Southwestern Ontario Enduring Slow Steelhead Run, But Conditions Improving

The Toronto Raptors and the Maple Leafs seem to be on a roll, but it’s been a tough fall/early winter Steelhead season in Southwestern Ontario. This season’s run was sporadic and the bite has been great if you timed things right during two-to-three day windows of prime water conditions. Otherwise, several factors led to a challenging season.

Things looked promising in July and through September when we received lots of rain. However, it was dry for the remainder of the fall season. Meanwhile, last year’s long winter continues to play a role in slowing down our current steelhead run. Fishermen shouldn’t get too worried about the spring run. I predict it’ll be a good one.

Why am I optimistic? Consider what happened last winter and spring. Last spring cold weather kept the chrome in the rivers longer than we’re used to. High and cold water in Lake Ontario tributaries retained steelhead in late May. They didn’t migrate back into the lake until after their spawn, which was near mid May. In some tributaries, many of these fish stuck around until June/July, which gave them minimal time to feed in the lake.

All this makes sense when we saw the first few returning fall run steelhead in the GTA. They looked lanky, similar to post-spawn fish. This is the first time in as long as I can remember where the water in Ontario was warmer than that in our rivers and that has affected the number of steelhead in our rivers right now.

Our fall steelhead season was challenging, at best, and even though many of us caught fish we had to work harder to get them than we have in the past. Banks became less crowded as the season went on. The fish were certainly here, but not in numbers where you get spoiled, which in my opinion takes out the fun because I enjoy working for these fish.

Although the number of fish I’m catching has decreased this season, it’s been fun grinding many hours away during pressured times for decent results. Now that the cold is settling in, the rivers will definitely be free of fair-weather anglers, which leave more space for the die-hards. This is partially the reason why I enjoy steelhead fishing in the winter.

With the irregular fluctuations in temperature the past two months, specifically, I have noticed that a few more fresh fish have started to trickle into our tributaries. These fish, on the other hand, were healthy, plump fish that stayed out in the lake feeding for a good amount of time before returning back to flowing water.

It’s nice to see more healthy fish because the state steelhead were in at the beginning of the season worried me. My fingers are crossed (and I am really hoping) for another rainfall or a melt that blows out rivers and brings in a batch of fish before old man winter locks things up.

Salmon and brown trout roe cured in orange BorX O’ Fire and Fire Cure and tied in pink, white, and chartreuse spawn mesh has been my top producer the past two months. Now that it has become much colder the past week spawn sacs are my go-to bait until spring. They won’t chase lures much longer.

There’s just something about those soft, juicy, Swedish berry look-alike spawn sacs that steelhead cannot refuse, even during tough times on the water. A great example of this is a day I had two weeks ago on a pressured piece of water. A friend and I were doing well on my brown trout eggs cured in Fire Cure and I was watching an angler struggle to get a hook up. I accidentally tangled with him and apologized by giving him a few spawn sacs. Low and behold, on his Fire Cured first spawn sac, he banked a solid fish. I felt ecstatic!

Winterizing steelhead can be lethargic, being given such cold water to spend time in for a few months. To get these fish that can be so inert at times going, I generally like to throw bright colours to catch their attention. On those days where the water is up and dirty, I like to peg a bright 8-10mm bead two inches above my spawn sac to ‘spice’ up the presentation a little bit. Low and slow is the name of the game when fishing sub-zero temperatures. You want to find the slowest and most deep piece of water at this time of the year and slow down your presentation just off bottom.

From the Niagara River, to the Credit River just minutes outside of Toronto, and throughout the rivers and creeks towards Kingston, steelhead fishing has been tough. The same story goes for the tributaries along Lake Huron, Georgian Bay, and up to Lake Superior.

Remember to keep a close eye on water levels and temperatures through fluctuating weather changes, because these factors can most definitely open up a fishy, ‘magical’ window of opportunity when it comes to slow seasons like this one. Judging the forecast ahead, this season isn’t remotely near over for me just yet, although I wouldn’t mind doing some ice fishing soon!

Remember to practice CPR! Catch. Photo. Release. Til’ next time,