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  • Writer's pictureThe Drift Team

Ontario's Fishing Regulations F.A.Q.'s

Updated: Apr 20, 2019

Crack open the cover of the Ontario Fishing Regulation Summary and you may find that it isn’t exactly easy to understand. We hear many folks remark negatively about their complexity, but we must understand, and appreciate that for such a large province with many species, water bodies, sensitive areas, and large populations… we simply live in a very complex and diverse province and our regulations need to reflect it to protect and manage our resources.

Fishing regulations change from year to year, it is your responsibility to keep up to date with changes. Conservation Officers (C.O.’s) don’t accept “I didn’t know” as an excuse for violating the Fish and Wildlife Act and will issue fines, and/or seize your gear as the penalty. Depending on the violation and what was used to commit it, they have the authority to seize boats, vehicles, and any property associated with the offense with, or without a warrant.

Also, it is just great to stay informed! We have seen a number of folks who thought that trout opener in Southern Ontario is the last Saturday in April and end up missing the start of the season by a week! Trout season in Ontario opens on the 4th Saturday of April. Depending on how the days fall in the month there may be five Saturdays in April giving us a slightly earlier start. For example: In 2019 with four Saturdays in April trout opener is on the 27th, while trout opener in 2018 April had five Saturdays – opener was on April 22 (the 4th Saturday) so those who waited until the last Saturday (the 29th) missed out by an entire week!

Please note that the general rule is that trout is open on the 4th Saturday of April, but there are exceptions to this where some water bodies stay closed for extended periods. Check the regulations per waterbody you will fish to find any exceptions.

Find the latest version of the regulations online at - or look for a copy at your local tackle shop, fly shop, or Service Ontario center.

We end up answering questions and clarifying the regulations for folks at the shop, which we are happy to do, so thought we’d put a list together of the most often asked questions, and misinterpreted information listed in the regulation summary. Please note that the answers to these F.A.Q.’s are regarding the 2019 regulation summary and may change or not be valid in years to come.

Can I target and catch fish that are out of season, or a protected species, if I intend to release them?

No. Fishing for any species that is out of season, or protected, regardless of your intentions is against the law and can land you in hot water. Fishing seasons are closed for a reason! Example: Bass season is closed until late June in most places in Southern Ontario, catching a bass that is spawning leaves its nest and eggs extremely vulnerable to predation. Your few minutes of fun with the fish can leave a nest completely robbed of eggs and completely wipe out that year’s breeding potential for that fish.

Give this video a watch to see just how quickly a nest can be predated upon once left unguarded.

Tuft’s Lab Spawning Bass Video -

Can I take a photo of a fish that was caught out of season, or is protected? No. This one may seem debatable, but those who do are mistaken. You may NOT take a photo of a fish you have caught, or pose with a that fish that was caught out of season for any photo, no longer how quick you are. Taking a photo of a fish caught out of season is considered possession of that fish because you have not immediately released the fish. Conservation officers have tracked down anglers who are posting photos of fish caught out of season on social media and charges have been laid.

What am I supposed to do if I catch a fish that is out of season?

Under regulation you are to release that fish immediately, without delay, even if it is injured… and as mentioned above, no photos.

What if I keep on catching fish that are out of season?

You need to move, change tactics, and/or stop fishing. If you repeatedly catch fish that are out of season while fishing for another species a conservation officer may interpret your actions as targeting the out-of-season fish.

A very common example is if you are fishing for steelhead on Great Lakes tributaries in the spring. Smallmouth bass migrate the rivers to spawn at the same time steelhead are spawning and dropping back to the lake, these bass are incredibly aggressive and will take the presentation you are intending to target steelhead with. If you catch a single bass, that is considered accidental – no problem, put the fish back in the water immediately and keep on fishing. But if you keep fishing with the same methods in the same area and repeatedly catch bass, you are now considered to be fishing for, and targeting, out-of-season fish.

Do I need a fishing license if I’m just fishing off the dock at the cottage? Do my guests need one, even for a cast or two?

Absolutely, yes. Anyone who is under 18 or over 65, or who is an active member or veteran of the armed forces does not require a fishing license. Regardless if you require a fishing license or not, you must follow the fishing regulations and be able to produce government-issued identification stating your date of birth.

How many flies can I use on my line at once?

You are allowed to use up to 4 hooks on a single line at a time, only if you are fishing areas that do not prohibit the use of multiple flies or hooks. This means you can use up to 4 flies if they are tied with only a single hook in their construction. If your flies have more than one hook, such as many articulated flies, each hook on that fly counts as a single hook. Here are some examples:

Example #1: If you are using a fly with a single hook in its construction you are fishing with one hook. This single hook may be a single point hook, a double point hook, or a treble hook.

Example #2: If you are using two flies both constructed with a single hook on the same line (a dropper rig) you are fishing with two hooks.

Example #3: If you use an articulated fly with two single hooks in its construction used on a line by itself you are fishing with two hooks.

Example #4: If you are using TWO articulated flies on a single line with each fly having two single hooks in its construction you are fishing with four hooks.

Example #5: If you are using TWO articulated flies on a single line with each fly having two treble hooks in its construction you are fishing with four hooks. Yes, this is correct. There are 12 hook points in total, but only two hooks. Treble hooks (three hook points manufactured on a single shank) are considered a single hook. The likeliness of anyone fishing with two articulated flies with two treble hooks on each fly is very unlikely (and not recommended), but it provides good math for the example.

We could list many other examples, but we’ll leave it up to you to do the rest of the math.

What does a single hook mean?

A single hook, in Ontario, means that the hook can one or more points attached to a common shaft (shank). Singles, doubles, and treble hooks are considered a single hook.

What does a single point hook mean?

A single point hook means that the hook must have only one point. Double hooks and treble hooks are NOT single point hooks.

What does it mean if the area I am going to fish has special regulations that state I must fish with one single point barbless hook only?

This means you can fish with only one fly on your line and it must only have one hook that has a single hook point that is barbless. Dropper rigs using two, or more, flies are not allowed in these areas.

What if you want to use an articulated fly which was made with two hooks in an area with one single point barbless hook restrictions?

You can’t… but, you can easily cut off one of the two hooks with a pair of side-cutters to remove the hook point and bend. You now have a fly with only one point! Now, crush that barb completely and get fishing!

What makes a hook barbless? What does a C.O. test for?

Either you must use a hook that was manufactured without a barb, or you must pinch and/or file the barbs on the hook so when they are pulled through a swatch of fabric the barb does not catch or pull threads. Also, the barb must be in complete contact with the shaft of the hook (no gaps). Depending on the C.O. even if a single thread is pulled, they may consider it to be barbed. So, if you are pinching barbs, pinch them thoroughly!

How much distance do I need keep from a dam?

You must not fish 23 meters downstream of a dam. To be even more clear, you may not cast a line or fly within 23 meters of a dam. 23 meters from the dam is not the mark where your feet need to be to legally fish, since you are connected to your line and fly, everything needs to be below this mark.

If I see someone poaching or fishing out of season, fishing in a sanctuary or closed river, or breaking any other regulation… what should I do?

If you witness any violation of the Fish and Wildlife act, call it in. We hear often that folks are deterred by a lack of presence of C.O.s and how many calls go unattended, regardless of this the MNRF needs to hear from you. The MNRF needs your data to know where regulations are being violated and where crimes are being committed. They take your data and allocate resources to where they are needed most according to the calls and reports they receive.

The quality of the report matters as well, get all of the information you can and relay it to the tip hotline, or MNRF officers as clearly and as precise as you can with complete description of the offender, the offense(s), and location. Please do not put yourself at risk to gather the information or call-in the report.

There is a growing trend to post photos, videos, and reports of offenses directly to social media before calling the tip hotline – if you choose to post violations to social media, please contact the MNRF first and report the incident as most violations are extremely time sensitive and Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, twitter and every other social media platform can’t do anything about it.



Crime Stoppers (anonymous) – 1-800-222-8477

MNRF Reporting Hotline - 1-877-847-7667

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