According to Captain Steve, Lake Ontario fishing should be called Lake Awesome fishing. That’s how he and fellow sport fishers refer to the goldmine lurking in the deeper waters of Lake Ontario. And it’s all within easy reach of the Whitby marina, which the Captain’s boat — the Reel Mistress — calls home.
Whether you’re planning to just get a one-day Ontario fishing license for sport fishing aboard the Reel Mistress (which I’ll walk you through below) or you’re destined for a season-long deep-water fishing hobby, testing the waters — literally — has never been easier thanks to private charters.
As someone who’s tried fishing many, many times since childhood and never fallen in love with the idea of waking up before dawn to crawl into a boat and fight the cool morning fog to silently hook a squishy worm onto the sharp claws of a hook, I wasn’t quite sure how a deep-water sport-fishing expedition would go. But I’m committed to trying new things and lifelong learning, so I figured at worst I’d get a fun boat ride out of the deal.
Yet it was so much more.
Before I dig into the details, check out the video I made highlighting just a snapshot of our six-hour adventure featuring some of the best fishing in Ontario:
What can you expect during a Lake Ontario fishing trip?
While I arrived with no expectations other than being barefoot on a boat for a few hours and catching a fish or two, you might want a better idea of what Whitby charter boats like the Reel Mistress offer when you book private fishing trips.
Captain Steve offers either a sunrise or sunset charter, each of which last around six hours from start to finish. I can’t speak for the sunrise version but catching the sunset and being on the water during “Golden Hour” was one postcard moment after the next.
The Reel Mistress is outfitted with everything you need: life jackets, enough fishing rods for each person to have a pair all to themselves if the fishies are really biting, bait and tackle, and of course enough gas to troll for fish for hours. Plus the most cutting-edge technology to show your depth and real-time fish images in the great deep that lies beneath. Finally, there’s your Captain, who’s a charming, personable host with two decades of experience that’ll keep you chatting and laughing all the way back to the dock.
Speaking of bait, it’s important for you to know that you don’t have to touch the glowing green and very dead herring fillets. Not once. If you’re game and want to learn how to bait your own fishing hooks, the Captain will gladly teach you, but I can’t report on this lesson because, well, NO THANK YOU. This is a full-service charter operation and I took advantage of every part of it.
With three guests and Captain Steve onboard, up to eight fishing rods are placed into Lake Ontario once you reach a depth of around 100 feet. This takes a bit of time to set up and I was convinced with all those rods in the water at the same time, they’d surely get snagged in each other. But, nope. Captain Steve is a master at getting them just so and setting the boat at the right speed on the right trajectory.
Once you’re cruising along (a.k.a. “trolling”), the Captain watches closely for the reels to go spinning, indicating that a fish has taken the bait. And this is where the thrill of sport fishing begins and you take over. With good instruction and Captain Steve — who is masked throughout your entire excursion for sanitary precautions — nearby to jump in if need be, you might find yourself reeling in rainbow trout, brown trout, coho salmon or even Atlantic salmon. There’s a reason the locals call it Lake Awesome, after all.
There’s an unmistakable sound when a fishing line starts running away from its rod. And it signals quick action to reach for the rod, dig it into your thigh and work it long enough to tire out the fish waiting for you at the other end. You’ll find yourself wrapped up in a game for two, with that line tugging and fighting in fits and spurts as you coax your opponent toward the boat.
At first, I gripped every point on the fishing rod harder than I needed to. I’m talking white knuckles, folks. Captain Steve explained where to relax my fingers, hands and arms and how to hold the spool to prevent the line from being pulled back out into the water as I slowly brought the rod up to the sky before moving the handle clockwise as quickly but consistently as possible. Reeling in a big fish from deep water is actually a slow but paradoxically fast experience, which you’ll only understand once you try it yourself.
And, so, I caught a 3-pound salmon.
I’d like to say I did it by myself, but the truth is that Captain Steve scooped it up out of the lake with a net once it was within arm’s reach of the Reel Mistress’s stern. I’m pretty strong and my left forearm, which supported the rod as I reeled that sucker in, was freaking exhuasted. That aside, it was really exciting to be rewarded with something my family ultimately ate for dinner the next night.
Another charter guest caught a massive 17-pounder and Captain Steve offered to gut them for us to take home. You can also throw anything you catch back in to Lake Ontario, but if you like eating fish, I strongly recommend going with the eating route! Since my fish was on the smaller side, the Captain prepared it for us to BBQ. He sliced the bigger fish into enough filets to feed four families. I’m here to tell you that even my husband who usually despises salmon inhaled this one!
Can kids go on fishing trips in deep water?
Lake Ontario fishing is suitable for beginners and pros alike, but deep-water sport fishing does require both patience and strength. You know your kid best. If long stretches between bites will be met with ants-in-pants, or you worry your spirited little one may be tempted to jump overboard without permission, this might not be the ideal trip for your family.
However, if you have a really good listener on your hands and one who will do well on a 6+ hour excursion, I’d say children 7+ could confidently climb aboard the Reel Mistress.
Just be honest with yourself before you book, because it could be an expensive mistake if Captain Steve feels your kid is making the charter unsafe and is forced to head back to Port Whitby early.
What’s the difference between traditional and sport fishing in Ontario?
I’d call what I grew up with “traditional fishing.” That is, either casting off of a rock or dock along the water’s edge or going out on a canoe a hundred feet or so from shore, staying in pretty shallow water, and casting a single rod over and over again hoping for fish to bite. For those of us without motorized boats, these are pretty much your options.
And then there’s the alternative: sport fishing. Sport fishing in Ontario, in particular, gives you plenty of options about where and how deep you want to fish. By hiring a charter, you allow an expert to do the hard parts — gas up and drive the boat, handle insurance coverage, maintain and set up equipment, collect and prepare bait, and (most important) find the fish.
It’s a big, big lake out there — at some points as deep as 800 feet! — and without someone who knows what they’re doing, it could be pretty easy to have a very disappointing time. Captain Steve knows what he’s doing.
Are Lake Ontario fishing charters expensive?
The overall cost depends on many factors: the charter itself, how far the boat travels, how long it idles and trolls, how many guests the boat can accommodate, the equipment and technology onboard and more. Some fishing charters may be more full-service than others, so make sure you’re clear on the details and inclusions.
A sunrise or sunset charter trip on the Reel Mistress as I’ve described in this post is $600.* That’s an activity that works out to around $100 an hour (which I like to think of as similar to a family movie theatre outing, even though that’s usually more like an hour-and-a-half). Ditch the fam, take two buddies and now it’s $200 per person. If you catch a lot of fish and take it all home, consider part of your future grocery bills taken care of, too.
How to get an Ontario fishing license for sport fishing
First of all, yes — you need to follow Ontario fishing regulations at all times, and that means you absolutely need an Ontario fishing license for any Lake Ontario fishing you want to do. The good news is that for those of us who’ll likely only make this a once-a-summer splurge, you can get a one-day sport fishing license. And cheap. It’s only 12 bucks per person and you can get it in about three minutes online.
- Click on “Buy License & Enter Draws.”
- Accept the privacy notification and then create an account.
- Create your account by selecting “Create with new Outdoors Card” (don’t worry — you don’t actually need one for a one-day sport fishing license).
- From here, select the one-day license and then head to the checkout to pay virtually.
Everything will arrive by email but I also suggest downloading the PDF once your purchase is complete.
That’s it! You’ve got an appropriate Ontario fishing license and you’re ready for your charter.
Wondering what else there is to do in the area? From virtual road trips to scouting out local hidden gems, you can find places to eat, sleep and play on the York-Durham Headwaters website.
Final pro tips
I suggest bringing lots of snacks or even ordering dinner locally and bringing it aboard (we grabbed yummy takeout from nearby 12welve Bistro). It’s a long day and after reeling in your first fish, you’ll need to replenish your energy stores. It’s actually hard work!
Don’t forget to bring a good hat with a strap (it can get windy!), bug spray and a bottle of sunscreen, especially if you’re fishing between noon and 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest. If you tend to get seasick, keep in mind that smooth sailing isn’t guaranteed, so SeaBands might be something to bring along, too.
Most of all, bring your sense of adventure and enthusiasm to try something that might be out of your comfort zone. I sure am glad I gave it a chance — because I found a fun new activity that I now want to share with the rest of my family.
DISCLAIMERS: Charter cost is accurate as of time of writing (August 2020) but is subject to change. This experience was provided as part of a partnership with York-Durham Headwaters to promote Lake Ontario fishing with a special emphasis on Whitby charter boats available for deep-water sport fishing. Opinions are solely my own and never influenced by compensation.