By Lawrence Gunther
(First Published in Fish Hunt Ride Magazine – Spring 2017)
It may be the case that Canada’s capital Ottawa has one of the least developed and inaccessible shorelines anywhere in the world, but that doesn’t deter people from fishing. In spite of the limited shoreline access, anglers still manage to partake in their sport in sight of Canada’s federal legislators and public service mandarins.
Long before they built the five bridges connecting Ottawa to Gatineau, First Nations peoples gathered on the Ottawa River to exchange news and harvest fish. As much as 80% of their fish diet consisted of American Eel that once swarmed the river, but whose numbers have since been reduced to less than 1% of their former glory. These amazing creatures live the majority of their lives in the Ottawa and connected rivers, before the females migrate down the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers to spawn in the Sargasso Sea located somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The fact the Ottawa River is one of Canada’s most regulated rivers with over 50 major dams and hydro-electric generating stations, may have something to do with the Eel’s near imminent demise. It’s not all bad news though.
In June 2015 Blue Fish Canada, a charity dedicated to the future of fish and fishing, organized in partnership with the Ottawa River Keeper a 24-hour fish-a-thon. The goal was to catch as many of the 85 different species of fish that make the stretch of River inside both Ottawa and Gatineau’s city limits home. With support from Orleans Boat World and Oziles Marina, and a number of expert anglers who took turns joining my guide dog Moby and me aboard my Ranger fishing boat, we managed to hook and release 12 different fish species ranging from Walleye to Long Nose Gar.
The Ottawa is an impressive fishery. But, if you won’t believe this fish tale, just ask guides like John Anderson, owner of the Ottawa River Musky Factory or Yannick Loranger of Ottawa River Fishing – two fishing guides making a living just downstream from the capital.
If a guided fishing adventure isn’t in the cards, why not cast a line into Dow’s Lake located in the middle of Ottawa and part of the Rideau Canal. Each spring my Bass fishing club, the Ottawa Valley South Bassmasters, hosts upwards of 50 12th Ottawa Girl guides ranging in age from 5-16 for an evening of shore fishing alongside the Dow’s Lake Pavilion. Within two hours each girl is guaranteed to catch and release at least one and as many as five scrappy little panfish.
Or, go big and cast giant lures into the Rideau Canal. Try your hand at capturing one of the estimated over-60 meter-long apex predator musky fish Steven Cook’s Carleton University’s Fish Lab discovered living between Dow’s Lake and the Chateau Laurier. These are Ottawa’s fresh-water version of sharks capable of gobbling down baby ducks or other critters that mistakenly find themselves bathing in the Canal.
If friendship is more your thing, come join us anglers each spring on the shore of Victoria Island for a bit of Catfish fishing. These cats can reach upwards of five kilos. Bring a lawn chair, some heavy 2-3 oz. weights, size 1/0 non-offset circle hooks, a stout rod and some worms. The fishing is best around sundown, but the comradery is always good no matter if the fish are biting or not.
There’s plenty of great shoreline fishing to be had in Ottawa, but I’m not going to give away all my spots. There are the community holes that everyone knows, and then there are those over-looked, right under your nose, places that are just too good to reveal. For up-to-date news on local fishing conditions and what’s hot, the internet is always a great place to connect with fellow local anglers and to keep up to speed with the latest fishing news.
You can spend a lot and fly in to some remote wilderness resort, or you can just pull out your grandparent’s old fishing rod from the back of the closet. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. We Ottawa-Gatineau folks really are fortunate. Just remember, with over a million of us, it wouldn’t take
Long to eat them all, so limit your catch, don’t catch your limit.