"What they don't tell you about the Credit is that there are also Atlantic Salmon there. You can't target them, but they have a nasty habit of targeting you," said Niko.
Niko releases a Grand River brown.
With that needling statement in a trip-planning phone call, I was hooked. Our meeting place would be Toronto (which incidentally means "meeting place"), or more precisely, Vaughan, Ontario, home of the only Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Canada at this writing, which would be our official trip headquarters.
"Most likely we'll get indigenous specks, maybe a few big browns," Niko continued, setting the hook even deeper. I was writing my vacation request as he spoke.
One thing I do ad-extrema while planning a trip is do as much research on my destination as possible. I had heard the stories of the prime fishing on the Grand River in south-central Ontario before and the fabled Saugeen and Maitland Rivers that flow west to Lake Huron. But I had never heard of the Credit River or the Ganaraska.
What struck me most from my pre-trip research was the unique geography of the region northwest of Toronto known as the "Hills of Headwaters." The region is a mother of rivers. With the highest elevations in southern Ontario, these "Hills" are the source of the headwaters for four major Ontario river systems; the north-flowing Nottawasaga, the west-flowing Saugeen, and the south-flowing Grand and Credit Rivers. A long, steep bluff known as the Niagara Escarpment also cross-cuts this area. This high cuesta swings southeast across Ontario and into New York. Where province and state meet the escarpment is famous as the ragged cliff over which the Niagara River plunges to form Niagara Falls.
With an abundance of clear, cold springs gathering into a wealth of streams and rivers, it is easy to see why this region was settled by Scottish and Irish immigrants many of whom built mills powered by their strong, dependable flows. All of the mills and most of the dams are gone now, leaving only the names of towns -- Mono Mills, Boston Mills and Erin Mills to name just a few -- that echo with rich history.
Brian and Niko discuss strategy on
the Credit River.
With my research done and the pleasant drive from my home state of Michigan complete, I was primed for the two-day whirlwind power-tour of the some of the best and most scenic fly-fishing destinations in southern Ontario.
Day One: Blue-Ribbon Credit
The diminutive Ganaraska reaches Lake Ontario near the town of Port Hope, a good 40 miles east of Toronto city proper, and an hours drive from Bass Pro Shops where I met Niko to begin our journey. There, migratory salmon runs originating from the big lake peak in September and early October -- a full month before Lake Michigan's spawning migrations. The Chinook 'migrants,' as they are called, attract fishermen from miles around and, as we were to find, they get there very early. Although we arrived at 7 a.m., the best pools were already surrounded with sports, most of which were wielding long float rods. Remarkably, the Ganaraska was already in its die-off stage and scores of dead and dying kings along the stream attested to both the size of the run and the quality of the fish. Most would have been in the 12 to 15 pound class. Bested by the "earlier birds" all Niko and I could do was watch.
"Doesn't look good today. Time to execute Plan B," Niko said.
The Credit River is a classic blue-ribbon
trout stream near Toronto.
"Plan B?" I asked.
"The Credit. We'll have friends there."
Named Riviere au Credit by French fur traders that supplied goods to the native Mississaugas in advance for furs (on credit); the upper Credit River brings to mind the words "classic" and "intimate." Ontario Out of Doors writer Gord Ellis claims, "The upper Credit is truly one of the last bastions of wilderness in the shadow of urban sprawl, one of the few remaining cold-water streams in southern Ontario that has genuine blue-ribbon trout fishing."
Where we fished -- outside of the town of Belfountain in the Region of Peel -- most, if not all, of the property is privately owned. However, some reaches of water are now accessible under certain conditions negotiated by Trout Unlimited Canada. Those rules are proudly posted on the properties and anglers are expected to respect the river, the fish and the natural areas -- which they do. A pastoral countryside of tidy farms and woodlots hug the river; a fertile patchwork of beauty that reaches far north to the Hills of Headwaters. With the prominent wooded green bluffs of the Niagara Escarpment rising on the western horizon it is a moving sight.
Our friends were there. A memory I shall always cherish was learning at the side of a true gentleman-fisher named Brian. Brian has been fishing the Credit for more than twenty years and knows the river and its ways (and the trout) intimately. I am a shameless dry fly advocate and I had never considered wet/nymph fishing as a very productive means of catching trout. Yes, mending a skilled wet-fly swing has its history, traditions and sages (Skues, Ovington, et al) but I had the prejudicial habit of relegating the method to a thing of last resort. That changed, for today I was to be Brian's protege.
Let me preface the lesson: Brian teaches a polite, disciplined and well-studied manner of fishing that I found appealing. The fish are important, but it's the fishing that counts. His method, in essence, is to fish the proper wet/nymph fly downstream, then turn and fish dry fly upstream -- the best of both worlds. Brian's downstream tactic is quite traditional so I will quote directly from Ray Bergman's Trout on the method. Bergman wrote in 1938:
First, if the nymph is one of the type that requires wetting before it sinks, be sure it is well soaked so that it goes down readily. Then make a cast either across stream or slightly down and across stream. As the current carries the lure along, follow its progress with the tip of the rod. This allows it to float naturally without drag and is practically the same system with which you would fish a worm. In this method of fishing you really need not see a rise to your nymph. If you do the job correctly you will feel a tug, and the tautness of the line will set the hook.
However, Brian supplements Bergman's time-honored method with three improvements: (1) it is more effective to cast the fly slightly upstream, and more difficult because the line tends to slacken as it passes across from you. (2) In order to "follow its progress with the tip of the rod," one must mend line properly and constantly to maintain tautness and (3) allow the fly to swing completely downstream as this is where many strikes will occur. He is patient to instill in you that care must be taken to wade slowly and as close to the river bank as possible; the sediment released by the process of wading can signal your presence to wary downstream trout. Hand-knotted tapered leaders (with flies pre-tied) are mounted on small card squares ready for rigging if a change of fly-leader combination is indicated. Brian carries several of these leader cards in a leather wallet of his own design ready for instant leader changes. He does not remove the leader from the card before attaching it to his line. How does one install a leader and fly mounted to a card? With a loop-to-loop connection; make the loop on the end of the leader large enough that the card can pass through. Elegant!
We fished upstream from the mixed-water fish community where we would have found the Atlantic salmon that Niko had taunted me with. Still, I swear I felt one bump my leg! Light rainsqualls rolled softly across the still countryside dappled with fleeting patches of bright autumn sun and cobalt blue sky. A vivid double rainbow blossomed and dissolved just before sunset. At the end of the day the brown trout fishing was glorious, I learned something new and I had made new friends. It doesn't get any better than that.
Day 2: The Grand River
Niko pulled into my hotel parking lot in Brampton at 7 a.m. precisely. Brampton is known as the "Flowertown of Canada," although I don't recall ever seeing a flower there. From the town we zigzagged in a westerly direction through the scenic countryside of Wellington County. The journey takes us up and over the bluffs of the Niagara Escarpment as the Grand River flows down the more gradual "dip slope" that is essentially the hard, rocky surface of the cuesta. Peregrine falcons soar on the winds that sigh along these bluffs.
We arrived in Fergus at 7:45 a.m., just a tad too early for the morning opening of the Grand River Troutfitters fly shop where Niko wanted to get a fishing report. A local guide also waiting for the shop to open recommends a trout hot spot known as Can Roberts. Just one of several access points along the upper Grand maintained by the "Friends of the Grand River," Can Roberts' waters are intermingled with a classic mix of riffles and pools that harbor respectable wild browns, although some of the fish are stocked. The upper mileage of the Grand River is geologically characterized by the limestone bedrock it carves its way through, giving Can Roberts' waters a slight limesalt milkiness, which also makes the river unusually fertile with fly life. Such fertility and character makes for especially prodigious summer caddis fly hatches and a sanctuary for large brown trout.
Niko shows off a late season Grand River brown.
Wading this reach of the river one will encounter high, beautiful, shelf rock cliffs wounded with the grinding scars of ancient glaciers. Stocky, squaretailed Cliff Swallows wheel back and forth to catch dancing flies chattering and twittering overhead. On the opposite bank its pools and glides are sometimes thickly bordered with reeds and willows. Other favorite pools near Fergus are Trestle Pool, Pumping Station and Tombstone. All of these access points are posted "No Kill" areas: no bait permitted and single barbless hooks only. Further downstream below Elora, the Grand cuts grooves and deep gorges in the surrounding limestone caprock. At the Elora Gorge Conservation Area some cliffs drop as much as sixty feet. At Caddis Run, Niko and I fished until the light began to fail, happily recalling the days tally of browns.
The lovely town of Fergus captured my traveler's heart nearly as much as the top-notch trout fishing. Founded around 1833 by predominantly Scottish settlers, Fergus has maintained much of its old-world architecture and character. At the Breadalbane Inn (pronounced bred.al'.bun), a traditional Scottish/English pub established in 1860, I enjoyed what I can honestly say was the best plate of fish and chips I've ever had in my life. Little does Niko know that after I left Vaughan on my drive home, I made a quick dash back to Fergus for more photos and to the Breadalbane Inn for one more pint of lager.
Here are a few things you should know about fly fishing in Ontario. Water itself in Ontario is a public resource, but unlike Michigan where I reside, the streambed may be private. For those in a boat, even brushing the stream bottom may be considered trespassing. Some properties like those along the Credit River are accessible as long as anglers follow a prescribed set of rules. For instance, where a round yellow symbol is posted, access under certain conditions is usually allowed. But be forewarned; violation of these rules constitutes trespass. A round red symbol means "No Trespassing," and you must not cross any visible property or fence lines. Although these symbols are recognized international symbols, I have yet to see them in the U.S.
A trophy brown.
Single barbless and de-barbed hooks are mandatory in Canada. Barbed-hook flies can be carried in your fly box, but the barb must be crushed before it is tied to your leader. Getting caught with a barbed-hook fly on your leader is considered not only in poor taste but is punishable. Non-resident license fees vary depending on the currency exchange which, at the time I went, was nearly at par. A Non-Resident Eight-Day Conservation Tag at that time cost $24.28 US.
In a last reflection of my memorable trip to Ontario, I am most struck by not just the minor differences in our ways, but by our profound commonality as fishermen and especially fly fishermen. In that thought it brought to mind an unforgettable passage I had read many years ago by the late Roderick Haig-Brown, himself a Canadian. He said:
Of such things as these, and many others, are a trout fisherman's days and ways. It is a sport that can never grow old. We follow the traditions, but do not hesitate to bend and twist them to our needs. We dream dreams and make plans and nearly always fail in the execution of them. We surprise ourselves often, perhaps because we know so little about it all, perhaps because we are such simple souls. But wherever we go in the world we find other men speaking the same language, planning the same plans, dreaming the same dreams.
I leave you with that thought.
Wayne Snyder is a Fly Fishing Team Leader at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
IF YOU GO
If you are interested in fly fishing Southern Ontario, contact:
White River Fly Shop at Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, Vaughan, Ontario
Grand River Troutfitters, Fergus, Ontario
(519) 787-4359 or on the web at www.grandrivertroutfitters.com
Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources at www.mnr.gov.on.ca