Don River Salmon Run – 2016 Edition

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The Tall CPR bridge Towers over the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area just south of Lawrence Ave.

This is one of my favourite times of year as a fishing enthusiast in Toronto, the start of the salmon season. While most people with a passion for fishing will migrate to the Ganaraska, Credit and Humber rivers, I tend to stay a bit closer to home at the Don river. The Don seems to be the last of the local rivers to see the start of the run. It’s relatively shallow and warm, so by the time it cools down with the rains many other rivers have seen the first of their run begin. The arrival of last weekends rain was eagerly received as it signaled that the first of the salmon run was upon us. Since then I’ve been out almost every day wandering the river looking for the perfect pools loaded with fish. 

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The long trek I took through the river, attempting to connect the two ends of the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area.

The Don River is highly urbanized, the hills above its valley are well populated and its course has been altered time and time again to suit human development. Very few sections have escaped human interference, making it difficult to imagine what the river once truly looked like. But in the middle of Toronto’s congested urban map lies a dead space, a mystery on the Don. I’ve been fascinated with this space for a while, the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area occupies much of it but it’s disjointed. The conservation area starts at Lawrence Ave and travels southward along the river until GO bridge where the official trails ends winding up the steep hill to Wynford Heights. From the South end at the intersection of Don Mills road and the DVP the conservation area travels north up the river  and under the DVP until the single lane trails meet the southern GO train bridge, where the informal mountain bike trails will follow the river no more. In the space between these two points lies, about 6km of river I’ve never seen. A portion of that is occupied by a golf course, and the rest… Who knows, I sure don’t. So for this salmon season I decided to try my luck and attempt to travel south from Lawrence through the river all the way down to where the DVP spans the water just north of the Forks, some 9km downstream.

Once the trail disappeared, the trekking got tough, sloshing and splashing through the water all the while chasing fish and trying to keep my DSLR dry. The river might seems shallow, but in stretches is deep and almost impassable requiring a scramble up steep cliffs and through thick bush to get through to the next section. All the while encountering deep pools loaded with salmon waiting to move forward up the river. There are sections of this river I’ve not seen before in the deep valley south of Lawrence where I encountered no people, and heard no sounds of civilization. The calming sound of rushing water filled the air only to be abruptly intruded upon by desperate salmon attempting to navigate the shallowest of rapids. This was a blissful place to find, it was easy to forget about the city here, sadly as I moved further down the river towards Eglinton Ave, the sounds and sights of civilization re-emerged. Armor rock lined the river banks and discarded concrete blocks made up much of the river bed under the bridge. Along the way as it seems to have become a tradition on my fishing trips I caught something strange.

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A wayward canoe, stranded in the most inaccessible of places.

That’s right a canoe, earlier this year I fished out a mountain bike and now a perfectly usable canoe. By this rate I’ll be fishing out brand new Jeeps by Christmas. Strange things you can find in the valley, I really shouldn’t be surprised. But this one did take the cake. As I waded through the water and around a corner, it came into view. There is no reason for it to be there, not many people I imagine would come in this deep it’s well over an hour of wading through the water to this point. But regardless there it was, it had a bit of minor damage but otherwise it’s a fine canoe. I thought about salvaging it for a few minutes, but I was in the middle of nowhere and about a two hour trek in either direction to the nearest exit point out of the river. The canoe would be left behind as the fish were hotly pursued from pool to pool.

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Not the greatest photo, but a shot of me with one of my catches, many thanks to the mystery golfer who took my photo.

Finally as I chased the fish down the river, I stumbled upon the Flemingdon Park Golf Club. The East Don river flows through the golf course and to the bewilderment of the local golfers a salmon was caught. A large trashing salmon can make a hell of a ruckus in shallow water and rest assured also rustle up a curious crowd. Lucky for me golfers are a timid abet a query bunch, and after a few inquiries to what I was doing and few souvenir photographs of the fish, I was free on my way down the river. In the end I netted five large fish and lost a dozen more in the 5-6 hours I spent on the water. I made it almost down to the DVP bridge before turning back and climbing the Sauriol Cliff to the industrial area where I had parked my car. More photo’s can be seen on my flickr.

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18 thoughts on “Don River Salmon Run – 2016 Edition

  1. A good outing in the early Chinook season! Thanks for an interesting tour of the Don. I’m looking forward to the season, as well, but the salmon don’t enter the southside of the lake tribs where I fish until about the second week of October– if the rains ever come!

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    • This is the first wave on this river. All the other in the area have had at least one run. I hope for you the rain arrive soon. I’m looking forward to more of them arriving, but I fear this will be the last big run here. This year they’ve discontinued stocking the Don due to Low Alewife numbers in the lake.

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  2. I was fascinated when I learned there were salmon in the Rouge, so I am less amazed to learn the Don River has them too. I guess that’s a credit to the cleanup efforts on this river from its earlier, badly-polluted condition!

    I was very interested to read about the ‘lost’ section between the north and south parts of the trail at Eglinton. I’ve only been on the north section of this trail. You were really tenacious to forge through this area – not to mention the fact you would have been carrying those heavy salmon on the return trip!

    Thanks for the great photos – not sure I would be quite as adventurous 🙂

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    • They’ve been stocked in the river since early to mid 90’s and return regularly to spawn. Sadly their spawning is futile, there has been no successful hatches in the Don. The river is still far too polluted to support a re-introduction of the native Atlantic Salmon, so they stock the pacific Chinooks instead. Even sadder they’re discontinuing the stocking efforts this year on the Don… So this is a limited time offer now. As for the lost section, there are a few trails in the northern reaches just south of the GO train bridge but post that the river is not easily accessible. I didn’t keep any of the fish, it’s a strictly a catch and release business for me. Thanks for stopping buy. 😀

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  3. Pingback: Fall in the Don Valley | Ontario Camper

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