When you talk to most anglers on Prince Edward Island about fishing, they think of brook trout. While it’s true that PEI has some of the best brook trout fishing in the Maritimes, there are other fish species here as well. There may no be the large variety of fish species on PEI as there is in mainland Maritime provinces, but there are still a number of alternative fish species to target on PEI. In an effort to relieve some of the pressure on our heavily targeted brook trout stocks, I’ve provided a list below of some of the other fishable species here on the Island.
While there is some information on how to find, target, and catch the fish species listed below, I’ve made sure to be a bit vague with locations, and leave out information leading to specific fishing holes. I would hate to inadvertently spoil someone’s honey hole! Besides, finding the fish yourself is half the fun!
Brook trout angling represents the overwhelming majority of recreational fishing activity on PEI. You can find them in literally every river, with many rivers holding trophy sized brookies. Trout in the range of three, four, and even (very rarely) five pounds are highly sought after by anglers.
The short rivers and many estuaries on the island provide the perfect opportunity for brook trout to run to sea, and these sea run brook trout grow large quickly, gorging on the many shrimp and bait fish present in the estuaries. I go into more detail on how to locate and target these sea run brook trout here. I find the best months for targeting sea run brookies are May, June, and early July.
Rainbow trout are not native to PEI, but have established healthy populations in many rivers on the eastern and southern side of the island. Given that PEI provides such perfect habitat for sea run brookies, it’s no surprise that the rainbow trout have done the same! These sea run rainbow trout (steelhead) are fantastic fighters, often performing stunning acrobatics when hooked. Steelhead in the 20″ range are not uncommon. Exceptional steelhead being caught in the 30″ range are not unheard of.
The government of Prince Edward Island has an extended angling season in place in the fall for steelhead. During these fall months, many large the steelhead move into estuaries.
I have had the best luck targeting steelhead in the first few weeks of the fishing season in April and in early May, and in the fall months of September, October, and November. Unfortunately, the rainbow trout season is closed for the winter.
Like rainbow trout, brown trout are not native to PEI either, and seem to be a relative newcomer to the island. They are quite rare here, almost to the point of being a mythical creature. That being said, there are pictures of brown trout on PEI’s Fish and Wildlife Facebook page that were caught on the island. According the PEI Fish and Wildlife Facebook page, they have been reported in Hillsborough, DeSable, West, Montague, and Souris rivers.
It’s likely that the brown trout caught here are strays from Nova Scotia. There are some rivers with some amazing sea run brown trout right across the Northumberland Straight in Nova Scotia.
There is a limited recreational fishery on the island for Atlantic Salmon. Fishing for salmon on Price Edward Island is catch-and-release only and is limited to fly fishing gear with barbless hooks. Most of the Atlantic Salmon caught are grilse, but you do hear about anglers catching the occasional larger salmon from time to time.
The Morell river is commonly recommended as the best salmon river on PEI so I have no problem mentioning it here. There are a few other rivers with a population of Atlantic Salmon present, but some of those rivers are also my personal favourite steelhead rivers so I’m not mentioning them here! With a bit of research, I’m sure you could figure what rivers I’m talking about.
The recreational striped bass fishery is still in its infancy on Prince Edward Island. Up until recently, there hasn’t been many around, and it’s only in the past few years that we have been seeing them in the waters around PEI in any appreciable numbers.
It’s thought that the majority (possibly all) of the striped bass found in PEI waters are transient bass from the Miramichi river system, as there are no reports of breeding striped bass on PEI. Since striped bass breed in the spring, it’s safe to assume it’s a waste of time to target them on the island until a few weeks after the breeding season has ended. This gives the striped bass time to leave the Miramichi river system and spread out across the Gulf of Saint Lawerence in search of feeding grounds.
Just like targeting stripers anywhere else, the key to finding striped bass is to follow the current and the baitfish. Find a saltwater or brackish location with strong current and lots of baitfish, and you’ll find the bass. Smelts, gaspereau and eels are key forage species for striped bass, but the bass really are opportunistic predators and will likely take advantage of any prey species present in the area.
Unfortunately, white perch are often considered a “trash fish” by some anglers. That’s a shame because very productive days with many fish averaging a pound are possible, with reports of three-pound white perch being caught in several areas. They put up a decent fight, and are a great species to target if you have children with you, as they are much less picky than many other fish species. A float rig commonly used for trout works well for white perch.
They can be found in many of the estuaries and barrier beach ponds on PEI.
Mackerel are plentiful around Prince Edward Island for much of the year and come in close to shore starting in August and continue into the fall months. They travel in schools, so once you catch one, you’ve found a bunch.
The easiest way to find them is to go to a saltwater beach or bridge at high tide and watch for silversides or other bait fish jumping out of the water. These jumping baitfish are fleeing predatory fish, most commonly Mackerel (you can locate any predatory fish that feeds on the surface using this method actually, including sea trout and striped bass). Seabirds such as sea gulls, cormorants, terns, and gannets commonly prey on the baitfish that have been pushed to the surface by feeding mackerel, or even on the mackerel themselves. Following the seabirds is another easy way of locating where the mackerel are.
Gulls will often hover over the water, and dive to grab the fleeing baitfish. A trick is to wait until you see the gull dive, then cast to that location, as you know there are mackerel feeding in that exact spot.
Mackerel are easily targeted by spinning gear using shiny metal lures, although I see some people float fishing for them, and they can be targeted by fly fishing as well. Reaching them while fly fishing will be easier if you are using a kayak. If you’re not the type that wants to fish from shore, there are a number of fishing charters all over PEI that will take you out on a lobster boat to catch Mackerel.
I start fishing Mackeral in late August and continue fishing them into the fall months. The specific time they start coming inshore varies from year to year, but a good rule of thumb is that the mackerel will start moving inshore shortly after the dog days of summer start to cool down.
These funny little fish are great fun to catch and can be found in every estuary around PEI. They swim through the estuaries and into the river mouths to spawn in spring and are easily found in the few first weeks of the fishing season in April and May. Given how crowded the rivers are on opening day, there are some years I don’t even bother fishing for trout on the opener and instead spend the day fishing for winter flounder. They are so dense in the spring of the year, that in certain areas that they will literally pile on top of each other fighting over the hook.
The winter flounder spread out once again once they are done spawning, although many remain in the estuary. Despite their name, winter flounder can be found inshore throughout the summer as well.
Many anglers target winter flounder with a drop shot rig tipped with bait. Clams, squid, worms, and scented soft plastics all work well on a bait rig for flounder. Another effective method is to use a small bucktail jig tipped with a Berkley shrimp.
Winter flounder fall under groundfish regulations, which can be found at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website linked at the bottom fo this page.
Rainbow Smelt are an extremely abundant fish species on Prince Edward Island. They run up rivers in huge numbers in April to spawn, and can be found in most rivers. During this time they are easily targeted by dip netting, although it is possible to fish for them using a hook and line as well. If targeting them using a hook and line, very small hooks are necessary. I fish for them with really small bucktail jigheads with a spinning rig, or use small streamer flies when fly fishing for them. Smelt react to movement so make your lure or fly move to trigger a strike. I like to cast to the middle of the school and retrieve the fly back to shore, typically as you retrieve the fly or lure, and it leaves the school, a smelt will chase it down.
Smelt react to movement so make your lure or fly move to trigger a strike. I like to cast to the middle of the school and retrieve the fly back to shore, typically as you retrieve the fly or lure, and it leaves the school, a smelt will chase it down.
After the smelt are done spawning they return to the salt water, while you can still find them throughout the year, they are mainly targeted in the winter by ice fishing, either by net, spear, or hook and line.
Gaspereau, also commonly referred to as Alewife, are a small relative of the shad. They run upriver a few weeks after the smelt run, usually in May, and the Gaspereau run is often used as an indicator to determine that the first run of sea run brook trout have likely run upstream as well. They are often incidentally caught when targeting trout, particularly when fly fishing streamers.
They are surprisingly strong fighters for their size, often fighting harder than a similar sized trout. They also like to jump when hooked as well. If you are targeting them, keep in mind that they have very small mouths for their size, so you need to use a relatively small hook. Gaspereau are plenty of fun to mess around with, but I should tell you two things: 1) that they make for exceptionally poor table fare, I don’t recommend trying to eat one. 2) They stink! be aware that you’ll have the smell on your hands the whole drive home! Your wife/husband will not be pleased when you get back!
Tuna is not a species that you can just casually target, you have to arrange to go on one of the many fishing charters on the north shore of the island. These truly massive fish in the 500 to 1000 pound range can put up a fantastic fight. I unfortunatly do not posses a sea worthy boat of my own, or have the money to drop on a tuna fishing charter, but I’ve heard it’s a blast!
There are also plenty of sharks off the shore of PEI. Many of the fishing guides that do bluefin tuna charters also do shark charters as well. Most of the sharks caught are blue sharks, mako sharks, or porbeagle sharks, but hooking into a great white is not unheard of.
The spiny dogfish is a shark species that can be targeted by the casual angler. They have been known to come close to shore where the water is deeper, and is sometimes caught as bycatch when targeting striped bass.
There is a very limited season open for cod (and white hake) on PEI for recreational anglers of usually less than a week (the specific dates change year to year). You can find the info on the annual groundfish information released by the DFO (link at the bottom of the page). If you want to target cod outside of this limited fishing season, you will have to book one of the many deep sea fishing charters available on PEI.
Brown Bullhead Catfish
While not widely known, there are actually catfish on PEI. The brown bullhead catfish can be found only in the Trout River watershed around Tyne Valley, and is thought to have been introduced to the area accidentally in a load of lobster bait that was discarded. While most members of the species are relatively small, individual bullhead can reach a length of approximately 12″ in length.
Prince Edward Island has a large population of American eels. The many estuaries here are filled with eels, and they can be easily caught using a bait rig that sits on the bottom. They are predators that rely heavily on their sense of smell and are one of the few species that I use bait for, as lures and flies are all but completely ineffective.
Cunner (also known as Bergall) are a small species of wrasse related to the slightly more widely known Tautog, and are commonly found inshore around docks and piers. They have an impressive set of teeth, and are often considered pests as they are very good at stealing bait off a hook. They can be up to 10″ long (although much larger specimens have been caught before, usually further offshore), and years ago actually used to be an important commercial fishery.
They can be a fun species to target if you are fishing with children. Once you find them, you are guaranteed to get a bite, as they will go after any type of bait or lure presented to them.
Much smaller than the more widely known Atlantic cod, the tommy cod maxes out around 6″ in length. It can be commonly caught in deeper estuaries and is often accidentally caught when targeting flounder.
Another ground fish, sculpins are another species often considered trash fish. They often occupy the same habitat as winter flounder, and if the water is shallow enough to sight fish, can be a fun species to target.
While mummichogs are commonly used as trout bait by many anglers, this colourful little species can be fun to mess around with when nothing else is biting. Usually Maxing out at around 3.5″ (with the possibility of exceptionally healthy individuals getting as long as 6″), mummichogs fall well within the definition of microfishing. Any time I’ve targeted them I used nymph or streamer flies sized 18 or smaller. They are eager to target anything colourful and moving.
The provincial government of Prince Edward Island fishing, hunting, and trapping information.
The Federal DFO’s (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) regulations for Gulf of Saint Lawrence.