With the trout opening day only a couple of weeks away many anglers will be dusting off their rods and contemplating where they should go to make their first casts of the year.
Just under an hour west of Toronto is Orangeville which is in an area known to some as the Hills of the Headwaters. I’m told this area is one of the highest elevations in southern Ontario and is where I call home.
The many clear, cold springs of the area form the birthplace and feed 4 major river systems that all have trout and steelhead in them. It’s kind of a unique area when you consider where the 4 big rivers actually flow into. On one side of Orangeville you have the Grand River that flows a long way to Lake Erie. On the other side we have the Credit and Humber rivers that flow into Lake Ontario. Then just to the north there’s the Nottawasaga and its many tributaries that run into Georgian Bay. And if you’re willing to drive just a little west of the area you’ll find rivers and streams of the Saugeen watershed flowing into Lake Huron. Lots of great river systems and they all start right about here. With so many great rivers could this then be considered the best river fishing area in Ontario? Maybe!
High banks and waterfalls from the Niagara Escarpment surrounded by forests, meadows and farm fields make this a pretty awesome area to fish for trout. Cold streams are everywhere and as I’m told they almost all hold trout. Anglers have room to spread out here and it’s not uncommon to fish all day and not see another angler with the exception of opening week when the crowds come out. With all the cold springs it’s possible to have good fishing all summer but in general the months of late April, May and June are the best fishing.
I guide 7 different streams less 30 minutes drive of Orangeville and I never seem to not have fishable water. When one river is high and muddy or not fishing well another can be just right. The hatches and fish activity can vary from river to river as can the type of water to fish but there always seems to be something going on somewhere. You’ve got fast rapids to slow meadow pools and everything in-between and all methods of fishing from spin fishing and centerpin fishing to fly fishing work here. Some rivers are large enough to make 60 foot casts and other streams can be jumped across without getting wet. There’s lots of variety for anglers with different preferences.
For anglers looking for a bigger river with trout I’d recommend the Grand River near Fergus and Elora which is probably the best brown trout fishery in Ontario. While there I recommend stopping in the local fly shop called Grand River Outfitting and Fly Shop for local intel on flies and water conditions. This river is heavily stocked with brown trout and has big and small trout with lots of great water to fish. About 30km of accessible brown trout water for anglers makes this a top destination for trout anglers locally and from visiting anglers. Please double check the fishing regulations as this river has special regulations that can be a bit confusing for some anglers. There are sections where it’s No Kill on trout and is single barbless hook only with no organic bait allowed. I spend a lot of time fishing and guiding on this river in May and June and once you learn its secrets hooking 20 inch brown trout almost daily is possible. There are the occasional lucky anglers that catch brown trout up to or even over 30 inches in this river.
Although not really in our areas the Conestogo River and Whitemans Creek are also tributaries to the Grand River worth exploring for trout.
A short trip west of Orangeville to the Saugeen River near Hanover puts you on another bigger river with lots of tributaries that have trout in them. The main Saugeen River has sections that hold rainbows, browns, brook trout and even smallmouth bass. It’s a bigger river and doesn’t give up its trout easy so patience and persistence is required. This river has resident rainbow trout and can produce large 28 inch or bigger brown trout and rainbows. The Lower River below Hanover also has runs of salmon and steelhead and has resident small mouth bass, musky and pike. There are many tributaries with good trout fishing. Using a map you can find the many parks and conservation areas for a starter point for access or visit the Saugeen River Conservation Authority website and look up their fishing map which shows you the many streams and what species is in them.
The upper Nottawasaga is almost completely private property and even the section of the 5th line is now posted private thanks to all those jerks that think littering is okay. Therefore I don’t recommend the upper Nottawasaga River to anglers that don’t have permission to fish on private lands. The lower Nottawasaga and its tributaries have steelhead and salmon that can make it to the upper sections as well.
Anglers willing to travel an 45 minutes to an hour further north west can find good resident trout, steelhead and salmon on the Beaver and the Bighead Rivers.
The Credit River and Humber Rivers should also be on your to do list as well as they both have brown trout and brook trout and have good access for anglers.
The Credit River has resident trout from Norval to Orangeville and has steelhead and salmon downstream of Norval. There are a number of parks along the Credit that anglers can access. There are also sections and tributaries of the Credit above the 2 falls that are only brook trout for anglers that want some good brook trout fishing. For anglers interested in checking out the Credit River please be aware that from Old Base Line road up to Orangeville there are special regulations which include “no organic bait, single barbless hook and it’s a no kill zone”. A Rapala with 3 trebles can get you a fine of over $400 dollars in this section so be careful that whatever you decide to cast has only 1 single barbless point or be sure that you’re in the right sections where treble hooks are legal. If you want to fish bait and lures try between Terra Cotta and Norval.
The Humber River is like a slightly smaller version of the Credit but is still a really nice river. Anglers can access trout sections from Bolton up past Palgrave. The Humber doesn’t seem to have as many fish as the Credit and I’m sure the reason for less fish is that the Credit has a good “No Kill” zone and unfortunately too many anglers keep the bigger fish in the Humber River. Until anglers realize that keeping fish means future crappy fishing or our OMNR makes a mandatory catch and release section or implements a slot size zone for trout this river will never hit its potential. An OMNR five trout possession limit is also not doing this and others river any good. With that said it’s still a fun and pretty river to explore and fish and with persistence you may get a trophy trout or two. One warning on this river is watch out for sink holes. If you see a white cloud of water below your feet and it feels mushy back away quickly and find another way around. The holes are usually hidden under gravel and are made of soft clay which can be hollow below the surface and you can sink a leg or two quickly. The Lower Humber and the East Humber rivers offer other opportunities for migratory brown trout, steelhead and salmon. There are a few tribs to the Humber that also offer browns and brookies.
Although this area around Orangeville can offer anglers lots of opportunities to fish, the rivers and streams that flow into Lake Ontario just east of Toronto can be worth exploring for trout and steelhead too. If you want a guided trip out that way we may be able to set you up there too. Some of the more popular rivers out east include Duffins Creek, Oshawa Creek, Bowmanville Creek, Wilmot Creek and Ganaraska River but there are more streams for those anglers looking to explore. Although these rivers are known for their salmon and steelhead runs there can be some good resident trout in the upper sections. For these rivers I recommend going in to see the guys at Drift Outfitters and Fly Shop. These guys are total river bums and know their stuff and can provide anglers with good local intel to fishing these eastern rivers.
Sometimes in Ontario the hardest part is finding areas to fish that are not private property but with a little leg work, mapping and exploring and you’ll find somewhere to fish on each of the rivers mentioned. Just check Google Maps and you may see where the parks and conservation areas are and that will give you a good starting point.
One thing I can’t stress enough on any waters, especially smaller streams is catch and release. Even if you only keep one fish remember there may be hundreds of other anglers before and after you that do the same and the numbers add up quickly in a small stream and that can make fishing tough for everyone. Although not everyone shares my opinion on this I’ve spent a lot of time on Ontario Rivers over the last 33 years and I know there are many areas that seem almost empty of 12inch or bigger fish after opening day but only a short distance up or down river in private property there seems to be plenty of good sized fish that are untouched by anglers and that clearly shows that the lack of fish is100% due to anglers keeping fish in those public sections. Just something to think about!
It’s getting harder and harder to gain access in many of the upper rivers around here and after talking to many land owners over the years it’s mainly because of garbage. I carry a grocery bag and pick up other peoples garbage all the time but all it takes is a couple of ignorant anglers leaving their coffee cups or bait containers behind and then the land owners stop all entry, even for the good anglers that respect their lands. I don’t blame the land owners either, how would you feel if me and 5 other guys walked through your backyard and left litter there? Not leaving garbage and picking up garbage helps all of us who like to fish Ontario Rivers.
Many of the rivers in this area flow through private property. I recommend if it’s posted private property please do not enter. Anglers should be aware that in Ontario the high water mark rumor is not valid and does not apply. Also, some land owners actually do own the river bottom especially if the river is not navigatible. As my OPP police friends have said to me if you’re standing on dry land 6 inches from the river they’ll charge you but the river bottom may be ok unless the land owner can prove they own it. It’s a grey area so it’s better to just not go if you’re unsure.
Don’t forget to that if you’ve got limited time or are just not having success on the rivers around Orangeville myself and some of the other local guides are here to offer help. So if you’re looking for somewhere new and different to fish this spring and summer consider the Hills of the Headwaters area and its many trout streams.
Best of luck guys!
A Perfect Drift Guide Company