First Muskie Caught in Downtown Toronto in 30 Years

Stunned angler who landed the heavyweight muskie likens his unprecedented catch to boating a “unicorn” within the shadows of Canada’s largest city.
Will Sampson's muskie
Will Sampson with a jumbo muskie! Courtesy Will Sampson

Fishing guides are supposed to be on top of area angling and so can catch fish when other folks can’t. That seems to be just the case on the calm and foggy morning of Oct. 30 along the Toronto, Canada waterfront when 31-year old Will Sampson was trolling with a buddy and hooked a heavy fish.

Initially, Sampson thought it was possibly a rare northern pike, according to a report by CBC-Toronto. But as they drew the fish close to their small fishing boat, they realized it was much larger than most pike, and its coloration and oversize teeth showed it to be a pure muskie – a big one.

“It was definitely a shock, and we knew we had caught a unicorn,” Sampson told CBC. “That’s when we both just lost our minds.”

Although muskies are indigenous to Lake Ontario, catching such a fish in downtown Toronto is unheard of in the modern era, mostly due to city development and diminished water quality.

“You look to your left and there’s four million people in condo buildings and we’re down there with a 43-inch muskie in the net,” said the lifelong area angler who guides in his family-owned business, “Detour Fishing Charters.”

Sampson had no accurate scales to weigh the fish, so the muskie was just photographed, measured, and released back into Toronto Harbor.

The anglers figured the muskie at about 20 pounds. The In-Fishermen length-to-weight muskie table calculates their catch at 44 pounds. Photos of the fish tend to bear out the heavier weight, as it sags in the belly, is broad along its back and the flanks of the fish are wide.

“Catching a muskie in Toronto Harbor is super uncommon,” Rick Portiss, manager of aquatic monitoring the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. “We’ve never had one in over 30 years of environmental monitoring on the Toronto waterfront.”

While muskies thrive in other regions of Ontario, including Lake Ontario, they are rare near and in Toronto. Portiss says muskie habitat was crushed beginning 200 years ago as the city and its urbanized waterfront thrived.

But it is coming back, thanks to environmental controls and improving habitat along the Toronto Harbor front and nearby wetland areas.

“Finding a fish like this is one true sign of an improvement of the habitat and the restoration of activities in the Toronto waterfront,” Portiss said to the CBC.