A Guide to the Best Urban Fishing in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

Discover steelhead, salmon, bass, and more in the rapids of this Northern Ontario city.
A man standing waist-deep in the very blue St. Mary's River, fly fishing. There is a large bridge, green banks and a clear blue sky in the background.

The clear and cold waters of the world’s largest freshwater lake spill over the angular sandstone and boulders of the St. Mary’s Rapids before emptying into the slow and steady flow of the St. Mary’s River. Not only is this significant piece of water a historic and traditional gathering area for both fish and fishermen, it also runs right past downtown Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

The St. Mary’s River is a 70-kilometre-long link between the icy waters of Lake Superior and the pine-capped smooth rock shorelines of Lake Huron. This diverse, accessible and productive stretch of water is right at Sault Ste. Marie’s doorstep. Whether fishing by boat, wading shorelines, or even casting from boardwalks and platforms built along the waterfront, Sault Ste. Marie offers urban angling at its best. 

Note: Fishing licenses are available for purchase from any Ontario Travel Centre. Learn more about fishing licenses here

Fishing Fabled Waters: St. Mary’s Rapids

two men fishing in St. Mary's River next to the footings of a large bridge in Sault Ste. Marie. Another bridge and a clear blue sky are in the background. A smiling man holds up a large Atlantic salmon as he climbs out of the wide St. Mary's River with a fishing rod. Two bridges and clear blue sky are in the background.
Fishing the Soo Rapids on St. Mary's River (left). / James Smedley with an Atlantic salmon caught on a fly (right).

The best example of a world-class urban fishery is the St. Mary’s Rapids. With steelhead, resident rainbow and four species of salmon in the rapids there is almost always something willing to hit a well-presented lure during the open water season and the rapids have long been considered a fly fishing paradise. At several hundred metres wide and dropping more than 10 metres over a one kilometre stretch of pools, runs, riffles, and current breaks, there’s loads of fishable water. Not surprisingly this urban fishery under the International Bridge linking Ontario and Michigan is no secret. Guides may not be necessary to fish this expanse of fast water but in the name of safety guides are recommended for navigating this potent mixture of swirling pools, hidden pockets, deep water and strong current. Guides also provide a fast track to finding fish.

The Best Time to Fish in Sault Ste. Marie: Angling with the Seasons

a smiling man in a boat holding up a large Atlantic salmon under a very blue sky.
Guide Tyler Dunn with an Atlantic salmon caught in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. 

Sault-based guide Tyler Dunn says steelhead are the first fish available in the rapids in early spring and are enticed by a wide range of fly fishing and spin-casting tactics. The world-class steelhead and resident rainbow trout fishery in the rapids is legendary and has been joined by a relative newcomer to these waters. Dunn says Atlantic salmon start to show up in the rapids in mid-June and stick around into August. The Atlantics originate from the Michigan side of the St Mary’s River when Lake Superior State University began a stocking program in 1987. These exciting and coveted game fish can grow to more than 12 pounds in 3 years and can be caught on flies in the rapids or by boat in the St Mary’s River right downtown.

Chinook salmon and pink salmon show up at the end of August and are joined after Thanksgiving by the fall run of steelhead and Coho salmon that are caught in the rapids and from the downtown shoreline. Downstream, around the mouth of the Garden River, there’s a strong late summer and fall fishery for Chinook.

Bass and Walleye Bonanza

A smiling man kneeling on the edge of a boat, holding up a largemouth bass by the gills. The water below is dotted with green lily pads.
 Guide Adam Valle from Angling Algoma with a largemouth from the St. Mary’s River. 

As the St. Mary’s River winds past the city to merge with the waters of Lake Huron’s North Channel, the habitat varies from shallow and weedy to areas of current squeezed between rocky narrows. Shorelines range from the cityscape of Sault Ste. Marie to the pine-capped headlands and cliff faces of the scenic cottage area around St. Joseph Island. Walleye are found throughout the entire system, moving from the mouths of tributaries in spring to the boulder-strewn shorelines of downtown Sault Ste. Marie and the shoals and current areas around St. Joseph Island through summer.

When anglers think about bass they don’t usually think about northern Ontario. However, those with their ear to the ground know the St. Mary’s River and large inland lakes close to Sault Ste. Marie harbour stunning smallmouth angling on unpressured waters. Fewer still know of the weedy whereabouts of largemouth bass. Bucket-mouthed bass love the erratic rock structure of the St. Mary’s River around St. Joseph Island but are particularly fond of the shade of docks and thick vegetation found in expansive shallow bays. These areas are shared by big smallmouth that lurk in hidden rock piles and virtually every rocky shoreline of the lower river.

The weedy and rocky habitat frequented by largemouth and smallmouth bass is also home to healthy populations of northern pike. This dynamic stretch combines areas of deep water contrasted by erratic shallow structure and spiced up with current, providing prime hangouts for opportunistic pike. The St. Mary’s River is also a destination for muskellunge hunters, who regularly connect with these prized game fish. Other opportunities within the vicinity of Sault Ste. Marie include perch, white fish and even catfish.

Launch ramps and full-service marinas in Sault Ste. Marie and downstream along the mainland, as well as on St. Joseph Island, tend to the needs of boat anglers. Well-worn paths lead to the turbulent waters of the St. Mary’s River Rapids and walkways and fishing platforms along the downtown waterfront provide shore anglers access to this world-class urban fishery.

a man wearing shorts and sunglasses leans against the railing as he stands on a fishing platform in Sault Ste. Marie. He is looking at the large fishing pole that sits in a holder on the railing, the pole bending slightly with the weight on the line.
An angler on a fishing platform in downtown Sault Ste. Marie. 

Plan Your Fishing Trip to Sault Ste. Marie Today

There’s really no need to venture too far from this northern Ontario city for great fishing. With Lake Superior to the north, Lake Huron to the east and a broad swath of inland lakes and rivers in between, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario is situated to offer a rare abundance of fishing opportunities. So check out one of the city’s many accommodation options, explore the sights of the Soo, and plan your world-class fishing trip today.

4 Fishing Guides in Sault Ste. Marie

For those looking for a guided fishing adventure in Sault Ste. Marie, here are some options:

Tyler Dunn
Tyler Dunn Guiding

Adam Vallee
Angling Algoma

Dean Latham
Redwood Sportfishing Charters

Jacob Monk
MonkWorks Fishing

About James Smedley

Professional photographer and writer James Smedley’s contributions—more than 400 pieces and close to 1,000 images—to U.S. and Canadian books, magazines, and newspapers have earned him over 40 national and international awards. In addition to teaching photography workshops, James is the travel editor at Ontario OUT of DOORS magazine. James has fly-fished for brook trout and arctic grayling in far northern rivers and continues to cast for trout, bass, and steelhead near his home in the northern Ontario town of Wawa where he lives with his wife Francine and daughters Islay and Lillian.

 

Visit James at www.jamessmedleyoutdoors.com

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