The increasing incidence of mixed assemblages of toxic and nontoxic cyanobacterial blooms in Quebec's freshwater bodies over the last decade, coupled with inherent inadequacies of current monitoring approaches, warrants development of sensitive and reliable tools for assessing the toxigenic potential of these water blooms. In this study, we applied three independent polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays that simultaneously target the microcystin synthetase (mcy) genes A, E, and G to rapidly and reliably detect and quantify potentially toxic Microcystis genotypes in the Missisquoi bay, Quebec, Canada. Linear regressions of quantitative PCR threshold cycles (Ct) against the logarithm of their respective Microcystis cell number equivalents resulted in highly significant linear curves with coefficients of determination (R2) greater than 0.99 (p < 0.0001, n = 6) and reaction efficiencies of 91.0, 95.8, and 92.7%, respectively, for the mcyA, mcyE, and mcyG-based quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) assays. The three assays successfully estimated potential microcystin-producing Microcystis genotypes from all field samples. The proportions of MicrocystismcyA, mcyE, and mcyG genotypes to total Microcystis cell counts showed substantial spatial variability ranging between 1.7–21.6%, 1.9–11.2%, and 2.2–22.6%, respectively. Correlation of microscopically determined total Microcystis counts to qPCR-based MicrocystismcyA, mcyE, or mcyG cell number equivalents resulted in highly significant associations with R2 > 0.90. Thus, PCR-based assays targeting the mcyA, mcyG, and/or mcyE genes can serve as powerful screening tools for rapid and sensitive estimation of microcystin-producing Microcystis genotypes in freshwater water bodies. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Environ Toxicol 29: 440–451, 2014.