2020: Catches of the Year


2020 was a year to forget on a huge number of fronts. One positive that came from not being able to go anywhere, was a little dedicated time focused in your own backyard. This was absolutely the case for me.

I am a self professed fishing purist, dreaming of a cast near the bleached granite of the Georgian Bay or the azure waters of Lake Superior. Focusing some dedicated time into my own backyard, I got to know a knew waterbody I hadn’t paid much attention to; the mighty Thames River in Chatham-Kent.

In all her glory, she travels 273 kilometres until she meets Lake St. Clair. To introduce you to the Thames River, it is slow-moving, chocolate brown and on a hot August day; a little smelly. It is completely ignored by the residents of Chatham-Kent except by anglers where it meets Lake St. Clair. Just because it looks different than the pristine river of the North, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value. It hosts a fish community that is represented few other places in all of Canada. The southern latitude of the river gives it a climate that is similar to midwest states of the USA, and therefore allows a lot of the same species to reside within.

During the trials and tribulations of quarantine, I would myself with a lot of time on my hands. I figured I would give the ol’ Thames a try, and I’m glad I did. Enough babbling from me, I will show you some of my catches from the Thames and elsewhere.

A super weird catch from the Thames River, a massive Gizzard Shad . Rarely caught on a rod, I was lucky to have hooked into this (Dorosoma cepedianum). I had no idea what type of fish this was at first, I initially thought it was a Quillback Carpsucker. After a little looking around, I figured out the right species. I can’t imagine I will ever catch one of this size again (16 inches) when the Ontario record length is 18 inches.

Pre-COVID 19, I was on vacation in Florida. I was fishing the shore of a small lake, walking the shore. The lake is known to host Largemouth Bass, Tilapia, Plecos (a type of invasive armoured catfish). Under a cabana that was partially over the lake, I saw some skinny looking fish. Upon further inspection, I knew they were gars. With a plain hook and a piece of shrimp (very technical), I threw my bait over and got a bite immediately. When examining this fish on land, the scales looked like a suit of armour. This armour along with the mouthful of sharp teeth, don’t make it hard to believe how old gar species are. Similar gars have been around since the Early Cretaceous over 100 million years ago, roomies with the dinosaurs.

This fish was kind of a fluke. I was fishing the Pickerel River in early Spring, just casting some new Mepps lures. After 5 to 6 misses on the lure, the fish got snagged. Turned out to be this little Muskellunge. The colours on this guy were so bright, clearly he was young and hadn’t been around the block yet.

This next fish was caught maybe a kilometre from the last fish, in the Early Summer. Look at the difference old age makes, this ol’ girl could have benefited from some skin cream along the way. This fish was the biggest I have ever caught or seen. Weighing in a 20.5 pounds and 45 centimetres, this fish was an apex predator. Caught trolling in a canoe, I thought I had caught a log at first. After 5 botched net jobs I was able to secure the fish. A 20 minute holding of the fish in the water to get it back in good shape seemed like a good compromise.

This was the first kind of trout I have ever caught, a Lake Trout. This was caught up in Gamitagama Lake in Lake Superior Provincial Park, in a canoe as well. This was a great year for trolling in a canoe for me, lots of action. This fish became a meal shortly after this picture, and I could hardly believe the quality of the meat. It looked better than any fish at any supermarket. I am itching to catch another one for this reason.

To cap off 2020, I caught a Chinook Salmon in the Ausable River. This was my first fish on the fly, and I could barely even remember how to reel it in amongst all the excitement. This fish fought like nothing I have ever felt before, it didn’t try to swim away, instead it just flopped with all its energy. My first fish on the fly was one to remember, and made a great dinner.

Thank you for the continual support, maybe buy the author a beer!

Keep Casting,

Nate Sabourin


Researching a lake for fishing

In Ontario, there are approximately 250,000 lakes. A majority percentage of these are located off the beaten path, in Northern Ontario. An area in particular that will always have my heart is the Magnetawan River, it’s tributaries and the remainder of the watershed. I frequent this area and have thoroughly enjoyed my time, but for this case study we will be talking about a lake that you have probably never heard of. I am doing this to show you that this can be done for almost any water body.

Picking your lake

The lake that will be the subject of this case study will be Squaw Lake, part of the upper reaches of the Pickerel River, near the French River in Northern Ontario. I first ventured to this area while working as a summer student at the nearby Grundy Lake Provincial Park. It is only accessed by a logging road and has all the attributes of a lake I want to fish and backcountry camp on.

General Google Search

Once I have picked a lake, I begin to dive into Google for any information possible. I searched “Squaw Lake Fishing”, “Squaw Lake Ontario” and various other terms. This provided the base for my knowledge, and some lakes you will find message boards talking about the lake you picked. For Squaw Lake in particular, I found only one message board speaking of my lake and it only mentioned the the area briefly in regards to passing through the area canoeing.

Many areas have fish assessments done by various stakeholder groups that are available to the public. For Squaw Lake, it was mentioned in the Pickerel River Fish Habitat Assessment (found here: https://www.stateofthebay.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Pickerel-River-full-report.pdf). For long documents, use the find tool on your browser, I searched “squaw” and it was included 62 times. This report included tons of information, but some interesting things applicable to what I was doing was the water temperature and dissolved oxygen readings at the downstream Squaw Rapids. It also included up to date photos of the rapids and aerial drone imagery that helped provide context to what you will be dealing with when you actually go to your lake. After further research on the document it also said that walleye and white sucker eggs were found within eggs matting, which is a good start for identifying target species.

MNRF’s Fish ON-Line

The entire point trip is to chase some fish, possibly some that are forgotten about and face next to no angling pressure. There is a perfect tool for this, aptly named Fish ON-Line, which is a wealth of information on its own.

As you can see, Squaw Lake isn’t officially named on the tool, and therefore there is no records of the types of fish in the waterbody. This can be common, as many lakes are named on a more local scale. This doesn’t mean that the tool isn’t useful, as you can look at nearby lakes to get an estimation of what lives in the lake. I will use Byrne Lake for this as it is very close-by and is connected to Squaw Lake at high-water times through its drainage basin. This is what is listed on Byrne Lake:

Due to their proximity, I feel comfortable assuming these species also inhabit Squaw Lake, and they echo what is found downstream as well. One final note on this is that there are many other types of fish that may live in the lake you are searching, but in the past they might not have been thought of as a ‘Sportfish’ so they weren’t recorded. Channel Catfish is an example of a species that wasn’t historically recorded or the sampling techniques discriminate against bottom-dwelling species.


A tool that makes finding fish much easier is the bathymetry, essentially it maps out the floor of the lake and gives insights on depths and areas that may hold fish. For many waterbodies, this data will be accessible and may be part of an app such as Navionics. If it is a major lake or was of economic importance in the past, the bathymetry will likely easily available. For bathymetry on a forgotten lake like Squaw Lake, it gets a little trickier.

After failed searches on all the usual avenues, I found myself on the Historic Bathymetry Maps webpage on Ontario Geohub. This is the blurb from the site:

Historical Bathymetry Maps

“Between 1948 and 1995 the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) captured bathymetry data for over 11,000 lakes across Ontario.

The historic bathymetry maps were created using simple methods to determine lake depths and were meant for resource management purposes only. Very little effort was made to identify shoals and other hazards when creating these bathymetric maps. Since the data was collected a number of both constructed and naturally occurring events may have resulted in the depth information becoming inaccurate. For this reason the historic bathymetric maps should not be used for navigational purposes. The data can be used for the purposes of fish monitoring and other ecological applications, watershed based water budgeting, hydrologic cycle modelling, climate change modelling and by the general public. In many cases, these maps still represent the only authoritative source of bathymetry data for lakes in Ontario.

These maps are being converted to digital GIS line data which can be found in the Bathymetry Line data class. The Bathymetry Index data class identifies if GIS vector lines have been created. The historic paper maps have been scanned to digital files. Any new digital files will be added to this dataset if they become available. The digital files have been grouped and packaged by regions into 13 compressed (zipped) files for download.”

I followed the instructions on the site, and downloaded the correct maps package. Using the Excel look-file I searched “Squaw Lake” and surprisingly, I got a match. It said that the corresponding map was made in 1997 and the filename was “17-5498-50934”. A quick search of the file and I laid my eyes on one of the most beautiful, and useful documents I had ever seen.

Squaw Lake Bathymetry – accessed from: https://geohub.lio.gov.on.ca/datasets/mnrf::historic-bathymetry-maps?geometry=-80.577%2C45.930%2C-80.082%2C46.014

This is exactly what I was looking for, and I appreciated the fact that it was hand-drawn and even included some calculations from its making. This was a great find, but I wasn’t sure about the how different water levels could affect the measurements on the map. This is where I needed to call in a favour, someone that is a lot handier on computers than myself. I send this file to a friend, and he used various programs to make a .PNG file that I could use in Google Earth. I was able to insert the .PNG file as an overlay on the satellite imagery.

.PNG file overlain on Google Satellite Imagery.

As you can see, it’s pretty amazing how well the map fits the current water levels. A print out of this screen laminated on a trip is more than enough to help put yourself in the best situation to catch fish. With the information gathered to this point, I would feel comfortable making a trip out to the lake and I think I would have a general idea on what spots to target.

The last piece of useful information I found were various lake specific fact sheets from Muskoka Water Web. There was one for Squaw Lake and includes species that occur and other information about fishery surveys of the area. Of course, I stumbled across this sheet after all my other research was done. The website where these fact sheets are located is http://www.muskokawaterweb.ca/lake-data/mnr-data/lake-fact-sheet.

After doing this research all winter while dreaming of summer fishing, I am all prepped to have a successful fishing trip. All the research in the world can’t guarantee fishing success but I believe that it can only help the cause, and I think it gives you a view of the lake dynamics as a whole. Now that you’ve seen how to analyze Squaw Lake, pick a lake of your own and begin the journey.

Hopefully I don’t see you out on Squaw Lake, but if you do happen to be out there, I’m the guy in the green canoe. Remember to wear a life jacket and do not under any circumstances forget your Sab Spinner. This is the biggest mistake you can make.

Keep Casting,


Chasing the Aurora: Ontario’s Rarest Trout

Don’t call it a comeback, but maybe something close to that. The Aurora Trout has a story worthy of a Hollywood film, if they made movies about fish species. This species, named after the colours of the aurora borealis (northern lights), has a truly unique pattern. Before I get into the Hollywood story, it should be noted that the Aurora Trout is not it’s own species but it is a sub-species or variant of the more common Brook Trout.

Aurora Trout adult, taken from https://www.trentu.ca/news/story/24685

Think back to a time before the rapid industrialization of Northern Ontario; the Aurora Trout were going about their daily routine. Living their best life in two lakes in the Temagami District of Ontario, within the beautiful Lady Evelyn Smoothwater Provincial Park. The fact that a subspecies could somehow exist in only two lakes in Ontario was baffling to me, as there are other subspecies of fish that are more widespread than in a few lakes. It turns out that these two lakes were isolated after continental glaciers receded from the area roughly 10,000 years ago. Back to the story, during the 1950’s, the scourge that was acid rain had the Aurora Trout in its sights, and it pulled the trigger. The acid rain was caused by metal smelting in Sudbury with the boom of the mining industry, and the small lakes of Whirligig Lake and Whitepine Lake had little natural buffering qualities. The pH levels in these lakes dipped to around pH 5.0, which is a threshold for their reproductive success. The Aurora Trout was extirpated from its natural range.

This story would have ended right here, if not for the work of Paul Graf, a hatchery manager from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry. In 1958, a spawn collection was done from one female from Whitepine Lake and two from Whirligig Lake. These 3644 eggs represent the lineage of all Aurora Trout in existence today. After the collection of these samples, lake acidification continued and eventually made reproduction in these lakes nonviable. This means that at one point, all the Aurora Trout on the face of Planet Earth were housed at a hatchery near Hill’s Lake, Ontario.

This is where the comeback starts. Acid rain caused by mining operations in Sudbury largely subsided as chemical scrubbing technology improved and the mining industry was in decline. This meant that the acid rain effectively stopped, but Whirligig Lake and Whitepine Lake were still too acidic to support Aurora Trout. To return the lakes to their pre-industrial pH levels, liming was started on the lakes and proved to work as the pH levels increased and levelled off at pH 5.3-5.4 from 1997-1999.

This meant that the rarest trout in Ontario could be reintroduced to its original two lakes from the population at the hatchery. This occurred and was successful, and additional stocking was done in other lakes around Ontario. Today, there are 12 lakes in Ontario that contain Aurora Trout, nine of these are stocked by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for recreational fishing usage. Of these nine, only three are open for recreational fishing per year and are on a rotating basis as to help keep stocks healthy and add a potential for bigger fish.

Aurora Trout present a unique opportunity in Ontario, one that is hard to pass up. As always, make sure to check the regulations for the Fisheries Management Zone you are angling in, and make sure you bring your Sab Spinner. For your ease, the lakes open for Aurora Trout during the 2020 seasons are Carol Lake in Beulah Township (FMZ 10), Lake 21 at 47°37’N., 80°57’W. (FMZ 10) and finally, Liberty Lake in Aston Township (FMZ 11).

Make sure to check out the other content on http://www.OntarioAngler.ca, buy a fishing license and don’t forget your Sab Spinner.

Chartreuse Sab Spinner

A unique worm harness perfected by NHL/St. Louis Blues alumni Gary Sabourin. This product can be used in casting or trolling methods.


Keep Casting,


The Fish of 10,000 Casts: Muskellunge

The elusive muskellunge is the most sought after sportfish in Ontario. This prehistorical fish has been atop the food chain in Northern Ontario for centuries. Fishermen have been chasing this predator around the country for years and at Ontario Angler, we can give you tips and tactics to help catch the fish of 10,000 casts.

There is a common misconception about muskie fishing that there is only one part of the year to fish them. That is incorrect. With proper landscape and bait presentation the muskellunge is available to fish 365 days a year. In the Britt/Byng Inlet area, there is an ample supply of vegetation for Musky fishing. When fishing for the elusive muskellunge, regardless of the waterbody, target large weed beds with moving water adjacent to it. Musky fishing can be long and strenuous, casting for days without a follow, but the end result of catching this fish is all worth it.

Now onto baits. The most common and all-around bait to use for muskellunge would be the Bucktail. This bait has been around for years and has been proven successful. Another bait that is similar to this would be the Musky Mayhem Double Showgirl. This bait is available in a variety of colours and spinners, gaining attention from Muskellunge in dark waters through vibrations and flashers. The 12″ Meduzza in the walleye colour scheme is also another fan favourite. If you are not afraid to spend money on lures, the Flap Tail is a fantastic lure with vibrating action and retails around $29.99. Even though most Musky lures are rather expensive, this is minuscule compared to the feeling of finally catching this predatory fish.

Ontario Angler Introduction

A different take on fishing.

Ontario Angler is based in the beautiful Britt/Byng Inlet area, at the intersection of the mighty Magnetawan River and the mysterious Georgian Bay.

— Gary Sabourin

This is the first post on Ontario Angler, stay tuned for more amazing content as our creative team continues to share their vision of fishing in Ontario.

Chartreuse Sab Spinner

A unique worm harness perfected by NHL/St. Louis Blues alumni Gary Sabourin. This product can be used in casting or trolling methods.