Fishing across Canada

Several regions of Canada are considered for the fishing opportunities they offer. The fishing history of each area is presented, along with information on permits and travel. For example, New Brunswick is known for the smallmouth bass that exist in great numbers there.
Give or take a couple of backcountry, ponds, Canada has about 292,000 square miles of lakes and rivers crammed between its Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Some lie in the shadow of the country’s cities; some are fed by pristine high-country springs; and others carry the silt of the land with them to the sea.

The diversity of Canada’s waters is further reflected in the variety of the gamefish they harbor. For instance, many of the region’s southern lakes and rivers – deemed warm-water basins – are home to such popular species as walleyes, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and muskellunge. In the high country and northlands, cold-water basins teem with salmonoids including brook trout, Dolly Varden, Arctic char, and grayling.

Yet the distinctions between Canada’s warm- and cold-water basins are ambiguous, making the realms of the various species unclear. Man has influenced the natural scheme of things, introducing species where nature did not, replacing some species with others considered more attractive, and restoring some species to their once-native waters. As a result, small-mouth bass share watersheds with native brookies, steelhead swim alongside restored lake trout, and brown trout cohabit with cutthroats. And some of the finest Pacific salmon fishing as well as an emerging Atlantic salmon fishery can be found between the thousands of miles of either coast.

For anglers, this adds up to an endless array of fishing opportunities – some of which deserve the spotlight as exceptional destinations worth visiting this summer.

NEW BRUNSWICK

Nobody knows how smallmouth bass came to inhabit New Brunswick’s waters. One theory has it that they colonized into the province from the State of Maine; another suggests that fry, found in the water tanks of trains originating in Maine, were inadvertently dumped into streams along the railway line when the water was purged. The most likely explanation, however, is that New Brunswick’s superb smallmouth bass fishery stems from stockings – both official and unauthorized – carried out since the late 1800s.

Whatever the source, the fact remains that southwestern New Brunswick has become one of North America’s premier smallmouth bass fishing destinations. During the peak period of early summer, anglers on the St. Croix and St. John River systems boast of catch-and-release rates as high as fifty fish a day on bass averaging about 2 pounds each. While this maritime province is unlikely to break any world records for the size of its smallmouths, the quantity of its fish is compensation aplenty. And you won’t have to look long to find the action – you’ll catch fish of 2 to 3 pounds, casting right from the village green of Fredericton, New Brunswick’s capital, while the mute statue of Scotch poet Robbie Burns looks on.

The motley collection of lakes in the headwaters of the St. Croix River, bordering New Brunswick and Maine, are the crown jewels of the province’s bass fishery, and the most famous of these is Spednik Lake. The 26-mile-long impoundment was created at the turn of the century as a water reservoir for pulp and paper interests downriver, and by mid-century it had emerged as the best of the best in North America for fishing smallmouth bass.

In the late 1970s, two unrelated factors converged to decimate the population of juvenile bass in the Spednik waters. The dam at the outlet was raised, resulting in drawdowns of 14 feet or more, and the fishway at Milltown, some 10 miles downriver, was modified to provide passage for alewives. Mature bass held their own, but the juveniles faltered under the compounded stress caused by the severe water fluctuations and increased competition for food.

In a laudable cooperative effort between the New Brunswick Department of Natural Resources and Energy and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, restoration programs were implemented in the mid-1980s. The fish responded in kind but, while bass fishing on the Spednik is nothing short of tremendous these days, New Brunswick’s project leader, Peter Cronin, feels that the hook-and-release fishing will need to apply until the turn of the century.

Anglers planning to give the Spednik waters a try have a choice of booking into a full-service lodge or staying at the area’s managed campgrounds, most of which have a boat-launching facility. Campsites are available at North Lake Provincial Park, at the northern end of the chain, as well as at the Spednik dam; other prepared campsites are operated by the Georgia Pacific Corporation on the Spednik Lake islands.

Nonresident anglers can purchase fishing permits from district offices of the Ministry of Natural Resources or from licensed lodges. For information and brochures on Spednik Lake bass fishing, as well as other New Brunswick smallmouth destinations, write to Bill Ensor, New Brunswick Department of Economic Development and Tourism, Dept. FS, P.O. Box 6000, Fredericton, NB E3B 5H1, Canada, telephone (800) 561-0123 (toll-free in the U.S. and Canada).

ONTARIO

At one point in mid-century, Lake Huron’s lake trout population was reduced to two isolated pockets in Georgian Bay, but thanks to concerted restoration efforts initiated in 1977 by biologists at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (OMNR), the waters surrounding Manitoulin Island once again offer excellent fishing. So good, in fact, that anglers can reasonably expect to take their limit of three lakers in the 3- to 4-pound class during the course of a day, while having a real possibility of hooking a fish triple that size. Granted, it’s not trophy fishing by Great Slave Lake standards, but this is fishing you can drive to.

Located on the northern basin of Georgian Bay, Manitoulin Island is a large shard of land seemingly torn from the mainland to form, with the Bruce Peninsula, a boundary segregating Lake Huron into two distinct parts. Rich in bait, its waters are home to a long list of both native and introduced gamefish species that includes smallmouth bass, walleyes, pike, lake trout, steelhead, and chinook salmon. Georgian Bay also has the distinction of yielding the top muskie listed in the International Game Fish Association’s current repository of world records – 65-pounder caught in mid-October 1988.

Lake trout were once among the most abundant fish in these waters. Commercial fishermen had harvested as much as 5 1/2 million pounds of them from Lake Huron in 1936. But twenty years later, lake trout were considered extinct in the main lake and Georgian Bay was left with two trace populations, though the increased competition from lamprey eels is primarily blamed for the decline. Fortunately, biologists were able to rebuild the lake trout fishery through lamprey control measures and restocking operations using native strains from a hatchery on Manitoulin Island. It took less than a decade for the lakers to bounce back, reaching near-optimum numbers by 1987.

Today, Georgian Bay’s lake trout population is relatively stable, but OMNR biologists are still ill at ease. They regard lake trout as an extremely fragile resource and say that the combined effects of continued lamprey predation, the native food fishery, and the sport fishery may overtax the population and necessitate more restrictive regulation. But rather than cutting the daily limit or shortening the season, biologists are encouraging anglers to take no more than one lake trout in their allotted limit and to release the rest.

As it stands, lake trout season opens January 1 and runs through mid-September, though most of the fishing in Georgian Bay starts during ice-out, in late April or early May, and continues to the end of July. Most Manitoulin charter-boat operators then shift their emphasis to chinook salmon, which move into striking distance during the latter half of summer. Many Manitoulin Island charters operate out of South Bay.

But Manitoulin Island offers a number of other angling opportunities, too. For instance, the autumn smallmouth bass fishing on Lake Manitou is legendary in terms of numbers and quality, and in-river chinook fishing is promising here as well. Far and spring bring steelhead fishing to rivers such as the Manitou, Mindemoya, and Blue Jay. On the mainland shore of Georgian Bay, the Kagawong River features good chinook runs from late September through mid-October, followed by a strong run of steelhead.

While the walleye fishing is reasonably good in Manitoulin’s lakes and in the waters surrounding the island, these fish are far more abundant in Georgian Bay’s southern basin. Muskies can be caught in the channels between Manitoulin and mainland Ontario, but the southern basin is a better bet for these gamefish as well.

The principal access to Manitoulin Island is via the road/bridge link to Little Current or by the ferry that crosses the Lucas Channel from Bruce Peninsula. For information on charterboat operators, lodging, and ferry schedules, contact the Manitoulin Tourism Association, Dept. FS, P.O. Box 119, Little Current, ON POP 1K0, Canada, telephone (705) 368-3021. To obtain maps and information on fishing seasons and permits, write to the Ontario Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Recreation, Dept. FS, 77 Bloor St. W., 9th Flr., Toronto, ON M7A 2R9, Canada, telephone (800) 668-2746 (toll-free throughout North America).

MANITOBA

For the better part of fishing season, Manitoba walleye anglers range far and wide throughout their province, taking full advantage of the tremendous fishing that’s available them. But between September and March, there’s no place they’d rather be than on the Red River fishing for greenbacks.

The 20-mile stretch of the Red between the dam at Lockport and Lake Winnipeg may not have the allure of a remote wilderness destination, but it does offer great fishing for big walleyes. Consider this: The average size of a walleye entered during the course of a fishing tournament held on the river late last fall was 8 pounds. Fish in the 10- to 12-pound class are caught on a regular basis and one of the better walleyes of the current season is a 16-pounder.

The unique aspect of Red River walleyes is that their backs turn a bright emeraldlike green when the fish enter the river, hence the colloquial name “greenback.” They spend the better part of the spring and summer in the broad expanse of Lake Winnipeg, and sometime in September they move into the currents of the Red River. Within days, there are fish from the mouth of the river to the base of the hydroelectric dam at Lockport, and they stay there until late March, providing exciting fishing from fall through ice-out.

A favorite setup among local fishermen consists of two bait hooks attached about 2 feet apart and baited with either night crawlers or dead minnows. Minnow-imitation crankbaits and jigs with light bait also produce their fair share of walleyes. Casting from shore is also productive, and while the greenback section of the Red flows through a primarily urban environment, a number of clean, well-managed parks can be found along its banks.

During the autumn months fishing from boats is best because it allows anglers to work the structures that greenbacks like, such as rocky shoals and dropoffs. Concrete launch ramps can be found at Selkirk Park and Breezy Point as well as a number of other locations downstream from the dam. Anglers not familiar with the area can learn a lot about techniques and hotspots by spending time with a local guide. Contact Jerri Holden (c/o The Fishin’ Hole, Dept. FS, 1155 Main St., Winnipeg, MB R2W 3S5, Canada, telephone [204] 586-8021) for the names of guides familiar with greenback fishing on the Red, as well as information on local accommodations.

While big walleyes are the area’s major draw, the Red River produces a variety of species during the spring and summer. Among these are goldeyes, white bass, freshwater drum, and, according to Holden, some of the best channel catfish action that you’ll find anywhere. The top fish last year was a 44-pound cat.

For a complete angling package that contains current fishing regulations, maps, and travel planners, write to the provincial tourism agency, Travel Manitoba, Dept. FS, 7th Flr., 155 Carlton St., Winnipeg, MB R3C 3H8 Canada, telephone (800) 665-0040 (toll-free in the U.S. and Canada).

ALBERTA

Two decades of restoration efforts in the headwater tributaries of Alberta’s Red Deer River are starting to pay off, and local anglers maintain that the North Raven offers some of the best springtime brown trout fishing available in any creek east of the Rockies. And much of the credit goes to such organizations as the Alberta Fish and Game Association, Trout Unlimited, and the provincial wildlife department.

Like the nearby and more famous Ram River, the Raven is one of many streams that drain western Alberta and course across the prairie heartland. But unlike the Ram and North Ram, which gather their waters in the high country, the North Raven is fed by a series of spring creeks that wind their way through the patchwork of forest and rolling pasture.

This is both the boon and bane of the North Raven. Known locally as Stauffer Creek by some, it gathers its strength in the rolling hills southwest of Red Deer, Alberta. Sometime during the 1930s brown trout were stocked in the river, and during the subsequent two decades it provided surprisingly good fishing. But this is prime cattle country and the livestock, which are the ranchers’ livelihood, would have trampled the stream to death had it not been for the concerted efforts of Albertan trout anglers. In the mid-1970s they drew attention to the cattle’s steady degradation of the stream’s banks and began a restoration program, which involved purchasing land adjacent to the North Raven and erecting fences to restrict cattle access.

The habitat protection project was a success, and when Alberta fisheries biologists conducted a river survey in 1985, they found that the biomass had more than tripled to slightly over 2,500 brown trout per mile of river. Nevertheless, of the many anglers who have probed its pockets, only a handful fish it regularly. Most casual visitors find the river’s banks too crowded with 12-foot-high willows and its browns too fussy.

But the North Raven’s regulars are enchanted not only by the abundance of 20-inch browns, and the occasional 6-pounder, but also by the nature of the river itself. Because the North Raven is spring fed and flows over a gentle gradient through rolling land, it is one of the first trout streams that can be fished in April, though it flows dear and constant year-round. It also bears mention that, like brown trout everywhere, the North Raven’s wild browns are shy, canny fish and anglers unaccustomed to their ways will be more than challenged.

Alberta fishing regulations forbid bait-fishing on most tributary streams, the North Raven included, and restrict anglers to using either spinning lures or files. A number of anglers fish with spinning gear in the lower waters, but fly fishing is more common. Normally, the North Raven is fishable by late April, but the best time to get started is in mid-May. Nymph patterns like the Hare’s Ear work well through spring and right through summer, but most anglers switch to dry flies after the beginning of June when the first hatches occur. A minor hatch of stoneflies comes out first, followed by four major hatches of mayflies, starting with green drakes, shortly after the middle of the month.

The best fishing can be found on the lower 14 miles of river, where a majority of the stream restoration has occurred, from the town of Stauffer to its juncture with the main trunk of the Raven. Farther upstream, the narrow river becomes even smaller and the primary gamefish are brook trout, which were successfully introduced years ago from eastern Canada, providing a change of pace in most of the region’s headwater streams. Other opportunities include fishing for browns and Dolly Varden (commonly known as bull trout) in the Clearwater, and cutthroat trout on the Bighorn and Blackstone drainages as well as on the now-famous Ram and North Ram Rivers. Brown trout also offer reasonably good fishing on the Red Deer River west of Sundre, while its upper waters have cutthroat trout and Dolly Varden to about 5 pounds.

Anglers planning to fish the North Raven can make either Stauffer or Caroline their base, but Sundre is more convenient to the upper reaches of the Red Deer. Plan to enter the region by way of Rocky Mountain House, a town where you’ll be able to purchase your nonresident fishing license at either the local fish and game department office or at Ram River Sports – either way, you’ll garner a wealth of information by asking questions. For fishing regulations and road maps contact Alberta Economic Development and Tourism, Dept. FS, 3rd Flr., Commerce Building, 10155 102nd St., Edmonton, AB T5J 4L6, Canada, telephone (800) 661-8888 (toll-free in the U.S. and Canada); for details on accommodations contact the David Thompson Country Tourist Council, Dept. FS, 4836 Ross St., Red Deer, AB T4N 5E8, Canada, telephone (403) 342-2032.

BRITISH COLUMBIA

In all ways but one, the Yakoun River merits its distinction as one of North America’s blue-ribbon steelhead streams. The runs of fish are strong, striking readily and offering a spectacular fight, and steelhead in the 20-pound-plus range are a realistic expectation. The single major drawback is that the Yakoun River winds its way across Graham Island of the somewhat remote Queen Charlotte Islands chain, located 80 miles off the coast of British Columbia and 600 miles north of Vancouver.

In this lies the salvation of the Yakoun, because any other steelhead water this good would have bowed under the brunt of extensive angling pressure a long time ago. But access to Graham Island is time consuming and expensive – ferries run to Skidegate from Prince Rupert on the mainland and from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island’s northern tip, and local airlines provide scheduled, but costly, flights to Sandspit.

Of all the rivers that drain Graham Island, the Yakoun is the largest, starting at Yakoun Lake, near Queen Charlotte City, and meandering some 45 miles northward to empty its waters into Masset Inlet. Only the lower half of the Yakoun is open to fishing, and Port Clements, on the shore of Masset Inlet, is the most convenient access point.

Virtually all fishing sectors of the Yakoun are accessible by lumber roads and beaten trails leading to the best pools. Fishing the Yakoun from inflatable boats is especially popular, as it follows anglers to stop and probe likely holding water. The Yakoun’s current is fairly steady, but there are no serious obstacles to pose any problems along its fishable sector. At best, the river is 30 to 35 yards wide, so much of the prime water can be easily covered by wading.

The first surge of the Yakoun’s steel-head action usually starts in late October on the heels of the salmon runs, and though fish continue to trickle in through winter, the second peak occurs in March. The biggest steelhead usually enter the river sometime during November.

The Yakoun also has good numbers of resident rainbows, as well as Dolly Varden and a strong run of wild sea-run cutthroats, though most are taken incidentally by steelhead anglers fishing with roe. Anglers on the Charlottes in spring or early summer will have more luck fishing the saltwater cutthroats when they congregate in the estuary waters to gorge themselves on salmon fry.

There is no mandatory guide regulation for nonresident anglers on the Yakoun, but local expertise can come in handy when you fish this water for the first time. For a list of guides operating on the Yakoun and other British Columbia streams, write to the Department of Environment, Lands and Parks Regional Office, Dept. FS, P.O. Box 5000, 3726 Alfred Ave., Smithers, BC V0J 2N0, Canada, telephone (604) 847-7261. For information on accommodations, contact the Queen Charlotte Travel InfoCenter, Dept. FS, Box 337, Queen Charlotte, BC V0T 1S0, Canada, telephone (604) 559-4742. General information, maps and fishing regulations are available from the Ministry of Tourism, Dept. FS, Parliament Building, Victoria, BC V8V 1X4, Canada, telephone (800) 663-6000 (toll-free throughout North America).

OLD NEW BRUNSWICK

A float trip for smallmouth bass down the St. John River is a trip through history, starting at the town of Hartland where the longest covered bridge in the world spans the flow. Built in 1901, when horse and buggy conveyances ruled the road, the wooden structure is 400 yards long and just wide enough for two cars to squeeze past each other. Kings Landing, an ideal float take-out point, is a 300-acre historical restoration dating to the arrival of the United Empire Loyalists in the late 1700s and early 1800s

In an effort to preserve history, modern trappings are taboo here – right down to the clothing. This is not a museum but rather an historical community where everything from the weaving looms to the ploughs are used in the residents’ day-to-day activities.

SOMETHING MORE IN MANITOBA

If you plan to take advantage of the Red River’s fall greenback fishery, try to set aside a day to visit the Oak Hammock Marsh Conservation Area, located a bit more than half an hour’s drive north of Winnipeg. This 1,400-acre wetland is the site of the Oak Hammock Conservation Center, an interpretive center jointly operated by the Manitoba government and Ducks Unlimited Canada. The center is open to the public for a minimal fee, and offers marsh tours as well as displays ranging from decoys to marsh ecology. For more information contact the Oak Hammock Marsh Conservation Center, Dept. FS, P.O. Box 1160, Stonewall, MB R0C 2Z0, Canada, telephone (204) 467-3000.

EARLY ALBERTA

For vivid insight into the lives and times of Alberta’s first white settlers, visit the Rocky Mountain House National Historic Park, located about 3 miles west of Rocky Mountain House on Highway 11A. You’ll need at least an afternoon to discover all that this historical center has to offer. In addition to depicting life in the late 1700s and early 1800s, it features a fur trading post and buffalo paddocks. While there’s no admission fee, a donation is requested.

THE BIRTH OF BRITISH COLUMBIA

The Haida are said to have inhabited these islands, they called Haida Gwaii – Home of the People – for more than 8,000 years, creating a highly advanced civilization during their time. While monuments to the traditional Haida culture of the Queen Charlotte Islands can be found throughout Graham Island, a visit to the Queen Charlotte Island Museum in Skidegate is a must. Through pictures and artifacts, the museum chronicles the history of this unique island chain, tracing the lives and traditions of the Haida to the arrival of the first white settlers. During the off-season, when steel-head are running strong in the Yakoun, the museum is open afternoons, Wednesday through Saturday; a minimal entry fee is requested.

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