Living and working in placid Ancaster, Ontario, Stephen Gleave is surrounded by a sense of tranquility amid landscapes of great beauty. And yet, whenever his calendar clears, his mind turns to the wily trout, pike and steelhead waiting for him in southern Ontario’s Saugeen River.
The busy Ancaster employment attorney is hooked on the adventure and quiet magnificence of a river that is often overlooked by tourists trekking across the province, exploring Ontario’s lush meadows and forests.
The Saugeen River is never far away, in his thoughts or on the road. It’s a pleasant day trip away from Ancaster, as well as Hamilton, Toronto and many other popular jumping-off points for tourists.
After a lifetime of visits, Stephen Gleave has mapped out the unique geography of the river: It starts its languid journey in the Osprey Wetland Conservation Lands and ends at beautiful Lake Huron. Trout populate the upper half of the river, while steelhead, bass and salmon race in the currents of the lower Saugeen.
The river changes character as it winds through emerald landscapes. There are rapids, areas of slow current and deep pools rich with aquatic life. In the spring and early summer, these pools are teeming with newly hatched fish.
In this verdant realm, time slows as reels are cast into the deep and fish eye intricately-prepared lures, sideways.
Because the river is so richly abundant, the odds of reeling in a catch are good. An estimated 50,000 rainbow trout spawn in the Saugeen River. And this may be the best steelhead fishing you’ll find in the entire Great Lakes region.
In most parts of the river, the season for brown trout, rainbow trout and salmon runs from the fourth Saturday in April until the end of September. The town of Walkerton enjoys an extended season.
The season for pike begins the second Saturday in May through the end of December. The season for Saugeen musky, a combination of Kawartha and Huron that is found only in this river, runs from June 1 to December 15.
Stephen Gleave suggests first-time visitors consider exploring the river with a canoe rental. Whether you’ve come to the river to fish, picnic, shoot photos and simply reflect on the meaning of life, canoeing is the perfect prologue to your Saugeen River experience. The calm waters flow past trees and cliffs for 102 kilometers. It won’t be an extreme sports experience — the rapids won’t have you gripping the sides of your boat — but your slow, steady journey will be thrilling nonetheless.
On land, the Saugeen River is equally enchanting. A network of river trails allows visitors to explore the shores, riparian landscapes and the many wonders of nature along the routes.
A particular favorite is the Saugeen River Rail Trail that was built on railway lines in the late nineteenth century. The five kilometers of the trail are accessible year-round; the path is great for cycling, hiking, walking, jogging, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Wander off the trail to enjoy the nearby town of Walkerton.
In the end, the Saugeen River is a place where you can spend days, while losing track of time. It offers you the chance to discover nature, get lost in your thoughts, unwind — and create memories that will surely reel you back again.