Ontario Fishing Times

The Best Time To Fish For Trout And Steelhead

Best Time To Fish Ontario Rivers

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. The best time to fish Ontario rivers depends on a few things. There are certain times during the year when fishing for certain species is better than other times. Most often, when the best fishing for a species is dependant on the season and sometimes on our fishing regulations.

Best Time To Fish Ontario Rivers

Open and Closed Seasons for river fishing – In Ontario each game fish is protected by closed seasons. The time they close the season down is during times when the fish are the most vulnerable witch 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 and it could be even considered 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.

Fishing Ontario steelhead in the winter


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. 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 allows 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.


There is also opportunities for anglers to catch some big migratory brown trout during this time 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 to 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 to much and stay as warm as possible.

Layering is important to keep you warm and so is using the right gear. Check out our River Products Page for tips on gear for on staying warm in winter.

The steelhead also tend to hold in different parts of the river as the temperatures get to 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 the rest before they move up to the net pool. As the water starts to get colder below 50F they will move slower and will start holding more 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 ever start using the tail of pools where the water is slowest. They may still move even under the ice.

Best River Fishing Products for all seasons
An angler fishing the Beaver river in the spring


I think 9 out of 10 anglers would tell me 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 year round open sections before the season open which you can find in the Fishing Regulations.

Once the rivers start to thaw out and the spring floods subside the fishing for steelhead can be very good. It can be hit and miss for steelhead until the the trout opener, Same days large or small runs  of steelhead move into the river and it can be great and then slow down for days until the next run moves in. As the steelhead finish their spawning the will start dropping back to the lake giving anglers in the lower rivers another shot at them before the opener of trout. Was the season opens many rivers fully open and the fishing can be fantastic for a couple of weeks. It’s not uncommon for anglers to even still be getting steelhead during the 3rd week in May.


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 degree 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. Spin fishing with lures can also be good at this time.

The excellent spring time fishing can continue into late May or early June when things start to look like summer. This spring time is also the best time to hire a guide for either learning or just trying to catch some trophy trout.  Most years the fishing will stay good until the first major heat wave and then it’s time to consider summer time tactics.

For more on spring time fishing for steelhead check our our article HERE

Late spring Brown trout from the upper Credit River
Fishing for river bass in Ontario


As the season progresses on some of the larger rivers the water temperatures can start to become to 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.

Some rivers have more ground water 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 to much in once section go look for colder water.


Some other choose to go find other fishing opportunities during these warm summer periods and other great river fishing opportunities do exist during this time. Our 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. Bass season opens on the 4th Saturday in June and can be great until October and there are plenty of rivers that offer small mouth and maybe large mouth 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.


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.

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 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.

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.

Fishing for river pike in Ontario
Fishing for fall salmon


For some angler the best river fishing in Ontario 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.

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.

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.


Migratory Brown trout also start working their way up many rivers, especially lake Ontario rivers where they will spawn. Because many will survive the spawn these big brown trout will hold over in the rivers or start dropping back to the lakes giving anglers a second chance to catch these fish.

For more detailed information on fishing different species in Ontario rivers check on our Site Menu

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