Spring on the north shore of Lake Superior is magical. As the snow melts and the ice recedes, fish start to get active. Here is a guide to some of the species you can target in Superior Country during the spring and early summer.
Steelhead are a form of rainbow trout that lives in the lake but spawn every spring in rivers during late April and May. Steelhead are not native to Lake Superior but have naturalized after being stocked in the early 1900s from fish that came from the west coast. Nearly every river, stream and rivulet that runs into Superior has a run of steelhead. Some of the runs are large, some are small, but if the water is flowing into Superior, there are likely steelhead. It is hard to pick favourite best fishing spots as there are so many.
One of the most impressive steelhead fisheries on the north shore of Superior is found within the city limits of Thunder Bay. The Kaministiquia, Neebing/Mcintyre, McVicar Creek and Current River all have steelhead. These urban fisheries are well used by local anglers, but a catch and release ethic has helped the fishery boom. A one fish over 27-inch rule is also in place for the Neebing/McIntyre system. The large amount of green space along the urban rivers in Thunder Bay also allows for good access on most water ways.
Moving east from Thunder Bay to the town of Nipigon there are several beautiful rivers including the MacKenzie, Wolf, Coldwater and Black Sturgeon. These rivers are on the large size, but for a variety of reasons don’t have huge runs of rainbow trout. However, they also receive less steelhead fishing pressure and so if you hit it right, the angling can be great.
The Nipigon River has a steelhead run, and can be accessed along the west bank at the highway bridge or at Alexander’s dam, off the Pine Portage road. Steelhead can be caught casting spoons or jig-flies, or using floats with spawn bags.
East of Nipigon to Wawa, there is a mind-boggling array of some of the prettiest and fishiest river in Superior Country. Just a few of these rivers include The Jackfish, Jackpine, Cypress, Gravel, Steel, Deadhorse, Prairie, Mink and Michipicoten. Access to these rivers and streams can usually be found at the bridges along Hwy 17. The intrepid steelhead angler will find much elbow room if they venture upstream from the highway. Most people are content with the closest holes.
Steelhead In rivers can be caught with fly fishing and spinning gear. Drifting yarn flies and coloured beads along the bottom of the river are most often used. Spawn bags (salmon roe) and small worms also are used.
Steelhead are among the best fighters is Superior Country and few sights are more exciting than a silver flanked trout jumping out of a pool with your fly in its mouth.
Called “coasters” because they tend to work the shore-line of Lake Superior, these brook trout are large and usually willing biters. Prime time for coaster brook trout is from mid-May to late June, although they can be caught all summer.
Thirty years ago coaster brook trout populations in Superior Country were low due to over-harvest, and in many parts of the lake they were very rare. A conservative bag and size limit (one fish over 22 “) and intensive management has helped the coaster come back across the north-shore.
From Pigeon Bay east to Thunder Bay, coasters have really come back strongly. Little Trout Bay, Cloud Bay and Sturgeon Bay all have solid populations of coasters. Thunder Bay also has a resurgent population and they are showing up in rivers like the Kaministiquia and Current Rivers as well as down the shore west towards the Mackenzie River.
Black Bay and Nipigon Bay are both coaster hot spots, with fish that can top 7 pounds being caught quite regularly. Nipigon Bay has the added bonus of having the Nipigon River entering it, the single most important river for brook trout spawning.
East of Nipigon Bay, the large islands such as St. Ignace and Simpson have strong coaster populations, as do the waters around Rossport, Terrace Bay and Marathon. This is a huge chunk of area, but the increase in numbers of brook trout in these waters is quite impressive.
Shore-bound anglers can cast off points or river mouths and have a good chance of tangling with a coaster. Boat anglers will have more ability to work rock shorelines and islands.
The pike fishing opportunities found on the north shore of Lake Superior are world class. This statement is not made lightly. Catching big pike consistently is surprisingly difficult, even in the most remote parts of northwestern Ontario. Yet Lake Superior, with it’s many bays, river-mouths and weed beds, is prime pike country. Superior also has the cold water and soft rayed forage such as smelt, herring and whitefish that pike need to grow extra large. Which they do. Lake Superior has some giants, with big length and deep bellies. Fish that measure over 40 inches are relatively common but they can weigh several pounds more than a similar sized pike from a smaller, inland lake. Nearly every back bay and river-mouth on the coast has pike. Some require a boat or kayak to access, but a surprising number of pike are caught ever year by shore anglers.
From the Pigeon River border to Thunder Bay, there are several bays that have big pike, with Sturgeon Bay being the best known. Yet Jarvis, Little Trout and Cloud Bays can cough up big ones.
In the city of Thunder Bay, there are a variety places pike can be caught from shore. These include on the Kaministiquia River, at the Neebing/McIntyre floodway, the mouth of the Current river and especially at the waterfront. Every year, giant pike are caught by people casting spoons off the rocky shore at Marina Park. You can sometimes see big pike basking in the shallows there. As you move east down the shore from Thunder Bay, Black Bay and Nipigon Bay have incredible pike fishing. Access is limited on both bays, but there are several boat launches that can get you out on the water. The town’s of Nipigon and Red Rock both have marinas that provide shore fishing opportunities as well. East of Nipigon, pike fishing is spotty, but Kama Bay, Mountain Bay and Jackfish are pike producers. Most anglers stick to classic pike presentations like the Eppinger Daredevle, Johnson Silver Minnow and Mepps Musky Killer for Superior pike. When the water is cold early in the season a soft plastic worm or jerk shad is a good choice. A steel leader is a must.
Spring lake trout fishing along the coast of Superior is the bread and butter fishery for many anglers. As the waters warm, lakers move shallow and are willing biters. Lake trout are found throughout north-shore of Lake Superior, and there are not many areas that don’t have some of these fish around.
Lake trout will move up on shoals, points and wind-blown shores and can be caught casting bucktail jigs, rubber minnows and jigs and spoons. Lake trout can also be caught by trolling with heavy spoons such as a Krocodile, Daredevle or Little Cleo. Another good trolling presentation is to use diving crankbaits including the #9 Shad Rap, the Live Target Jerkbait Dive Deep or Deep Diving Husky Jerk. Silver or white/pearl shades are hard to beat as lake trout feed primarily on smelt.
Although most lake trout fishing requires a boat, there are instances when lake trout can be caught from shore. One of the best opportunities is found on the Nipigon River. Lake trout will enter the river in May and stay until late June when the water becomes too warm for them. Lake trout prefer large pools and calm water but may be in fast water as well. River lake trout are great fighters and you may assume at first that you’ve hooked a steelhead.