Ontario Salmon Fishing – Tips And Advice From An Expert

Fishing for Ontario Salmon
An anglers with a late October salmon caught will on a guide trip with A Perfect Drift Guide Company

Chinook Salmon is the most common of the four salmon species in Ontario rivers and for many people, this is what fishing for Ontario Salmon is all about.

Chinook salmon are the most sought-after salmon because of their large size and large numbers.  Chinook salmon is also known as or referred to by the locals as, Chinnies, Chinooks, Nooks, King Salmon, or Kings.

They’re an introduced species in the great lakes and run up the rivers in the fall. The fishing for salmon is usually best from mid-September to late October.

These Chinooks can grow to over 40 pounds but they average between 15 and 25lbs on most rivers. Once hooked they sometimes feel like you’ve hooked the back of a boat that just won’t stop.

Some days it’s not uncommon for a few thousand salmon to enter the rivers giving anglers some spectacular fishing.

The Ontario Salmon Run

Watch some of the incredible footage of salmon running up the rivers in Ontario.

The Salmon Run On The Ganaraska River
Salmon Run in Ontario
Ontario Salmon Run 2020

Fresh early September salmon that are straight in from the lake are silver, acrobatic, and one of the hardest fighting fish in Ontario.

After they stay in the river for a week or two they take on darker spawning colors and may get hooked jaws and can grow some large dog-like teeth.

Ontario Salmon Run

They can get pretty beat-up looking during the spawn with lots of scars, scraped off scales and skin, and they can turn almost black in color.

Salmon that have been spawning for days and in this beat-up condition do not fight very hard and are usually not worth fishing for.

Some guys will even call them old boots because you literally just drag them in with hardly any fight left in them.

Your chances are much better and the fight is better if you fish for salmon holding in the pools or ones that are slowly moving up the river.

Snagging is illegal in Ontario and most or all fish taken off the spawning beds are caught by snagging… Avoid the temptation, DON’T SNAG SALMON!

Other Ontario Salmon Species

Fishing for Ontario Salmon is not just about Chinook salmon.

Ontario also has Coho Salmon, Pink salmon, and Atlantic salmon but they are in much smaller numbers, and timing the runs of these salmon is hard.

In southern Ontario, I rarely ever hear of Pink salmon being caught and in 35 years have never caught one myself. Pink salmon are more common further north in the St.Mary’s river and occasional catches have been reported in some Georgian Bay and Lake Huron rivers.

Ontario Coho Salmon


The Coho salmon are smaller than the Chinook salmon but are known for their fast runs and plentiful jumping style of fight.

They are often more brightly colored with hues of red, pink, purple, and orange.

Ontario Atlantic Salmon

An Ontario Atlantic Salmon
An Ontario Atlantic Salmon

The Ontario OMNR along with other groups such as the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters have been trying for about 10 years to reintroduce Atlantic salmon to lake Ontario and its Tributaries. They have stocked millions of Atlantic salmon in the upper credit river and they continue to tell anglers it looks promising but . . . .

Unfortunately, considering the tens of millions of Atlantic salmon that have been stocked into Lake Ontario rivers and the time and effort involved, the numbers of adult Atlantic salmon returning to the rivers are extremely low with most anglers never catching even one.

If you want to try for Atlantic Salmon your best bet in southern Ontario is the Ganaraska River where the OMNR has put much of their recent efforts into stocking using a strain of landlocked Atlantic salmon.

Your other option for fishing Atlantic Salmon in Ontario is to try the St. Mary’s River in Northern Ontario which is where they have been stocked by the USA and are actually returning in fishable numbers.

When Is The Salmon Run In Ontario?


The  Salmon runs on some rivers Ontario Rivers can start as early as August or even July but starting this early is usually rare and the runs are often small and sporadic.

Most salmon enter the rivers in good numbers starting in September and through to late October. The runs usually occur after a significant rain brings up the water levels in the river. 

The big salmon don’t normally like to enter the river when the water is super low because they are more exposed and also because it’s harder for them to swim through the shallow section and rapids so high water is preferred. 

It’s also more common for the salmon to start their runs in the evening and overnight when it’s dark which is when they feel more comfortable moving in the shallower sections. So even if it rains hard during the late morning the salmon might wait until almost dark before they start the run which means that the next morning can be great fishing.

Best Salmon Guides In Ontario

I tell my guide clients that they should head to the river 12 to 24 hours after the first big rain in September if they want a chance to hit the first good salmon run.

Each good rain after that should bring in some more salmon and colder nights mean colder water and that helps too.

If you hit the river 24 hours after the rain and it’s pure mud the salmon can’t see your bait so catching them is tough in those water conditions until the water starts to clear up.

If the water on one river is dirty try a smaller river that may clear up faster.

Instead of one big run, most years there could be dozens of small to medium-sized runs of salmon which come up the river after each rain. A small run might be 100 salmon and a large run could be over 5000 salmon. A run could last days with salmon entering the river over days.

If it’s a very dry year and there are no rains in September the salmon can enter the river at any time but, if there is a day when the winds are very strong and are blowing in-shore towards the river mouths and the river water is cold enough the salmon could enter the rivers at this time even if there is no rain and even if the river is very low.

The salmon will often hold off going up the river for as late as they can if there is no rain but the driving urge to spawn means they have to go even in the lowest of water.

They will sometimes need to swim through water so low that their backs are out of the water and they drag their bellies across the rocks which often rubs the scales of their bellies. Trying to catch them in this super low water is useless since they never bite there. It’s best to find the next deep spot above the rapids and fish for them there.

When Do The Salmon Spawn In Ontario? – Spawning Salmon

Ontario Salmon Run

Some salmon will start spawning days after they enter the river. Once that have gone far enough up the river into suitable spawning habitat and have found a mate they will start their spawning ritual.

They can often spawn in multiple spots and with multiple partners.

Once the salmon get into the shallow water much further up the river and start spawning they normally won’t eat or hit your bait and it is recommended to not fish for these fish.

They are also expending a lot of energy while they are spawning so they don’t fight well. It’s best to let them spawn and make more salmon for years to come.

Do All Salmon Die After They Spawn?

Spawning Salmon

All Pacific Ocean salmon such as the Chinook and Coho salmon die after they are finished spawning. Atlantic salmon are from the Atlantic Ocean and they may be able to spawn multiple times over many years.

Why Do Salmon Die After They Spawn?

The Chinook and Coho salmon die after they spawn as part of their natural life cycle. The rotting flesh may be eaten and can provide valuable nutrients for new young salmon.

The flesh of the salmon can also be eaten by the aquatic insects which are also eaten by the young salmon.

The death of the adult salmon help to ensure a better survival of their young offspring.

Do Salmon Eat Once They Enter The River?

Although it’s been said for many years that once the salmon enter the rivers they stop eating, some new research on salmon suggests what I’ve been saying for years, and that is that some salmon do eat during the spawn.

Even though they may not eat out of hunger, they may hit a fly or a lure or bait out of habit, or instinct, or aggression and there are days when anglers will catch many salmon.

Whatever the reason is, it has been confirmed that some do eat even after they have been in the river for a while.

I’ve been fishing for Ontario Salmon for over 35 years and I’ve seen 30lb salmon swim halfway across the pool to smash a fly or a roe bag and I have had them hit spinners, spoons, and minnow lures with hard aggressive, and deliberate strikes. I’ve even had them rise to the surface and inhale my float or indicator.

What Are The Best Salmon Rivers In Ontario?

Best Salmon Rivers in Ontario

Just about every river and every creek flowing into Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, and Georgian Bay have runs of salmon. Some runs will be small and some large with over 10,000 salmon some years.

Normally the larger the river the bigger the salmon runs will be but some smaller rivers can be thick with salmon in the fall.

Also, a river that has been stocked and the coldest cleanest rivers that have a high survival rate for young wild salmon will have bigger runs of salmon.

As far as the best salmon river in Ontario goes, it really depends on a few things.

Some anglers prefer smaller rivers and creeks that are 10 to 20 feet wide because they are often colder, and the salmon runs start earlier, and also because the salmon concentrate in the smaller pools so they are easier to hook.

The downside to these smaller rivers is they can be more crowded and have more wood and log jams so you may lose more salmon and they can be more difficult to land. Also, sometimes the pools are so small the salmon don’t have as much room to run and jump and fight.

Larger Ontario Salmon Rivers

An Ontario Steelhead river

Larger salmon rivers can have the biggest runs of Ontario Salmon.

Even some of the bigger rivers can get very crowded at times but for anglers that are willing to explore and get away from the crowds, there are often miles of open water in September to fish where there are a lot fewer people.

The upside to fishing for salmon in these bigger rivers is that the pools are much bigger and deeper and fighting salmon in the bigger pools is way more fun. I find salmon tend to jump more if the water is deeper and they are less likely to leave the pool and run up or down the river as far if the pool is bigger and deeper.

The Niagara River is the largest salmon river in Ontario and gets large runs of hard-fighting salmon.

What Are The Best Salmon Rivers Near Toronto?

Salmon Fishing Near Toronto

Almost in downtown Toronto is the Humber River and it gets a good run of Salmon starting in September.

Etobicoke Creek and the Don River will also get a small runs of salmon with very little crowds.

West of Toronto you could try the Credit River between Hwy 403 and the mouth. This river gets some of the biggest runs of salmon in Ontario. Further west you could try Oakville Creek, 16 Mile Creek and a favorite for many is Bronte Creek. These rivers are normally low in September low so it sometimes takes a big rain to bring in the salmon.

East Of Toronto is a number of good rivers to try and fish for salmon but most of them are on the smaller side and they average about 15 feet wide. The Rouge River, Duffins Creek, and Oshawa Creeks are the closest to Toronto and are popular with salmon anglers.

You could also try further west on Bowmanville Creek, Wilmot Creek and Grahams Creek.

Fishing For Salmon on the Ganaraska River

The Ganaraska River in Port Hope is one of the biggest rivers east of Toronto and it gets one of the largest runs of salmon from the eastern Lake Ontario tributaries. It also gets very crowded near the mouth of the river.

This is a good river if you just want to go watch the salmon run up the river and try to jump the dam at the Conservation area in Port Hope.

Georgian Bay Salmon Fishing

Fishing for salmon in Ontario

Georgian Bay has numerous cold clean rivers that have salmon runs.

Just about every river and creek flowing into Georgian Bay from the town of Waubeshene to the town of Tobermory will have salmon in them.

Further north on Georgian bay there are not many rivers suitable for salmon fishing but some angler report salmon in Parry Sound river, Magnetawan River, and the Severn River in Port Severn.

On the eastern side of Georgian Bay, anglers could try fishing the Cold Water River near the town of Cold Water as well as the Sturgeon River and Hoggs River near Midland which also gets small runs of salmon.

The Nottawasaga River, the Beaver River, and the Bighead River also get good runs of Salmon.

Further west on Georgian Bay, anglers can try the Sydenham river, Colpoys Creek, and the Pottawatomi rivers for salmon

Lake Huron Salmon Fishing

Fishing Salmon on the Saugeen River

Lake Huron has over a dozen rivers and creeks that get runs of Salmon.

The largest river and maybe the most well known is in the town of South Hampton and is called the Saugeen River.

Most anglers here fish the area known as Denny’s damn in the Dennys Dam Conservation Area and down the river towards the mouth of the river. This section of the river is open year-round and is popular for steelhead as well.

Salmon on this river can get up past the town of Walkerton giving anglers lots of room to fish for them. Popular spots on this river to fish are in the town of Paisley and in the Saugeen Bluffs Provincial Park.

Anglers can also try the Sauble River, The Penetangore River, the Maitland River, 9 Mile River, and the Bayfield river for fall salmon.

Lake Erie Salmon

Lake Erie does not have any substantial stocking of salmon on the Ontario Side and therefore gets little to no salmon runs in the rivers. However, there are some incidental catches of salmon that may be coming from Lake Huron or from the small amount of salmon that might be stocked on the USA side.

More Ontario Salmon Rivers

Most of the steelhead and trout rivers that I discuss on the Ontario Rivers page also get runs of salmon and you can find more details about each river there so I recommend that you check out that page for more ideas on where to try the next time you want to go fishing for Ontario salmon.

The Best Time To Fish For Ontario Salmon?

Best time to fish for salmon in Ontario

Hard fighting, acrobatic, and lots of salmon keep guys coming back for more but when is the best time to fish for Salmon in Ontario and around the great lakes.

The salmon season on most rivers ends on September 30th with the closing of the trout season, however, there may be extended seasons and year-round seasons available on some rivers.

It’s best to check the Ontario Fishing Regulations if you want to try fishing for Ontario salmon after September 30th.

I have already discussed the timing of the salmon runs and the seasons for salmon, but to beat the crowds and to have the best day on the water fishing for salmon I recommend that you try fishing mid-week during September or you take a riverboat guided trip through less pressured water. A Perfect Drift Guide Company guides for salmon in the fall

The weekends are always the most crowded and the worst time to fish on many of the more popular rivers.

Fishing For Ontario Salmon

There are many ways to catch salmon in Ontario and some are good and some are not so good.

Some anglers like to wait in shallow runs that are about 12 to 20 inches deep and wait for the salmon to swim up and once they see the salmon they grab their 7-foot rod with 30 pound test and their giant treble hook and they start repeatedly swinging that hook at the salmon until they snag the salmon. THESE GUYS ARE MORONS AND ARE FISHING ILLEGALLY!

If they just took the time to learn how to fish for salmon the right they would probably catch 10 times more salmon, and they would be doing it legally. Snagging is illegal in Ontario!

Please don’t be a salmon snagging moron, there is no need for it since there are much better ways to catch salmon.

While the salmon snagging morons are on the water catching 1 or 2 if they are lucky, I’m hooking 40 or 50 legally.

Fly Fishing For Ontario Salmon

Fly Fishing For Salmon In Ontario

Fly fishing for Ontario Salmon can be one of the most fun and the most productive ways to catch these great fish.

Some anglers choose to use indicators and nymph for them the same way they do with steelhead and trout and this is often the most productive way to catch Ontario Salmon.

Go to my Fly Fishing For Salmon page for a lot more detailed information on fly fishing for great lakes salmon.

Spey Fishing For Ontario Salmon

Spey fishing for Ontario salmon or also known as swinging flies in front of salmon can be very productive and very rewarding.

Salmon can be aggressive and hot a well presented fly.

Euro Nymphing Fishing For Ontario Salmon

A new thing anglers are starting to do is Euro-style fishing for salmon and this method is also very productive. The guides at A Perfect Drift Guide Company specialize in all of these methods.

Centerpin Fishing For Ontario Salmon

Fly Fishing for Ontario Salmon

Salmon anglers fishing for Ontario salmon also use Centerpin reels and rods the same way they Centerpin for steelhead. Centerpin Fishing is also known as float fishing.

Go to our  Centerpin Fishing page for more information for a lot more detailed information on Centerpin fishing rivers in the great lakes region.

For more information about the best baits, the best gear and the best set-up for salmon fishing with a Centerpin go to my Centerpin Fishing Page

Spin Fishing For Ontario Salmon

Spin fishing for Ontario salmon consists of a spinning reel and a spinning rod and using lures, bait, and floats.

Once they enter the river their primary goal is to get as far up the river as they can and spawn so getting them to bite your lure can be tough, but . . . .

Salmon like shinny or bright things and they like a lot of action in the lures

When spin fishing some anglers prefer to throw lures like flatfish, kwikfish, spinners or minnow style lures like Rapalas. I use the same baits for salmon as I do for steelhead so check out my page 4 Best Lures For Steelhead – A Pro Guides Recommendations

The guides at A Perfect Drift Guide Company say their favorite and often most productive spin fishing method is to cast Mepps, Vibrax or Panther Martin spinners across and slightly down river reeling only fast enough to keep the blades spinning while trying to keep the lures two to three feet off the bottom.

If a strike doesn’t happen on the first cast they try a faster retrieve and or a more erratic stop and go type retrieve to entice a strike. If that doesn’t produce they cast 3 to 5 feet down the river and repeat until they have success.

This method can be used with most lures. Sometimes changing colors and lures can be the key to triggering the salmon to strike. The strikes are usually aggressive so be prepared. Note: It is illegal and unethical to purposely snag salmon in Ontario.

For more top-secret tactics on how I fish lures for trout, salmon and steelhead check out my page Lure Fishing For Trout: Tactics From A Pro River Guide

Make sure you use the right gear for salmon. You can see what I recommend on my page Best Gear For Great Lakes Salmon Fishing

A 9 to 11 foot medium action rod is a good choice for throwing lures.

Some anglers also drift roe, worms, minnows, plastic baits, artificial flies, and small marshmallows underneath steelhead floats which can all be very productive.

Bottom bouncing is another method that works providing the angler is good enough to detect strikes. This takes practice but if you get good at it, it can produce a lot of fish. Not sure how to bottom bounce, check out my advanced bottom bouncing methods here – Bottom Bouncing – 5 Proven Guide Tips For More Fish

Double header days and days of 50 to 100 hookups are possible if you know what you are doing and you time the runs perfect. It’s not uncommon to do a trip with the guides from A Perfect Drift Guide Company and see over 50 Salmon a day.

Best Salmon Gear for Ontario Salmon

Even if there are large numbers of salmon in the river, if you don’t have the right gear then fishing for Ontario salmon can be tough. I’ve seen many rods broken and many fish lost because guys fish with the wrong gear. I have also seen guys catching no fish because they are using the wrong gear, the wrong set-up, and the wrong baits.

When fishing for Ontario salmon anglers can use multiple methods and different gear for catching river salmon so I talk about the gear I use and the best lures, best baits, and best set-ups for each method on the Best Salmon Gear Page – HERE.

Can You Eat The Salmon In The River

If you catch the salmon within a day or 2 of entering a river they may be suitable to eat.

They say that once the salmon enters the river their bodies go through changes and this causes the meat of the salmon to become softer and not as firm and therefore once they start to get too dark and beat up it is not advised to eat them.

If they have been in the river too long, most anglers find they do not taste as good and the texture of the meat isn’t as good as if it was caught in the lake.

Check Out My Blog Website For More Updated Information

Plus get a whole lot more updated information about Fly Fishing, Centerpin Fishing, and Spin Fishing For Trout and Steelhead on my Blog Website.

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