The below reading highlights everything you need to know to set yourself up for success while out on the river targeting migratory steelhead and salmon via float fishing.

There are many ways to fish for both salmon and steelhead here in the great lakes but our preferred method is to float fish via float rod and centerpin reel. Although not the only method, the below guide will focus on float fishing.

1. Buy a Fishing License

If your new to fishing, be sure to buy a fishing license through your province or state. Ontario residents between 18 to 65 years of age need an Outdoors card and a valid fishing license at all times while out on the water. A fishing license can either be for conservation (reduced catch limits) or sport fishing (full catch limits) and is offered for either 1 or 3 years at a time. 

To learn more click the link below:

2. Read the regulations

Every year the Ontario government publishes updated fishing rules and regulations that all anglers must follow. It's important to know at all times what Zone you're fishing in along with specific rules for body of water you're fishing along with catch limits for your targeted species. When river fishing in Ontario, many tributaries open on the last Saturday in April and close on September 30th of each year. However, certain sections of rivers are open for an extended season as well as year round. Bottom line, there's no excuse to not check your local regulations before heading out!

To learn more click the link below:



3. Understanding the different seasons

Before we talk gear and setup, it's important to know the best time of year to target both salmon and steelhead.

Salmon and steelhead in the great lakes are migratory in nature, meaning they live in the great lakes when not spawning and then migrate up river during different times of year to spawn and reproduce. Starting late August to early September, Salmon will migrate from the lake to rivers and begin their spawn. All throughout the month of September and into the month of October, Salmon can be readily found in all tributaries flowing into the great lakes here in Ontario. Steelhead will begin migrating into rivers starting mid to late September to feed on salmon eggs as its a high source of protein. Then throughout all of October and into the winter months, one can target steelhead until the rivers essential freeze over. Come the spring melt, typically in March, pods of steelhead will begin to migrate up river to spawn all throughout March and April. Post spawn, steelhead are considered to be "drop-backs" as they begin to migrate down river and back to the lake. Salmon spawn in the fall and steelhead spawn in the spring as a general rule of thumb but there is always scenarios where both these fish spawn later or earlier in the year.

4. The impact of weather

There's a saying in the fishing community, "rain drop, float drop." From our experience, this is nothing but the truth. What triggers both salmon and steelhead to migrate up river is rain. When there's enough rain to increase the water levels of a tributary, the silt run-off from the river bank will spill into the lake and trigger the fish to migrate up river to either spawn on feed - contingent on the time of year. Once you get to know the regulations and find rivers to fish, try to time and target these fish post rain fall. Your chances of success will greatly increase as fresh fish will move into the system and the water colour will be stained enough to ensure the fish can't see you or your terminal tackle.

A free resource that we use religiously is the Real-Time hydrometric data station managed by the Government of Canada. Here you can find the river you plan on fishing using the map and click on the icon to see gage water levels.

5. Rods & Reels 

For us, we thoroughly enjoy using a centrepin reel and float rod set-up to target these fish. A centrepin reel allows you to have a drag free drift and really control the speed of your float. A float rod, 11ft plus in nature, allows you to use light main line and leader by having the rod do most of the work when fighting a fish. The longer float rods absorb a ton of the impact when fighting a fish which allows for a more finesse style of fishing.


If you're just getting started, we'd recommend the following rod:. 

Raven, 13ft IM8 Reel Seat, 2 Piece

This rod is weighted for 4lb to 10lb mainline and great for all size rivers and both salmon and steelhead. A true versatile rod to have as part of your float fishing set-up.

Raven, 13.6ft IM6 Sliding Rings, 3 Piece

This rod is weighted for 4lb to 8lb mainline and great for all size rivers. The extra 6 inches of rod tip really allows anglers to use a lighter line and leader set-up to target steelhead in all types of conditions.


If you're just getting started, we'd recommend the following reels

Raven, Helix Centrepin Float Reel, 5 1/8"

This reel is a great starter reel and fairly priced. The 5 inch reel is larger in size and allows for quicker line pick-up.

Raven, Matrix XL Fully Ported Centerpin Reel, 5 1/8"

The 5 inch reel is larger in size and allows for quicker line pick-up.