toronto harbour muskie

Ultra-rare 'cabbage dragon' captured in Toronto Harbour for the first time in centuries

In what amounts to a big win for Toronto's aquatic environment and a beacon of hope for conservationalists everywhere, a local fishing guide has captured an elusive muskellunge (aka "muskie" or "musky") right here in the city — the first of its kind recorded in the Toronto Harbour after some 200 years of scarcity.

Will Sampson, 31, caught the incredibly rare fish while out on a boat in the harbour on Sunday, October 30, around 1 p.m.

"Toronto Harbour is a special place," wrote Sampson, a professional sport fishing guide, when sharing a photo of the catch on Instagram Sunday afternoon.

It wasn't long before others in the angling community started freaking out over the apex predator, whose many nicknames include "Cabbage Dragon" and "Ugly Pike."

"First musky photo I've ever seen from Toronto… that's a true unicorn!" wrote one commenter on Sampson's Instagram post. "Damnnn! A musky in the Toronto Harbour?! Insane catch bud, gorgeous fish," wrote another.

At 43 and 1/4 inches, the muskie looks massive in Sampson's arms, and is quite striking with her leopard-like spots. She's also of a species so rarely found in this area that people initially suspected the image was created using Photoshop.

"Hey that would be the first true muskie out of the harbour in decades if not a 100 years," wrote a member of the Toronto Urban Fishing Ambassadors Facebook group under a different image shared by Sampson's buddy, Kacper.

"I have seen tiger musky but never a pure musky... the return of musky into the Toronto Harbour is a huge environmental milestone. Wow!"

Per the City of Toronto, muskellunge "thrived" in the waters surrounding the Toronto Islands about 200 years ago, but gradually declined in numbers after the arrival of European settlers, whose behaviours destroyed their pristine habitat.

Today, the large freshwater fish can be found all over the Great Lakes basin and surrounding areas. They're not easy to catch, but anglers do find them in Lake Ontario — just never so close to the city.

"Called the 'fish of 10,000 casts', fishing for muskie is often compared to hunting big game," explains Ontario's provincial government.

"You don't get a lot of chances to catch a big muskie. It takes time, patience and a great deal of expertise, but when it happens, the rewards are great."

For Sampson and Kacper, the greatest reward would be to see more muskie in the waters surrounding Canada's largest city.

"It's back in the water, I practice catch and release," Sampson told blogTO when asked what happened to the majestic fish.

"We sent it back in hopes she makes some babies and the musky start to come back into the Toronto Harbour," said Kacper similarly.

As for how to find a "unicorn" like this, Sampson advises nature lovers to "put a lot of time, energy and dedication into fishing."

"Time on the water is everything." 

Lead photo by

Kacper Fishin

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