Great Lakes Pacific Salmon Fly Fishing

The great lakes have been stocked with Pacific salmon species for a long time. Naturally, these fish took quite well to their home in the freshwater oceans we call the great lakes. Each spring and fall, migratory pacific salmon species make their way up tributaries of the great lakes.  These massive fish are a lot of fun on the fly, and with a little practice you’ll be able to tie into some of these fish with ease.

If you are an avid fly fisher in Ontario, then late summer is probably one of the times of the year that you don’t necessarily look forward to. Typical dry periods coupled with very hot, muggy conditions usually force you off the rivers early in the day on resident trout streams. There is a flipside however, when deciding what to do with your valuable fishing time as the summer season comes to an end.  As summer begins to wind down with cooler nights, migratory salmon and trout species begin to move to river mouths as they prepare for their annual spawning rituals.

Ontario Pacific Salmon Migration – Timing

Beginning in late August, as cool, fall rains begin, migratory fish begin to enter rivers or stage at river mouths and estuaries along the great lakes shores. Coho, Chinook and even some Pink Salmon begin their final phase of life here. After a few years of growing in these giant inland seas, the salmonids begin their mating ritual by staging in large numbers at the mouths of the larger (and some smaller) rivers waiting for just the right moment to rocket upstream, usually many kilometres, to reach the place at which they we?re born. Once in their natal streams, the males, or bucks, battle it out in an attempt to pair up with a female, spawn, and shortly after?.both male and female will die.

Ontario Pink Salmon

Usually, but not always as mother nature likes to play a wild card now and then, the Pinks are the first to return from mid-summer to fall. Pinks are the smallest of Ontario?s salmonids, not growing much larger than about 24?, with average weights in the range of 3-7 lbs. Not huge fish, but fun and very willing to take a well presented fly.

The best option for fly fishing for Pink Salmon in Ontario is on the St. Mary’s river in Sault St. Marie.  Thousands of Pinks move into the river here, and usually indicate the beginning of the fall fly fishing season in the Soo.  At the same time, you may find Atlantic salmon and Brook trout willing to take a fly.

Ontario Chinook Salmon

From roughly the end of August until early October, Chinooks enter the rivers in large numbers. Chinook Salmon are the heftiest of the salmonids in Ontario. On average, Chinooks reach lengths of 36? or more, and easily weigh in excess of 30 lbs. These fish will put your gear through hell!! If you are targeting Chinooks, use heavy rods in the 8-10wt range, combined with a reel that holds plenty of backing. Chinnies will strip a hundred feet of line off of your reel in an ready for it!

Ontario Coho Salmon

Towards the end of September, Coho salmon begin their migration upstream. Coho?s are not overly large fish, and fall somewhere between Pinks and Chinooks in size. Average lengths of Coho Salmon in the great lakes are around 24? with some larger fish available. These fish usually weigh in at roughly 8 ? 12 lbs.

Ontario Salmon Fly Fishing Techniques

For the most part, once Pacific Salmon have entered the rivers, they are not going to be actively feeding. Fishing estuaries and river mouths can produce some fish that are still feeding on baitfish, making streamer fishing a definite option if you encounter actively feeding fish. Once these fish have moved upstream, their brains are thinking only about mating. Your fly really has to come very close to these fishes line of sight, and they will strike more out of aggression than anything else. Both small and large nymphs are effective patterns to use, as are woolly buggers and streamers. Match your tippet size to water clarity, always going as heavy as you can to avoid break offs from these massive fish. Single egg patterns are key flies as well. You?ll find salmon cleaning up on lost, drifting eggs as they tumble downstream. There are several theories as to why salmon pick up these eggs as they float downstream. My favourite theory is competition. Adult salmon are picking up these eggs in an attempt to give their own offspring a better chance at survival by reducing what may become competing salmon parr several months down the road.

Ontario Salmon Fly Fishing Equipment:

  • 8-10wt rods
  • Floating line to match rod weight
  • Large arbour reel with a capacity of 100-150 yards of backing plus fly line
  • Waders with felt soled or studded boots

Ontario Salmon Fly Fishing Flies

  • Nymphs
  • Woolly Buggers, zonkers, mickey fins
  • Egg patterns in various colours and sizes.



Fly Fishing Starter Kit, Fly Tying Starter Kit, Recommended Back Road Map Book

5 Replies to “Great Lakes Pacific Salmon Fly Fishing”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

fourteen + eighteen =