The Humber River is one of four rivers beginning in the Headwaters country north-west of the city of Toronto. Along with the Credit, the Grand, and the Nottawasaga, the Humber River begins in Mono Township east of Orangeville; it then winds its way through the hills of Caledon, eventually flowing into Lake Ontario in Toronto…..
It is the only Heritage River to flow into Toronto, s well, it is the only river flowing through the western half of the GTA that begins in the treasured Oak Ridges Moraine. 35% of the land in the Humber watershed is publicly owned, giving the sport fisherman unbridled access to many unique beats for brookies, planted browns, and natural hog-sized browns.
This article intends to discuss key fishing areas, equipment and tactics, and conservation issues for the headwaters of the Humber.
Key Areas and Access Points
The headwaters of the Humber River is defined by the Humber Chapter of Trout Unlimited as that stretch of river commencing in Mono Township west of highway 9 and Airport Road, and ending in the Town of Bolton. Centreville Creek, flowing into the Humber at the Albion Hills Conservation Area, and Coffey Creek, commencing at the Glen Haffy Conservation Area, (and entering the Humber just upstream of the Albion Hills Conservation Area), are the two main tributaries of the Humber in the headwaters.
Because the Humber can be described as a small river, with a base flow of 800 litres a second upstream of Bolton, small stream fishing tactics are the norm. That is to say, the fish will bite at about anything â€“ so matching the hatch is not too important â€“ but the downside is they are extremely spooky. Be stealthy in your approach.
Starting at highway 9, this article will explore various access points as it flows downstream.
South of Highway 9 (Open Map)
Head west of highway 50 (#50) on highway 9 about a kilometre. Park at Emilioâ€™s restaurant on the north side and wade downstream. This reach has good spawning ground for browns that have recently begun migrating upstream from the Palgrave Dam since the fish ladder was built three years ago. This is a hard water to fish â€“ even through there is a fair amount of gravel, there is a good deal of debris and deadfall in the water. Try this run after a few visits to the better parts of the river…
Finnerty Sideroad (Open Map)
South of #9 is Finnerty Sideroad â€“ go 300 metres west of #50 to the bridge and fish downstream (upstream is posted). This is the north end of the Palgrave Conservation Area; it starts in a thick cedar forest, and opens into a meadow. There is an even mix of silt and gravel runs in this reach.
This is a reach of interesting contrasts â€“ slow and fast waters, forest and meadow, silt and gravel. The Finnerty section is a lot of fun to fish. Backcasts are easy to make in the meadows, and dapping is the only thing to do in the forest. A full day could be spent fishing the Finnerty â€“ this should be one of your first stops on the Humber.
When you get to the deadfall downstream of the meadow, your beat is done. Siltration from the Palgrave dam makes this stretch unfishable.
The Palgrave Pond
The Palgrave Pond (or, â€œSwampâ€ as local cold-water fishers call it) is best fished only if you prefer your trout pre-cooked! It is caused by the 5 metre high dam built over 100 years ago, and even the installation of an ingenious fish ladder three years ago hasnâ€™t done much to alleviate the elevated water temperatures. A million dollar project initiated by the citizens of Palgrave dredged the pond to about 4 metres (a canoe couldnâ€™t paddle across it before, it was so shallow), but it is doubtful if there is much here to fish. Give it a try if you want â€“ but bring a canoe.
Still, the fish ladder alone is worth a trip to the Humber. It is the only ladder in mainland Canada with an observation window, and if you are lucky you will see trout swimming by. The fish ladder is a text book case of citizenry compromise. While the stream fishers wanted a complete (though controlled) removal of the dam, and while the people of Palgrave wanted the pond untouched, the installation of the fish ladder has at least allowed fish to spawn upstream for the first time in over a century.
Palgrave Dam Fish Ladder – observation window bottom middle, with dam on upper left and original mill race upper right.
Patterson Reach (Open Map)
The most beautiful run of all is here. Located upstream at Patterson Sideroad and Duffyâ€™s Lane (south and west of Palgrave) this is the most serene, surrealistic and enchanting reach in all of southern Ontario. It is heavily forested and canopied (an ultra-light rodderâ€™s dream); there is a rudimentary path on the east side of the river. Bring your child to this section and they will be in love with the outdoors forever.
There is nothing but rock and gravel in this section; as such, it is one of the best spawning grounds of the Humber. The run ends about 1000 feet upstream from Patterson Sideroad in a large pool developed immediately downstream from a gorgeously engineered century old railroad bridge. North of the bridge is heavy siltration.
Albion Hills Conservation Area (Open Map)
Fishing areas for the Albion Hills Park can be divided into three main areas, designated here as the North end, Mid-section, and South end.
Immediately south of Patterson Sideroad, Duffyâ€™s Lane dead-ends at the northern gate of the Albion Hills Park. You can park your car outside of the north gate, and fish downstream of here. This is all park property (run by the Toronto Region Conservation Authority), and is easily accessible. Donâ€™t fish upstream as it is posted, and, quite frankly, not worth the bother of getting the landownersâ€™permission.
This stretch is alright, but, like the highway 9 reach, is best left for a later exploration date.
Inside the park, in the main area, are two bridges that cross over the river. If you want to make this a family outing for both the fishing and non-fishing members, this would be a good place to be. The mid section ends just south of the second bridge where Centreville Creek runs into the Humber.
Drive past the chalet and try to find parking in the designated trailer park (easy to do during the week â€“ not so easy on the weekend). Here the water flow has increased significantly with the addition of water from Centreville Creek. This stretch of the Humber more closely resembles the Credit (Greg Clark reach) even though it still hasnâ€™t the same water flow base. There is plenty of gravel and a fair number of pools. It is fairly open with good back casting room.
Old Church Rd. and Highway 50 (Open Map)
This is a spot which should give you a couple of hours of fun. Park at the south west corner, and walk upstream to the railroad bridge (1000â€™). Here is a large pool, reportedly with bass. Continue downstream as it crosses under Old Church Rd., then under #50, and back again under #50, ending in a nice rock fall just downstream of the bridge.
Castlederg Reach (Open Map)
This is my favourite area. It is located on Castlederg Sideroad, just west of Duffyâ€™s Lane. Upstream of the bridge is heavily canopied, with tight fishing. It will eventually take you to Duffyâ€™s Lane.
South of the bridge is an excellent run. While the Humber has virtually no fishing pressure, it is here you may run into a fellow angler. Watch out for mushy up-stream wellings.
MNR has planted 40,000 five-inch browns here last fall, and expect about 10% to survive. Good luck.
Humber Grove (Open Map)
This is located south of Castlederg on Humber Station Rd. (west of Duffyâ€™s Lane). Since Humber Station was paved last summer, parking is difficult. Still, this is a favoured spot for some. A salmon was allegedly caught there four years ago.
Last year, a TVO survey voted Caledon the â€˜Greenest Town in Ontarioâ€™; on the Humber River system, this is shown by the level of interest and involvement in tree plantings, garbage clean-up, dredgings, fish ladder installations and hiking trails. The Humber Valley Trail, the Bruce Trail, and the Trans-Canada Trail, all cross this river. Biking paths, cross-country and snowshoe trails, even horse trails add to this diverse mix. The Humber River Alliance, an umbrella organization with dozens of community groups, helps the whole river system. An aggressive survey of Areas of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSI) has been developed. Legislation has been passed by Queenâ€™s Park to prevent further and excessive development in the natural core areas of the Oak Ridges Moraine.
For the fisherman, this means an opening of opportunities along the Humber River headwaters. Dams all the way down to Lake Ontario have been notched over the last seven years, with the addition of the Palgrave fish ladder as the crowning achievement. Brown trout are making their way back upstream to the very upper reaches for the first time in a hundred years, and an optimistic introduction of Atlantic Salmon will shortly be in place. The Islington Sportsmen Club has developed a hatchery for both browns and Atlantic Salmon (Brian Vickery at email@example.com)
Pam Dennis of Ontario Streams conducting a redd survey â€“ note the nest .Nov. 2003
However, negative issues abound. Upstream sediment at Palgrave Park continues to persist. Warm water temperatures from Palgrave Pond and the Centreville Creek Pond in the Albion Hills Park continue to put stress on the fish of the Humber. The McFall Dam notching in Bolton has done little to remove silt in the reaches immediately upstream of town.
Mark Heaton of MNR heading up a fish planting 2003
Humber Chapter â€“ Trout Unlimited
Over two years ago Trout Unlimited began a Humber River chapter. It is dedicated to rehabilitating the cold water reaches of the Humber River headwaters. Along with projects such as spring garbage cleanups and tree plantings, this chapterâ€™s goals are to bring river ponds off-line â€“ specifically the Centreville Creek pond. This will greatly reduce water temperatures in the Albion Hills reach, and offer trout and salmon access to the spawning areas of Centreville Creek. It is a huge undertaking requiring hundreds of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, this chapter has a dedicated executive heavily weighted with keen and able biologists from MNR and TRCA, along with enthusiastic rock rollers and the odd (?) fisherman. Your assistance can be offered by clicking onto the Humber Chapter at www.tucanada.org
Humber Chapter of Trout Unlimited â€“Spring Cleanup (yes â€“ that is a kitchen sink!)
Headwaters Fishing Club
For further information and education of headwaters country, consider joining the Headwaters Fishing Club. This is an organization whose value cannot be overestimated. It meets at the Mono Mills Community Centre the first and third Wednesdays of the month (but only during non-fishing months). Their lecture series and fly tying seminars are equally fascinating and enriching. (Bill MacIvor â€“ firstname.lastname@example.org)
Casting lessons at the Headwaters Fishing Club
Fishing Tactics and Equipment
No need for anything more than hip waders for these slow waters. Wet wading is possible here as well.
Small stream tactics are a must. The fish are very spooky, so casting upstream (i.e., from downstream) is recommended. Short rods are handy in the canopies, and on windless days, ultra light rigs are given a good workout.
You neednâ€™t bother matching the hatch on these waters, as the fish will eat anything thrown at them. Presentation is more important than imitation. Stoneflies, caddis, dragon and damselflies abound. Evenings are a good time to try mouse patterns along the undercuts and deep pools.
Unlike the over-pressured fish of the Grand and the Credit, these fish are not spoiled. Thus you neednâ€™t downsize your flies.
When all else fails, try the ponds at Glen Haffy and Danielâ€™s Ark (Bolton) for rainbows. Humber Springs Trout Farm (west of Airport Rd. on the north side of highway 9) is another good pay for play series of ponds.
Ziggy Felski at the Village Shoe Repair in Bolton (17 Chapel St. â€“ east of the downtown corners) makes excellent stone flies and mouse patterns. Also recommended are his rod building and repair skills.
Tim Hortonâ€™s – highway 9 and 50
Emilioâ€™s – highway 9 west of 50
Wishbone – highway 50 and Castlederg Sideroad