Fishing For Ontario Brown Trout

Fishing For Ontario Brown Trout

Brown Trout – Brown trout are also called just “browns” by local anglers and most southern Ontario rivers have self-sustaining populations. Fishing for Ontario Brown Trout is very popular because brown trout tend to grow bigger than other river species.

Brown trout are not native to Ontario but were introduced from European strains around 1913. Ontario Brown trout are considered naturalized which means they were introduced and now survive naturally in our rivers. Ontario Brown trout are a favorite of many trout anglers due to their bigger sizes. Unlike brook trout, catching brown trout over 20 inches is not that uncommon and their average size is 10 to 12 inches. Ontario brown trout can be the weariest and difficult of all the resident trout species in Ontario and can be a challenge for many anglers.

Brown trout in Ontario


Brown Trout Food: Brown trout in rivers can feed on almost anything that is alive in the river but their main food sources include river insects, small fish, crawfish, leeches, and worms.

Bigger brown trout sometimes prefer other fish as their main food source and have been known to even eat mice or small birds that have fallen into the river. Many people think of trout as the fish that gently eats small insects off the surface but brown trout can be very aggressive and smash a well presented lure or streamer fly.

We’ve had brown trout try and eat other trout as we reel them in. This little rainbow in the picture took the fly of an angler when a big 22″ brown trout grabbed and tried to eat the rainbow eventually letting the rainbow go.


An Ontario brown trout river

Brown Trout Rivers:  There are many brown trout rivers and creeks in southern Ontario for anglers to explore and because brown trout can survive in warmer water than brook trout brown trout can often be found in the larger middle sections of the rivers where brook trout cant survive. Brown trout also like smaller creeks and tributaries where the water stays cold and clean year round.

The OMNR website said that there were 159 brown trout rivers and streams in Ontario and because there are to so many rivers and creeks we’re only listing the main brown trout rivers.

The best thing to do If you are interested in fishing for brown trout in other rivers is to look through the list of rivers we talk about on our rivers page and start at the uppermost sections that are public access. There are some good brown trout rivers very near to Toronto.

An Ontario Brown trout river

Some of the best rivers for fishing for Ontario Brown Trout that we know of are within a 90 minutes drive of Toronto. It’s worth exploring the middle and upper sections and the small creeks flowing into these rivers:

  • Grand River

  • Eramosa River

  • Whitemans Creek

  • Duffins Creek

  • Bowmanville creek

  • Ganaraska River

  • Cobourg Creek

  • Humber River

  • Rouge River

  • Credit River

  • Bronte Creek

  • Saugeen River and Tributaries

  • Nottawasaga River and Tributaries

  • Beaver River

  • Bighead River

Ontario's best brown trout river

For more information on some of these rivers check out our River Page

Resident Brown trout will remain in these rivers throughout their entire lifespan and many of the little creeks that enter these rivers have populations of brown trout in them.  Although the smaller tributaries may be overgrown and difficult to fish many anglers prefer some of the bigger sections of rivers like on the Grand, the Credit, and Saugeen Rivers because it easier to fish.

Ontario Brown trout river


Brown Trout Habitat: Brown trout can be found throughout the river, in the middle, off to the sides, in deeper slower water, and in shallower faster water. On some of the bigger rivers like the one in the picture it’s common to find them anywhere there is a break in the current or a slight increase in depth. Brown trout require some flow to bring them cool oxygenated water, food, and cover or security where they can get away from any danger. Brown trout will hold in different sections of the river at different times and it’s not uncommon to see big brown trout feeding in water as shallow as 10 to 20 inches.

As with most trout, they are often found in seams and current breaks where there is a concentration of food flowing past them. They also like some depth or cover to offer them some security. Brown trout will also use rocks, logs, and trees as cover, and the biggest ones are usually found near log jams or deeper water. Brown trout can also be found in slow moving sections of rivers sipping on floating bugs or chasing minnows or crawfish in the rocks. They can also be in fast pocket water and anything in between. The rivers in the pictures below are all good examples of brown trout water. Click on any picture for a larger view.


Ontario Trout Season and Regulations: Ontario’s resident trout fishing season is from the 4th Saturday in April to September 30th. There are a few exceptions to this but for the most part, all brown trout sections are closed after September 30th. For more information and the full OMNR fishing regulations check out the OMNR website . At the time of writing this Southern Ontario is listed under zone 16 and some rivers we cover are under zone 17 in the OMNR Fishing Regulations.

Some sections of some rivers may also have different open seasons or may have special regulations like being barbless hook areas or catch and release only so before going fishing be sure to look up the OMNR fishing regulations and look up the river you plan to fish first under the ” Exceptions to zone 16 or 17 regulations” section.

Ontario migratory brown trout from the Credit river


Prime Time: The best time to fish for brown trout on most rivers is from opening day in April or early May and throughout the month of June with sporadic to good fishing from July until the end of September depending on the water temperatures.

Migratory brown trout anglers can start targeting them in early September but on many rivers, they peak later in October and early November. On some rivers, the big brown trout will hold over and slowly drop back to the lake throughout the winter months and even through the spring.

Although migratory browns are not that plentiful if you get there on the right days its possible to catch a few.

This picture is a migratory brown trout caught on the lower Credit river in Mid-October.


Temperatures: Brown trout tend to be most active at certain temperatures. The optimal temperature range for feeding is about 55 to 67°F (12 to 19 °C) but they can survive and be active from 35 to 68 °F (2 to 20 °C).

Even though the temperature may be in the perfect range there are times when a rising or lowering temperature may stop their activity and feeding. One word of caution is to not fish for brown trout or brook trout above 68°F / 20 °C because doing so can seriously stress the fish out or even kill them during the fight.

During the later part of hot summer days check the water temperatures frequently because once the water temps get around 69F they tend to stop feeding, this would be a good time to go find colder water or end your fishing for the day. Some Ontario Brown trout rivers will stay colder than others. How cold the river is will depend on how much groundwater is entering the river and how much forest cover and shade there is to help keep the river colder.

A shaded trout river


Fishing Methods: The most common methods of fishing for brown trout include Fly fishing, Spin fishing with lures or using floats and bait with a spinning reel or a bait caster or even a centerpin reel.


Fly Fishing: When fly fishing for brown trout we recommend that you use rods from 7 feet to 9 feet in the 3 weight to 5 weight sizes with a suitably matched reel and a floating line that is either a weight forward or double taper style. I personally prefer the Airflow Ridge lines for their high floatability and durability. Because the rivers and creeks are often on the smaller side and so are the fish it makes sense to keep things on the smaller lighter side. Leaders in the 4x to 6x is recommended because brown trout can be line shy. I don’t recommend really heavy line either since many of the rivers and creeks where brown trout are found are very clear water and the brown trout may see a very thick line. Always go as heavy as possible in order to both get them to consistently bite but also prevent them from seeing the line but also large enough to enable you to get those bigger brown trout out of wooded areas once hooked.  The tippet or leader diameter will also depend on the method I’m using at the time.

Dry fly fishing fro Ontario Brown trout


Dry Fly: Dry fly fishing for brown trout can be a lot of fun since they are sometimes quite eager to come to the surface.

I use traditional dead drift methods but will sometimes have more success using skittering techniques or a dry dropper method.

For more information or to learn how to do all the various dry fly techniques consider a lesson or guided trip with A Perfect Drift Guide Company.

For common dead drift dry fly methods check out our dry fly fishing video.


Nymphing: It is said over 90% of the time trout feed on insects below the surface and this makes nymphing one of the most productive methods. The most common nymphing method often includes a strike indicator or float with some split shot/weights and a fly called a nymph or wet fly. Watch the video on how to nymph for more information.

There are over 6 methods of nymphing and some methods work better then others under different river types and different conditions. The indicator style of nymphing is the most common method because it works but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best or most productive method for trout in Ontario.

For more advanced and productive methods and productive flies consider booking into the Advanced Nymphing class or booking a guide trip from A Perfect Drift Guide Company. Their reputation for using modern style nymphing has produced many fish like the ones below and have helped out hundreds of anglers catch more and bigger trout. They have many customers that have lander between 3 and 6 brown trout over 20 inches in one day using their advanced nymphing methods.

An angler nymph fishing for Ontario brown trout


Wet Fly and Streamer Fishing: Another productive and fun fly fishing method is wet fly fishing or streamer fishing. Traditional wet fly fishing is using a swing style retrieve where you cast across and slightly down stream and with a tight line just let the fly swing across the pool until it’s directly below you or out of the main current or target zone. For more advanced wet fly fishing consider a lesson or guide trip with A Perfect Drift Guide Company. You can also check out this video on the wet fly swing fishing.

Streamer fishing can be productive and may produce the largest brown trout in the river. There are multiple way to use a streamer but the most common method is to cast across and slightly down river and retrieving the streamer fly by stripping in the line with short steady pulls until the line is out of the target zone or you fully retrieve the line. Check out this Streamer Fishing Video. For more advanced streamer fishing and multiple streamer methods and flies consider a lesson or guide trip with A Perfect Drift Guide Company.

Favourite Flies: Some of my favourite flies include:

  • Royal Coachman dry fly and wet

  • Humpy dry fly with yellow, orange or red belly

  • Orange Raven dry fly – See fly HERE

An angler with an Ontario Brown trout


The Good: The good thing right now is we do have some good opportunities for resident wild brown trout and just about every river system still has some brown trout in it for anglers to pursue.

 Brown trout are also relatively easy to catch using a variety of methods from spinning gear to fly rods and because of this they can be a great fish to introduce young kids to.

Both the number of rivers containing brown trout and the ease of catching them allows anglers in the know the opportunity to catch these beautiful fish during the open season.


Access: Yes, I did say there are lots of brown trout rivers in Southern Ontario but because brown trout are often found in the coldest cleanest sections of a river, that usually limits them to only the upper most reaches of most rivers where accessing these fish is often very difficult due to lots of private property or hard to fish conditions like thick overgrown bush. Most rivers that I know of have only limited access of very small sections, or under bridges or the odd conservation area or park to fish and these areas often get heavily fished and the big fish get fished out making for often tough and poor fishing. 

Ontario Brown trout fishing


Size and Numbers: Because brown trout are relatively easy to catch and because in many rivers the legal possession limit is five there are not many opportunities for larger fish which in my opinion is primarily due to anglers keeping any fish big enough for the frying pan. This leaves mostly small fish in the public sections of rivers and often means fewer numbers of big fish. In my opinion the only way this will ever get better is if anglers practice 100% catch and release or the OMNR lowers the catch limits and increases angling opportunities by securing more stretches of river to spread out the angling pressure.


Enforcement: I’d agree that more enforcement is required on Ontario rivers as poaching, out of season fishing and over harvest still occurs and accounts for poor fishing in some areas. If you see someone breaking the law and hurting our fishery you can report illegal activity and you can call: The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry TIPS line at: 1-877-847-7667 Crime Stoppers (anonymous) 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) More information on how to report a crime: Go to the ONMRF website


Better Brown Trout Fishing: Unfortunately our OMNR doesn’t recognize brown trout as a preferred trout because they are not native. Their emphasis is on native species like brook trout and Atlantic Salmon and because of this the OMNR has even proposed the killing off of brown trout in some rivers to expand their brook trout and Atlantic salmon programs. Unfortunately our environment is not getting any colder or cleaner and studies show brook trout in many parts of the world are disappearing. It is our opinion that Brown trout are a lot more temperature tolerant and have the ability to survive better in many sections of our rivers and therefore should be considered as a better alternative species to focus on instead of being killed off by ignorant Ontario biologists. If better river fishing is important to you, I would highly recommend you contact the closest Trout Unlimited and join the fight to save our rivers and contact the closest OMNR office to you and let them know you want more brown trout and not less.

Other organizations helping keep our rivers good include:

Trout Unlimited CanadaSee all Ontario Chapters here

Friends of the Grand