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Located less than six hours from Detroit near Sault Ste Marie.  The Garden River offers world class fishing .


 Ben's Bait and Tackle sets up a streamside camp each year.  The trip coincides with the peak of the salmon run.

2016 trip dates

leg #1  Sept 9-13th

leg #2  Sept 13-17th

leg #3  Sept 17-21st

leg 34  Sept  21-25th

leg #5  Sept  25-29th

For info on joining us in a comfortable remote bush camp on the exclusive Garden River First Nation Lands click here


For information on the Garden River First Nation lands www.gardenriver.org


Daily guided Salmon, Steelhead, and trout trips in the Garden River First Nation Reserve plus a full service bait and tackle shop with double launch ramps into the St.Mary's River.


Ben's Bait and Tackle

Ben Belleau

61 Wigwaus Street

Garden River, Ont.

Canada P6A 7A1

ph. 705-946-6334




Ben also holds a Salmon Derby each summer that is very popular.  Contact him for info.


Links of interest

Sault Ste Marie Visitors bureau

Sault Ste Marie Chamber Commerce

Sault Ste Marie  tourism

St Mary's Rapids

Pink Salmon

Sault Ste Marie Fishing

Ontario Salmon Fishing

Garden River Ontario

Ontario Fishing

Salmon Fly Fishing

Pink Salmon Fly Fishing

Garden River Canada 2008

Chinook Salmon Fly Fishing



        About the author

    Don Mathews is a full time fishing guide who travels the Great Lakes in search of Salmon, Steelhead and Trout.  He started Dfishinfool's Guide Service in 1997.  His home waters are the world famous "Steelhead Alley" in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York..  He guides over 200 anglers each year.  In 2000 he founded the Steelhead School and has been an instructor there since.  Don is a Hyde Boat Pro Staff member. He also offers fly casting instruction with single and double hand rods.  Don is the travel agent and webmaster for SteelheadSchool.com  although they specialize in fishing the Great Lakes region.  Through his extensive list of contacts.  He can arrange fishing trips to some of the most productive fisheries in the world.

Contact Don at

330-565-5457  or












       The Garden River Experience

 By Don Mathews

View of the area in the reserve where we set up our bush camp each fall

Garden River  Ontario Canada  "the Crown Jewel of the Great Lakes"

When it comes to  Great Lakes Salmon fishin streams the Garden River has no equal. Sure there are lots of streams that receive good runs of Salmon.  The beauty of the Garden River is the solitude you can find there. It lies in an area of Ontario Canada that hasn't seen a lot of human impact.  Much of the stream flows through the Garden River First Nation Reserve. The river flows through rugged  terrain and roads are few and far between.  Access is strictly limited to band members and guests accompanied by a sanctioned native Ojibway guide.  Only a select few non-natives are lucky enough to fish in the reserve each year. It is a wild and beautiful place. Much of the river is surrounded by breath taking high rock formations.  The Ojibway Natives called the area "Ketegaunseebee" or The Creators Garden. The Garden River is a Mecca for wildlife. Bald Eagles are everywhere and it is not uncommon to see Deer, Moose and Black Bear along her banks. The Native Americans are good stewards of their land. I feel privileged to have experienced the Garden River. A magical feeling takes over me while I'm there.

The Garden River is my favorite place in the world to fish.

The author Don Dfishinfool Mathews with a record class 40" long Pinook salmon caught in September 2008 on the Garden River In Ontario Canada.  Guided by Ben's Bait and Tackle



The Garden River flows into the St. Mary's River about six miles east of Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario Canada.  Highway #17 is the main East-West route in the area. Heck every road in Sault Ste Marie in named Highway # 17.  Grinning..!!  Leave the Soo and follow East Rt #17 When you come to a Y in the road stay to the right and follow the signs to the Garden River.  After a few kilometers you will cross the Garden River.   You are now in in the reserve. Just downstream of this bridge is where the Garden River dumps into the St. Mary's.  This is the town of Garden River.  Approx the first 22 kilometers of the river are in the reserve. This is the best section of stream to fish. Fish are still fresh from the lake and full of fight. Fishing can be great in the first rapids just out of town and the native guides take their day clients there as opposed to a very long bumpy truck ride upstream. It's a sure thing that fresh fish will move into these rapids each night of the run.


Much of the stream above the Garden River Reserve can't be reached by car. 4wd trucks and ATV's can navigate some of the bush roads to access remote sections of stream. Remember you can't drive on bush roads in the Garden River Reserve without a native guide. There is a fairly accessible public section of river off of Ranger Lake Road - Rt 556 it is well above the reserve near the falls. It can be a good place to fish at times. The problem is the fish are usually in poor shape by the time they make it up there. Some years only small numbers of the migrating salmon make it all the way up to the falls.  Most years I find that the majority of fish stop to spawn well before they get to the falls. Still big numbers of fish do get up to the falls on high water years. The public sections close to the falls can be crowded at times. Its best to do some walking up there. The falls stops the fish from traveling any further upstream. The Coho run in October can be good, up near the falls, as they migrate the river very quickly and are in better shape when they make it to the upper river. There are many fishing opportunities in the area. Lot's of the small streams in the area also receive runs of Salmon. Plus there is always the famed St. Mary's rapids in Sault Ste Marie. It is a great place to fish but the wading is tricky. There are many small pristine lakes in the area that hold lake, brook or speckled trout as well as warm water species. 


Male Pink or Humpies are easily distinguishable by the pronounced hump on their backs.The big draw to the Garden River is the huge runs of Pink Salmon it receives.  The Garden's fine gravel bottom makes for excellent spawning habitat for the salmon.  Both Chinook and Pink Salmon have excellent natural reproduction in the Garden River watershed. The Salmon population in the Garden River is thriving. The Pinks in the Garden will average 17-20" long.  They are an excellent quarry to pursue with the fly rod. While in the river to spawn they take flies much better than the Chinook Salmon do.  Pink Salmon traditionally run every other year. They have bigger runs on even number years in the Great Lakes. I find that even on the so called off years there are still more than enough pink salmon to keep anglers happy in the Garden River.


To really experience the true Garden River you are going to need a native guide. You are not permitted to enter the reserve unless you are accompanied at all times by a sanctioned native guide. For years I have used Ben Bellieu at Ben's Bait and Tackle in Garden River as my guide.  I reserve Ben's services exclusively each fall for our Salmon trip. We reserve the same weeks each fall. Our trip coincides with the peak of the run each year. Ben takes our group way back in the bush to one of the most productive sections of stream.  Ben provides sturdy dry heated wall style tents along the river.  The camp is well appointed, it has hot showers, generator station, deep freeze, smoker for your fish and gourmet meals are served up three times a day.  Transport to the camp, access rights, lodging, meals, and your native guides are included in the all inclusive package price.  Ben and his son (little Ben) have spent their whole lives fishing the river and they know the Garden better than anyone.  I enjoy the time we spend together each fall.  Ben and his family are good people and the times we have spent around the fire at night are cherished memories to me.  



Although we reserve  Ben's services exclusively during the peak of the salmon run.  When he' not guiding us Ben offers daily guided trips in the reserve at a rate of $150 per angler. Spring is steelhead time and you will not have to worry about crowds while fishing with Ben.  Most years there are fishable numbers of Pink salmon in the Garden River by early September. You will need a fishing license and your own fishing gear. Ben has a bait and tackle shop.  Watch for his sign on Hwy #17 just East of the Garden River bridge.  He is located on the banks of the St. Mary's.  Fishing is great right in front of his shop from boats. 



Ben offers guided trips from his boats all summer long. He has nice double launch ramps into the St. Mary's river on his property. They have convenience store items and sell fishing tackle and licenses.  Ben rents nice boats and motors and does guide trips fishing the St. Mary's from his boat as well. He knows where and how to catch the fish. Usually the fishing is good right in front of the shop.  Atlantics, Walleye, Salmon, Steelhead, Smallmouth, and maybe even a huge sturgeon await anglers in the St.Mary's river channel in front of Ben's shop. 



Although there are a few other part time native guides in Garden River.  I would highly recommend using Ben as your native guide.

View of St Mary's River and Bens Bait and Tackle's boat docks



at times there can be incredible numbers of fish in the Garden Rriver

The pink Salmon "oncorhynchus gorbuscha" were accidentally introduced to Lake Superior in the 1950's. The population is slowly growing and spreading across the Great Lakes. The male Pink Salmon are easily distinguishable by a hump they get on their back. They are nicknamed humpies. The Pink salmon stage at the mouth of the Garden River in August.  They will start to make their spawning run in early September.  Waves of fish will enter the stream with each rain we get.  Traditionally the run will peak in Mid September. The hens will build a nest in the gravel and spawn. After spawning the hen will stay and protect the nest until she dies a few days later. Males survive longer as they await more fresh hens to arrive but eventually they die also.  By early October most of the Pink Salmon are dead.  Rotting fish carcasses litter the stream and provide nutrients for the young salmon fry as they hatch.


Few places in todays world offer anglers the solitude you can find on the Garden River

The Pink Salmon eggs will hatch in December and January. The young fry stay in the stream until April or May. Then they will migrate to the Lake. Most of the Pinks will travel thru the St. Mary's river into Lake Superior and Huron.  Pinks are very adaptable and can eat a wide variety of food sources. They will spend 18 months in the Lake before returning to the stream to spawn.  As adults they will weigh between three to seven lbs and will be 18-20 inches long. The fish are like clones, they all are very close in size.  On rare occasions a fish will remain in the lake a extra year.  These fish are the trophies and can reach 22-26 inches long.  The runs are very predictable.  If you have a strong year class and good spawning conditions this year,  you can bet on a good run two falls from now. 



Joe shows off a nice 39 inch Garden River King Salmon he caught on the fly rod.

The Garden River also gets a big run of Chinook Salmon "oncorhynchus tshawytscha".  The Chinook Salmon like the pinks are a wild self sustaining population.  The implanted Pacific Chinooks or "Kings" will average 14-20 lbs on the Garden. Some years the fish will be bigger than others.  Trophy fish to 35 lbs are taken each year.  The Chinook Salmon run is good every year on the Garden.  They will follow the Pinks and their run will peak two or three weeks after the Pinks.  The Kings will fight with the Pinks for the prime spawning gravel .  The shear numbers of Pinks overwhelm the bigger Kings and usually the smaller Pinks win the rights to spawn on the best gravel.

Joe with a Garden River Hog.. 


Jeff Novak shows off a 15 lb male Pinook Salmon caught on the Garden River

The different Salmon compete heavily for prime spawning areas.  Some cross breeding between the Chinooks and Pinks occur naturally.  They call the offspring of these cross bred fish Pinook's. The Garden River is a great place for a chance at a Pinook for the record books.  Often when sight fishing you can tell the Pinook's from the Chinook's by the reddish tint they take on when in the stream.  The male Pinook's get brilliant mottled pink sides. Pinook's reach sexual maturity but do not spawn.  They follow the rest of the fish into the river.  On the spawning gravel flats the Pinook's seem to wander around lost.  They don't seem to have much interest in spawning. They take flies very aggressively.


Tactics for fly fishing the Garden River include high stick nymphing and swinging flies.  Pink Salmon are aggressive and will take a variety of patterns.  Chinooks tend to get lock jaw in the stream. I find small well presented egg patterns are your best bet for Kings.  Chuck and Duck methods are not necessary on the Garden River. Water depth and flow are suitable for fly fishing.  True fly fishing techniques work well.  I use a 10 foot seven weight rod with 2x or 3x tippets for traditional fly fishing.  You could go lighter for the Pinks but with Kings around, it pays to be ready.  For swinging flies on the spey rod I like 12-14 foot eight weight rods.  I outfit my spey rod with short one or two foot sink tips I make up with Rio  T-14 Tungsten material. I use a double taper fly line on my spey rod.


All set up for swinging flies on the Garden River

Spey fishing the Garden is becoming very popular.  Wide shallow gravel flats full of aggressive Pink's are prime targets to swing flies too.  I find marabou spey's, wooly buggers and traditional hair wings all are deadly medicine on the Pinks.  Kings will occasionally take big aggressive flies too. As a rule we do much better with #12 and #14 egg patterns on the Kings. Most of the time the Garden is slightly tannic but the water is still very clear. Pastel colored Sucker Spawn, Glo Bugs and Moe eggs are all top producers for the Chinook.




The Garden River also gets good runs of Steelhead. The wild steelhead do seem to run a little smaller than most Great Lakes steelies do. They are brilliantly colored and heavily spotted. The Garden and its feeders are home to a resident trout population of rainbows and brookies. Unfortunately the Salmon fry compete heavily with the native trout. Ben tells me when he was younger, before the Salmon, the trout fishing was awesome. Numbers of trout are down since the Salmon have taken over. Migrating Steelhead start to enter the stream as early as September.  Spring is prime time to target steelhead.  Often snowmelt is a problem in the spring. Water levels are usually too high to fish the main river.  The Gardens feeder streams often fish good in the spring.  When the Salmon run is on we do good on steelhead by targeting them in the deep pools below the gravel spawning flats.  The trout will feed heavily on the Salmon eggs drifting downstream.  Egg patterns are top producers









































































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