OMNR website or the Fishing Regulations manual before heading out to any river in Ontario.
The fishing regulations are very in depth and can be confusing so I also have a webpage HERE which might help you with understanding the regulations better and tells you what you should be looking for.
You might think of winter as a time when there is no fishing available but I have had some of the best days on the water during winter.
Because there are few anglers on the river and some rivers are full of hungry steelhead and are still open to fishing, winter fishing can be the best time to fish Ontario rivers.
I consider it winter or winter fishing once the air temps start staying below freezing which usually occurs around the 2nd or 3rd week in December and continues until around early March.
During this time many of our rivers will start freezing up but for the rivers that don’t, there is the chance to get some steelhead on the line.
This time of year you need to follow the extended fall season sections of the regulations which allow anglers to fish for trout and steelhead in some sections until December 31st or you can fish the “Year Round Open Sections” also found in the fishing regulations.
In fact, some of the best steelhead fishing can be had until the end of December and during any warm spells in January and February. If you think you might want to fish during the colder months and you want to know how I and my guides stay warm when winter fishing check out my page Fishing In The Winter – Stay Warm With These 10 Tips
There are also opportunities for anglers to catch some big migratory brown trout during the wintertime on some rivers.
Some big brown trout that have finished spawning in late November will also be dropping back down to the lake and as the water starts to get too cold some will stop and hold in the bigger deeper pools in those year-round sections and they might stay there all winter.
Winter fishing requires a little more planning and dressing appropriately. As a guide, I have had to spend many days and many hours fishing in temperatures as cold as -13C. I’ve learned how to not freeze my butt off too much and stay as warm as possible.
Layering is important to keep you warm and so is using the right gear. If you want to know my secrets for staying warm in the winter, check out my page Fishing In The Winter – Stay Warm With These 10 Tips
The steelhead also tend to hold in different parts of the river as the temperatures get too cold. Early in the fall while the fish are aggressive and on the move, you may find more steelhead in the faster water or at the head of the pools as they rest before they move up to the next pool.
As the water starts to get colder below 50F the steelhead will move slower and will start holding in bigger pools and using the deeper middle sections of the pool. When it gets really cold they will search out the biggest deepest pools and will even start using the tail of pools where the water is slowest. They may still move even under the ice.
For more information on steelhead fishing in Ontario check out my page Fishing For Ontario Steelhead.
SPRING RIVER FISHING
I think 9 out of 10 anglers would agree that the best time to fish Ontario rivers is in the spring and I’d probably have to agree.
In Ontario, most trout rivers are fully open from the 4th Saturday in April to the last day in September but anglers can start getting out under spring-like conditions in mid to late March for steelhead, and maybe even get some migratory brown trout that have held over in the rivers over the winter and are now starting to head back to the lake.
Anglers are limited to the year-round open sections before the official trout season opens which you can find details on in the Fishing Regulations.
Once the rivers start to thaw out and the spring floods subside the fishing for steelhead can be very good. This usually occurs in early March and it can be hit and miss for steelhead until the trout opener.
If you know what triggers the steelhead to run you can be there on the right days. Check out my page When To Fish For Steelhead In Ontario to see my advice on the steelhead runs.
Some days you could get a large or small run of steelhead up into the river and it can be great but a few days later it can slow down for days or until the next run moves in.
As the steelhead finishes their spawning, they will start dropping back to the lake giving anglers in the lower rivers another shot at them before the opener of trout.
Once the trout season opens fully on most river the fishing can be fantastic for a couple of weeks. It’s not uncommon for anglers to still be getting steelhead during the 3rd week in May.
TROUT SEASON IN ONTARIO
The other reason spring is the best time to fish Ontario rivers is because you also have the chance to fish other species that closed to fishing on October 1st.
Once the trout season opens in late April and early May, anglers can start targeting resident brown trout and brook trout in the upper sections of most rivers.
The trout’s activity is dependent on bug action and water temperatures.
Sometimes the very cold waters will keep the fishing slow and mid-day fishing might be best.
As the bugs become more prevalent and as the water temperatures warm to above 50 degrees Fahrenheit trout become very active and this can be a great time to be on the water in search of big trout that haven’t eaten much over the winter.
This is a time when trout and steelhead are most aggressive and the river conditions are best for fishing. Using egg patterns, worm patterns and small nymphs can be excellent. Check my page 4 Best Steelhead Baits.
If you are interested in knowing which baits that I use when guiding check out my page Best Trout Bait – The Only 5 Baits You Will Ever Need
Spin fishing with lures or using floats in the bigger deeper water can be really good. A great tactic for fishing for trout and steelhead in shallower and faster water is using Bottom Bouncing. Check out my advanced bottom bouncing methods on my page Bottom Bouncing – 5 Proven Guide Tips For More Fish
For fishing with lures check out my pages Lure Fishing For Trout: Tactics From A Pro River Guide or 4 Best Lures For Steelhead – A Pro Guides Recommendations
The excellent springtime fishing can continue into late May or early June when things start to look like summer. Spring is also the best time to hire a guide for either learning or just trying to catch some trophy trout. Learn from a guide early so you can practice all season.
Most years the fishing will stay good until the first major heatwave and then it’s time to consider summertime tactics or fish early morning on select rivers where the water stays cold enough for trout.
The guides at A Perfect Drift Guide Company guide for trout all summer long.
For more on spring time fishing for steelhead check our our article HERE
SUMMER RIVER FISHING
As the season progresses on some of the larger rivers the water temperatures can start to become too warm for trout and the trout can become inactive especially on hot days or during mid-day periods when the water is the warmest.
Trout fishing can become limited and fish may only be active in the mornings or active during cooler periods in the evening and throughout the night.
Anglers are recommended to have a stream thermometer on hand to make sure they are not fishing for trout during warm water periods.
During these warm water periods hooking and fighting a trout can stress the fish out and even kill them. If you plan on catching and releasing your trout it’s advised to not fish in water temperatures above 68F /20C.
There can still be some great trout fishing in the summer month. These pages might give you some ideas on where to go.
Some rivers have more groundwater also known as being spring fed and will stay colder more often. It’s also common to find much colder water the further up the river you go so I recommend that once the water warms up too much in one section, go look for colder water.
Get yourself a good stream thermometer, you can see the one I like on my page River Fishing Gear: Everything You Need To Succeed In 2021
WARM WATER SPECIES
Some other anglers will choose to go find other fishing opportunities during these warm summer periods and other great river fishing opportunities do exist during this time.
For some anglers, the best time to fish Ontario rivers is during the summer months.
In southern Ontario, the pike season opens in May and big pike will hang out in the deeper slower pools and can be a lot of fun for anglers looking for some warm water river fishing.
There is also an opportunity to fish for walleye on some rivers. Our Musky season opens on the first Saturday in June but only a few rivers in southern Ontario have decent river musky.
Check the regulations, but generally, the bass season opens on the 4th Saturday in June and can be great until October and there are plenty of Ontario rivers that offer smallmouth bass fishing and some will have largemouth bass.
Fishing for these warm-water species on a river can be exciting with lots of bass with some over 5 pounds, pike up over 15 pounds and some muskies over 50 inches all in the same river.
ATLANTIC AND CHINOOK SALMON
There is also the opportunity to fish for Atlantic salmon and Chinook Salmon which at times and under the right conditions can enter the rivers in July and early August.
For Atlantic salmon anglers, the best time to fish Ontario rivers is in September and October which is when most Atlantic salmon are caught and is the same time the big chinook salmon enter the rivers.
Even though anglers don’t consider summer as a time for salmon, some salmon will enter the rivers during high water periods caused by cooler rains and salmon will continue to enter rivers periodically under similar conditions right into October.
It is important to also consider the water temperatures when fishing for summer salmon because fighting a big salmon in water warmer than 68F can kill them.
Also, check the regulations on Atlantic salmon before you decide to keep one because as of the time of this writing you can’t keep the Atlantic salmon in the rivers.
Other Summer Species….
Carp is another species not very well know to most Ontario river anglers. Some of our rivers are full of them and they can be a lot of fun and are hard fighting.
The best times for carp are from June until late September.
The guides at A Perfect Drift Guide Company offer guide trips to select rivers for huge Carp.
Carp are big and strong and can be a lot of fun on fly rods and spinning rods.
FALL RIVER FISHING
For some anglers, the best time to fish Ontario rivers is the fall. The fall starts with the big runs of Chinook salmon and maybe Coho and Atlantic salmon if you fish Lake Ontario Rivers.
It’s a time when big fish are plentiful. It’s also the time when the steelhead start to show up in the rivers again.
These species often enter the rivers to spawn in late August or early September just after rains which can increase flows enough to trigger the runs.
The pacific salmon die after they spawn and are often gone by the beginning of November in many rivers with a few stragglers around but some rivers and some years may have salmon around until later into November.
September can also be a great month to fish for river brown trout and brook trout. As the rivers start to cool off some of the biggest trout will start to get active again.
The big fall brown trout and brook trout take one some great colors as it gets closer to their fall spawning time.
The Ontario trout season ends after September 30th and fishing for brook trout and resident brown trout ends. There are still good opportunities for big river pike and big river musky and the bass fishing can be good until the end of October.
For most anglers, the fall continues through until the rivers start to freeze again in early to late December.