Fishing & Boating News

Babe Winkelman Fishing Column...February

by: Babe Winkelman, Babe Winkelman Productions

(Tuesday, January 05,1999 - Belleville, ONT, CA) About 90 minutes northeast of Toronto, just off the MacDonald Cartier Freeway (also known as Highway 401) along Lake Ontario's north shore, lies an industrial town of 43,000 called Belleville.

Just 100 miles -- as the crow flies- from Niagara Falls, Belleville usually receives abut the same winter weather as upstate New York ...lots and lots of snow and plenty of cold. The last two years, however, cold weather has been scarce as snowmen in the Everglades. El Nino and its wicked stepsister La Nina have conspired to provide unseasonably mild weather across the region.

While that suits most folks just fine, up in Belleville they'd just as soon get a good blast of Arctic air. That's because Belleville is right in the middle of the hottest ice fishing (no oxymoron intended) on the continent.

Never heard of Belleville, you say? Maybe you've heard of the Bay of Quinte. Belleville ---along with Trenton, Bayside, Deseronto and several other towns-- is located along the bay that produces more trophy walleyes than any other 55-mile stretch of water on the continent.

"I was out filming last week," say Dave Chatterton of Fish Finder Charters," and we caught a 12, 1 10, 1 couple of 9's and several 8's in half a day." Chatterton rattles off the list as matter-of-factly as most ice anglers would talk about catching a bucketful of perch. Last fall alone, he says, his boat produced 85 walleyes over eight pounds.

You'd be tempted to think it was just another fish story, but it's a story shared by tens of thousands of anglers. US ice-fishing guru Dave Genz went to Quinte last winter and was stymied by the mild weather, but he still caught a walleye over 10 pounds.

Canadian television show host Bob Izumi once said if he could fish only one walleye water the rest of his life, it would be the Bay of Quinte.

The provincial record of 18.3 pounds was caught there and fish over 10 pounds are commonplace. Rocky Madson, who manufacturers a popular fish batter called "Fish Crisp", says walleyes pushing 15 pounds are caught "almost daily."

What makes the Bay of Quinte so special? The bay was formed by a series of rivers that meet Lake Ontario along a 55-mile stretch of shoreline. Up to five miles wide in places, the bay is protected from the "big lake" by Prince Edward County, a large island connected to the mainland by several bridges.

Walleyes from all over Lake Ontario move into the bay each September, spend the winter staging there and then run up the Trent, Moira, Salmon and Napanee rivers to spawn in the spring.

Commercial fishermen all but wiped out the walleye fishery during the 1940s and'50s, but a revitalization was undertaken in the 1960s. Spawning beds were cleaned up and commercial fishermen restricted their take to smaller walleyes through the use of live-release nets.

By the mid 1970s Quinte as once again producing jumbo fish, and this time it was sport fishermen who were reaping the benefits.

At least a few anglers are worried that lower catch rates the last tow years may signal an end to Quinte's glory days. But the unusual weather patterns and an infestation of zebra mussels, which have resulted in increased water clarity, are likely the culprits.

Commercial fisherman and charter operators like Chatterton insist the big fish are as abundant as ever. Chatterton, who fishes 200 days a year, is able to keep up with the migrations of big fish constantly moving in search of shad, the primary forage for Quinte's 'eyes. Strangers often can't pinpoint the nomadic fish.

Anyone interested in making a trip to Quinte can get the name of a guide by calling the Belleville Chamber of Commerce at 613-962-4597. Dave Chatterton and his wife Judy run a bed and breakfast out of their home and can be reached at 613-392-7472.

Belleville is about a four hour drive from Detroit (via Windsor and up 401) and about three hours from Buffalo if you're coming from the other side of Lake Erie.

Tune into Babe Winkelman's award-winning television show "Good Fishing" on Superstation WFN at 1:00 am Friday night, 9:00 am Saturday morning and 2:30 am Saturday night (all Central).