Getting Bites Under City Lights

Urban Angling in Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay is a modern, urban city surrounded by northern Ontario bush on one side, and the world’s largest freshwater lake (Lake Superior) on the other. Because of the proximity of the wilderness, most local anglers leave the city limits to wet a line. Yet, the city of Thunder Bay is blessed with a fishery that is both diverse and healthy.

There is great fishing for trout, walleye, salmon, perch and pike just minutes from the downtown core. Most of the fishing is accessible from shore, but the angler with a car topper or canoe can cash in on some very impressive opportunities. Best of all, the urban fishing in the city is much better now than it was 20 years ago, and that’s saying something. The city that’s Superior by Nature can certainly provide a fishing experience up to the billing. Here are a few of the better spots to try

Kaministiquia River

The largest of Thunder Bay's eleven streams and rivers also has its most diverse fishery. The Kaministiquia is a large, deceptively swift river that features holes 40 feet or better. In the section from the Highway 61 bridge to the river mouth, anglers find walleye, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, northern pike and carp. Less common are rock bass and crappie. 

The actual mouth of the Kam is split into three unique arms: the Mckellar, Mission and Kam. All three arms have good walleye fishing, with fish over 10 pounds being caught every year, although the average is closer to 2 pounds. Huge northern pike patrol the steep weed edges along the shore of the river and fish topping 40inches are a possibility. Bass are scattered throughout the river, and some very nice ones hang out around bridge abutments and rock shorelines.

There is a public boat access on Mission Island, and above the James Street Bridge, at Mountdale Avenue.  Shore anglers can fish at the Mountdale launch and at a public, wheelchair accessible fishing platform on the south-eastside of the lower Kaministiquia, near the Island Drive bridge.

Immediately below the Highway 61 bridge, shore anglers can fish off the metal reinforcing wall along the east bank. Good catches of bass, perch and walleye are not uncommon here. From the Hwy 61 bridge up to  Fort William Historical Park, the river starts to pick up speed and complexity. The “loop” near the Fort, is shore accessible and has perch, pike and crappie. The Kam is a big river, with changeable flows, so wearing a PFD when shore angling is a good idea.             

Current River/Boulevard Lake

The Current River is the second largest river in Thunder Bay, and is also the home of Boulevard Lake. The Current is a classic, coldwater fishery with good access throughout most of its run from Onion Lake dam.  The reaches above Boulevard Lake are swift and beautiful.

The many large pools are home to brook trout, walleye and pike. The mouth of the Current River, located at Fisherman's Park below the bridge on Cumberland Street, has migratory  rainbow trout, coho and pink salmon in season. The diverse warm water fishery here also includes walleye, smallmouth bass,rock bass  and pike. There are several piers accessible from Fisherman's Rd. that allow anglers to cast lures or soak worms at the river mouth. Wading anglers can work some of the pools below the large falls near the mouth.

Pike and walleye are occasionally caught in Boulevard by anglers using canoes or paddle boats. Shore anglers fish just above the dam, where the water is slightly cooler and deeper. Good access to Boulevard is found on both sides of the lake off Lyon Blvd. Walleye to 8 pounds have been caught in this shallow reservoir, but much smaller fish are more the norm.

Above Boulevard Lake, brook trout can be found in decent numbers, and the larger pools hold walleye, pike, perch and the occasional rainbow. The Current, from Boulevard to Trowbridge Falls, is a gorgeous River, and prime for fly fishing.  Access is found at Centennial Park, off Arundel, and at Trowbridge  Falls Park, off Copenhagen Road.       


The Cascades Conservation Area, located on the upper Current, is perhaps the loveliest stretch of river in Thunder Bay. A series of spectacular falls and pools hold walleye, pike and  brook trout. The park, managed by the Lakehead Region Conservation Authorityis located at the end of Balsam Street, north of Highway 11/17. There is tons of parking, and it is $2 per vehicle per day. The trail to the river is about 750 metres long.

Prince Arthur's Landing (Marina Park)

Once an industrial disaster area, Thunder Bay’s waterfront is slowly being transformed into a lovely public area. There is some very good fishing for northern pike and perch found here. Several docks and piers are located along the waterfront, although not all allow angling. The rip rap along the main shore holds pike, and is readily accessible to shore anglers.

There are also viewing platforms that can double as casting platforms. This portion of shoreline just screams for a  full blown fishing platform.  The majority of pike anglers cast spoons, large spinners or Husky Jerks on medium tackle. Perch anglers have luck with slip floats and small jigs tipped with minnows or worms. The structures put in place by the Remedial Action Plan, for Lake Superior, near the McVicar Creek mouth, have created spawning areas for pike and perch, as well as refuge for ducks and other waterfowl. Some anglers find them handy for fishing as well.   

Neebing River

The Neebing and McIntyre Rivers are two separate systems, but are joined together due to a floodway  built several years ago.  Of the two rivers, the Neebing is larger and slower. The Neebing has a good run of steelhead in the spring, most of which are caught below the control weir above Edward Street. 

Brookies are not plentiful in the lower Neebing, but can be found tucked in to brush piles and in riffles. The fishing and access is not great on the upper Neebing, above the highway, although some steelhead spawn in the waters off the15th sideroad . Walleye and pike occasionally meander up the river, but they are a rare catch.              

McIntyre River

The McIntyre River is arguably the finest trout fishery in urban Thunder Bay, and is certainly the most popular. The McIntyre is used heavily throughout the spring spawning season by anglers chasing lake run steelhead. Dozens, if not hundreds, of anglers fish the "Mac” at the peak of the run, although most of the traffic is before and after work, and over the lunch hour. 

Fish that make it through the gauntlet then have to negotiate the unfortunate dam that was built to create Lake Tamblyn, at Lakehead University, in the 1960s.  There is a fish ladder here, but steelies tend to bottleneck at the base of the weir. No fishing is allowed between the foot bridge to the field house and the large pool below the dam.  It's not uncommon to see trout spawning in this section of river in May. North of Lake Tamblyn, there are some good holes above and below Hwy 11/17 and native brook trout are found in some of the deeper pools.

These are just some of the opportunities awaiting the urban Thunder Bay angler. Take the time to find out why this city is such a great place for an angler to live.

About Gord Ellis

Gord Ellis is a lifelong resident of Thunder Bay, Ontario and a full time journalist, broadcaster, professional angler and guide. He is the senior editor of Ontario Out of Doors magazine, Canada's best read fishing and hunting magazine. Gord is a regular on CBC radio's Superior Morning and writes a monthly column on Ontario for the Northern Wilds magazine, in Minnesota. He has written over a thousand feature articles and columns for publications as diverse as Sentier Chasse Peche, in Quebec, the Financial Post and the Globe and Mail. He is a long time member of the Outdoor Writers of Canada and has won better than 25 national awards for his writing and photography. In 2018, Gord was inducted into the Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame in Hayward, Wisconsin.

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