I've been going to school up in Thunder Bay for 3 years now, but never brought up all my fishing gear. I'd tried to make due with a travel rod and a pair of legs. The best I'd managed was a few dinky rainbows the fall of 2015, which gave me a lot of confidence in the area. I'd given up fishing here for the most part. This year was going to be different, since I was going to spend 4 months during the summer before my 8 months of school. I couldn't pass up the fishing opportunity. So, I stuffed my reel and as much fishing gear as I could into the plane and headed out to Thunder Bay. I bought a Rapala Scout Rod once I'd landed since I didn't want to pay for oversized luggage. My biggest challenge would be finding fishing spots, since I have no vehicle (or friends who fish with vehicles), I would need to walk. Another challenge was the coldwater trout streams which I have come to love. The fast flowing freezing water was a completely new environment for me, and it took a little getting used to.
My first target was the longnose sucker, I saw them listed in my ontario fish book and thought I'd give them a shot. So I went to the local tackle shop, bought a $30 rod, since I didn't want to risk my normal rod (I brought my reel up). I asked the fishing shop about where to find longnose suckers and naturally they had never heard of them, but apparently the stream that runs through my school has tons of suckers, including the red-finned suckers. I had a lead. The next day, I headed out to the McIntyre River to get a sucker, lots of spots were packed with anglers since it was the tail end of the Steelhead Run, so I gave them some space, talked to a few and tried going downstream where the suckers were. It was not hard to find them as the suckers were stacked on top on each other in the strong rapids. I couldn't get the bait down to them without snagging and lost a ton of hooks, worms and tackle. I kept going downstream until I found a slower moving spot. I spooked a group of 5-6 suckers when I approached the bank, and I couldn't coax them to bite. I figured I would be more stealthy on my way back. Everywhere downstream was packed with suckers and they looked like they had a red-stripe from the stained water. This turned out to be an optical illusion and the stripes were very white. Anyways, I snagged a few times, went to the slow spot and finally hooked up with and landed a sucker. It was a White Sucker, not a longnose. So I tried again and snagged one this time, also a white sucker. I later found out that the Current River and the Kaministiqua are dominated by longnose suckers so I will need to give them a shot next spring (Update and spoiler, the current river is dominated by white suckers as well, also caught around 30 more white suckers from the McInyre).
My roommate ended up coming back for the summer as well, so we made a number of trips to the McIntyre to catch suckers and caught a ton (I only got 3, my friend got around 15). This time we were armed with slinky rigs and rarely snagged. Below are some pictures of the McIntyre and the suckers, I also got a surprise steelhead which was pretty cool. I only included one picture of my roommates fish because they were much bigger than mine, and there were more of them. We took home one of his average sized suckers to try eating, ended up being 22' long. I melted the plastic tongs deep frying the fish, I may not live that down.
Some of the beautiful scenery
One of the larger suckers with full spawning colours
Lake Superior steelhead that has been hanging around the streams for a while,
hence the darker colours and not the usual chrome
I knew that there is an invasive species, Ruffe, that are only found in the Thunder Bay area, in Ontario. The Kaministiqua has had a "healthy" population of them since the 1980s. This is just a short bike ride away. The bike ride was fantastic, there are a lot of really nice bike trails through most of Thunder Bay, and there is a particularly nice trail that runs most of the way to the Kaministiqua. I was a little concerned about this spot as we approached it, because there was a very distinct pine tree smell from the pulp mill just upstream. Undeterred by the prospect of fishing immediately downstream a pulp and paper mill we fished onwards. Despite the industry on the river, the provincial eating guide states that you can eat a lot of fish from the Kaministiqua each month, so the water is still fairly clean. The boat launch we fished also had a info bulletin on Lake Sturgeon and what to do if you happen to catch one. Sturgeon are out of season all year for most of Ontario and you can get into trouble for merely targeting them. Over the course of the summer we saw tons of sturgeon jumping, but never caught any or saw one caught, though most of the regulars at the spot have caught them while targeting walleye, another target of mine. The warmwater fishing was familiar to me so this spot was easy to adapt to.
My first trip to the Kam resulted in a few rock bass (didn't expect them), perch and two ruffe. I also saw someone catch a walleye, so I was excited for a chance to catch one, I'd always thought they were very tricky to catch from shore.
Species 28: Ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua) I did not move to Thunder Bay just to catch this fish I swear
I had heard rumours that you catch a dozen ruffe for every perch here, but I only ended up catching 3 ruffe all year, and more perch than I can count (so some number bigger than 6). I kept getting a really small but distinct low pull on my line, but whenever I set the hook I would end up with nothing, and a missing worm, this was a tad frustrating, so I was determined to catch the culprit.
The next trip was a lot more interesting, I was with my roommate this time, who barely survived his trip to the arctic, and we each managed to catch 2 walleye apiece, though we put them back because we were scared of the pulp mill. This is a shameful first for me, literally everyone I know regularly fishes for walleye and catches tons of them with ease (or so they claim). Walleye became a fairly regular catch and we took a few home after checking the regulations, they are delicious and I definitely want to get better at catching them, preferably from a different spot though.
Species #29: Walleye (Sander vitreus) They grow bigger
Later that day, I'd been keeping my line more taut than I usually do, and trying to set the hook on the first bite, which was working wonders, I wasn't missing as much as normal. Then I got the slow pull again, but I didn't set the hook, I waited until I felt the weight again and set the hook more enthusiastically than I should have. This fish actually put up a bit of fight! It wasn't a struggle but it was nice to know my drag still worked, I was worried about it after almost a month of not using it. It turned out to be a battle-scared shorthead redhorse. The gash it had on its side looked like it went right to the bone but was completely scared over. What a trooper, must have tried making friends with the abundant pike in the area, or tried kissing a rudder.
Species 30: Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum) who says suckers aren't pretty
The mountain in the background is Mount Mckay, its way higher up than it looks. There is a nice trail that goes up to the top of it, it may be more of a cardio exercise than a relaxing trip. But the view on top is pretty amazing, and also terrifying, you can look straight down 1000 ft if you would like, I did and felt my stomach relocate so I will never do that again. There is also a bald eagle that is on the other side of the river every time we fish here, it occasionally comes by close enough to get a good look at it.
The next target was brook trout, I was really looking forwards to planning a trip for brook trout for a few years now. I figured that I live so close to the brook trout (Coaster Brookie) promised land (Nipigon) that I needed to get one while I am up here. There was a place just outside of town that apparently had quite a few brookies. Now unfortunately Nipigon is a few hours drive away and bike riding that would not be wise without a few days to spare (and much better bikes). I had to settle for a short trip to the outskirts of town.
Now the bike ride itself was much more difficult than I anticipated, because it was almost exclusively uphill. I may have thought my heart would stop more than once. It was certainly an eye opener to how out of shape I was. The scenery more than made up for the effort however. A good chunk of the trail ran alongside McVickers creek, which is a beautiful trout stream, that unfortunately does not have many brook trout in it, in town at least. Some pictures of our destination. A place dominated by anglers during the early summer when the current is too strong for swimmers, then once the water slows down its largely overtaken by swimmers.
We started fishing the big deep pool where I quickly hooked up with a tiny but spirited fish. I thought it was another dink rainbow and was about to toss it back without really looking at it but it turned out to be a Lake Chub! I also caught a few pearl dace further downstream the following year.
Species 31: Lake Chub (Couesius plumbeus) terrible photo
I caught a dog leash, yes in the water
We then made our way upstream, fishing each of the pools between the waterfalls along the way, without any luck. After a while I switched my slinky rig and hook positions, so my hook would slide freely up my line and keep it from snagging on the bottom. Then I put a bobber stop about 3 ft up from it to keep my bait close to the bottom but so it didn't just slide up to the surface. This surprisingly worked as I cast into the main channel towards the top of the rapids and got a big hit which I promptly missed, can't make things too easy. A few minutes later I got another hit, and this time it stayed on. It was a brook trout! The hard work of the trip had paid off. We stayed for a bit so my roommate could catch one, but there was no luck and we called it quits an hour or so later. We celebrated at the local ice cream shack with some superb milkshakes and burgers yummy! We needed the calories after nearly dying from exhaustion on the short bike ride to the spot.
Species # 32 Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)! One of my favourite species
I only managed one more this year
Merla Mae's in Thunder Bay is a must stop if you are in the area.
The last noteworthy trip was to Kakabeka, the second largest waterfall in Ontario. Having spent most of my life a stone's throw from Niagara falls (the biggest waterfall in Ontario), One could imagine that this would not seem as impressive. This is not the case at all. This particular waterfall has a totally different feel about it. It is hard to separate Niagara falls from all the development around it. This doesn't take away from Niagara in any way, but the feel to Kakabeka is more genuine, aside from the trails, lookouts and the bridge going right over it, the Kakabeka falls themselves seem wild and untamed. In short, both waterfalls are absolutely stunning and have completely different feels to them. I couldn't get the whole falls in the picture, but you can get an idea from the depth of the gorge.
We went further upstream to fish, and I got the target of the trip, Northern pike! Also got a couple smallmouth. My roommate landed a walleye.
Species #33 Northern Pike (Esoc lucius): I know how to hold thee guys now
What the pike eat
Also here is a picture of a Lynx! Saw two of them while doing my Thesis work. Photo is courtesy of my roommate.