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Our third stop on the tour was Bay of Quinte and whenever the “Big O” (as it is called) is mentioned it conjures up images of giant walleye, after all this is the walleye capital of the world!  Anglers come from around the globe to fish these waters in the spring and fall. For trophy hunters it’s all about size and monsters live here!


Like Severn Sound, this is no hidden gem and it’s unlikely to produce the quantity of fish like Pointe au Baril, but despite the constant pressure of recreational anglers and trophy seekers on both hard and soft water, the Big “O” keeps producing. Some of the reasons for the abundance of walleye here are the enormity of this body of water, diversity and quantity of bait fish, and the number and quality of spawning river habitats feeding the bay. The eastern tip of Quinte near Trenton to Desoronto is more than 50 km long, with at least that again when you add Long Reach, Adolfus Reach, and Hay Bay. Like most of the Great Lakes fisheries, gobies have become another plentiful food source, along with existing populations of cisco, smelt, a variety of shiners, perch and other baitfish.


The great thing about Quinte is that there is something for everyone. From the walker with limited resources or experience who would like to take home a fish for dinner, to the most experienced ice anglers with knowledge of the area who come looking for quantity and quality. Fish can be caught by everyone from novice to pro.

 

The hard water season is shorter than most of our northern destinations. Here safe ice forms in some locations in early January, with the entire bay firming-up by February with good ice until the close of walleye season on March 1st. As with most ice fishing destinations first ice and last ice produce the finest action of the winter. Unfortunately some of the best locations have the most volatile ice conditions so extreme caution must always override the strong desire to catch the trophy of a lifetime. If you plan to travel on the ice from one destination to the next, you either have to have very recent ice condition reports of your planned route, stay on the beaten path or have a good guide. Currents due to river systems and influence from winds over an open Lake Ontario can change conditions very quickly and variable ice thickness only meters apart is the norm. You’re best to find access close to where you intend to fish.


Where to fish?
During early ice fish can be anywhere and there are a limited number of ice hut communities to give you a hint. There is a lot of water to cover and other than heading out to some of the obvious community hunting grounds, a little experience goes a long way. There are sources of information from various message boards like www.quintefishing.com that can help with general areas. They probably won’t give you those valuable spots on spots but they might narrow it down and also help with ice conditions. The thing to remember about walleye is that the closer it gets to spawning time, the more likely they will be close to what we call the funnel to spawn. At some point after the fall gorging that carries into first ice, the staging to spawn process begins and fish will begin to consolidate near river mouths and other spawning habitat.  

Quinte Funnels to the spawn

 

Despite the healthy population of walleye in the area, for numerous reasons it is possible for the average ice angler to get skunked, as we proved earlier in the season on a one day recognisance mission. If you are travelling a long distance to spend a day on the ice on the walleye capital of the world, coming up empty handed can be extremely frustrating, yet highly probable. Acquiring the services of a guide for at least one day is definitely the way to go. A good guide will help put you on fish, supply everything you need, show you the most successful techniques, and ensure safe travel on a big current rich body of water. If you are by yourself, guide services can often add you to another group for the day. Quinte has some of the most knowledgeable and best equipped guides in the province.

 

Day 1
Multiple bass, pike and walleye tournament winner David Chong (Chonger) and I had the privilege of teaming up with renowned Quinte and Kawartha guide Grant McAllister, founder of G2 Angling. Grant has spent half his life combing these waters in all four seasons and if there was ever a chance to land that cover story picture walleye, a day with Grant certainly stacks the odds in your favour.

 

The plan for day one was to meet at a local access point on Long Reach at 6:30 am and head out by skidoo to the first destination. We met Grant and the rest of the days guiding team, Ryan Guaci and Chris Abbott, loaded the machines and headed out before first light. Ten minutes later we arrived at the first spot where everything was already setup and waiting. Grant showed Chonger and I to our portable insulated Clam Hut with heater running, Vexilar flasher on, and top quality rods and reels loaded with Berkley Fireline Crystal Ice line, tipped with Vanish fluorocarbon leaders. The rods were loaded with Northland Buckshot spoons tip with minnows. Grant demonstrated the techniques that have been most effective for big fish lately.

 

The technique that has been producing large fish was to jig the buckshot spoon very aggressively in a short spike and quiver pattern, starting from the bottom and working it up. If a fish showed on the flasher, you start moving the bait up away from the fish using the same jigging action until the fish either hit the spoon or turned down. Northland Buckshot SpoonIf the fish turned down away from the bait, simply drop the spoon to the bottom and start over. This same action can be used with a varity lures either tipped with a minnow or not. Reaction Action Spoon Minnow

It isn't uncommon to put a minnow on each prong of the treble hook creating a small bait-ball that can look frantic when jigged. Walleye will often move under bait and come up. Most fish react to something falling and it is often this action that triggers the strike.


Having everything supplied, setup and ready  was  like going to a 5 start retreat on ice for me. My normal routine is to spend the first 20 minutes or longer  setting up outside in -15c to -20c, drill holes, unload everything and hope my first spot produces so I didn’t have to move in the freezing cold. Instead we simply sat down, poured a coffee and began fishing. It doesn’t get any better than this!


Chonger no sooner started the pattern when the Vexilar starting flashing strong marks following his bait. His rod loaded up and the first fish was on, only to be lost a few seconds later.  A few minutes later I felt that familiar tap-tap and then weight and reeled in a small walleye. Within the first 60 minutes there was 6 fish iced and released, but all on the small side.  With the average size fish being less than desired, Grant was already out scouting the next spot. The action slowed so we loaded the sleds and headed for the next spot in hopes of that cover story fish.

 

By 10:30 the wind started howling from the south west and the influence from the open Lake Ontario was reversing the natural outflow current. Not only was prime time over, a complete reversal of current along with the typical mid season February blahs shut the bite down. The next prime time was hours away at dusk so we spent the afternoon moving around trying to find ledges off deeper water. Grant Navionics iPhone appuses his Apple iPhone’s GPS  with Navionics Mobile 2.0 chart plotter software to find structure and ledges while walking on the ice.

 

Gone are the days when the old guides used landmarks and triangulation to find spots. An iPhone and a $14.95 download can equip anyone with a hand held GPS and marine charts for anywhere in North America.

 

The afternoon produced a few small fish with more lost than iced and because of the conditions and the currents, big fish were nowhere to be found.  The wind got stronger as the day wore on and by dusk we were ready to call it a day and head to Shoeless Joes in Napanee for a hot meal and plan the next day.
During dinner I asked Grant about seasonal transition and what to expect in the spring. He told me “the spring walleye fishing on the Bay of Quinte is nothing short of amazing! Anglers in the “know” can expect 50 to 75 fish days. We pull Northland Spinners on bouncers to produce large quantities of small to mid size fish, but for larger fish you can target post spawn females by trolling baits like Berkley Flickr Shads on Off Shore planer boards. The later method will certainly not provide nonstop action but it will produce big fish and many of the anglers that come to Quinte in the spring are looking very big fish. Understanding spring fish movement is paramount to pin-point locations.” We hadn’t even started day 2 on the ice and I was planning a return trip in the spring.

 

Quinte Monster

 

Day 2
The plan for the next day was to start at Long Reach and depending on weather and ice conditions plan our next spot. Some of the prime areas had deep slush due to the heavy reverse currents and with light wind predictions and normal currents Grant though the bite might improve on some new spots.


We were on the ice and setup by 7:00 am. The plan was to start in 20 to 25 FOW and move deeper as the day moved on. Within thirty minutes there was several small fish iced but no big fish to be found. Once again the bite was slow until 10:00 am when Ryan Guaci called for some help. We were using an 8 inch auger and the problem Ryan was having was directing a big fish in the hole and grabbing it alone. Fish up to 5 or 6 pounds leave a lot of room in the hole to grab but with fish of this class you are forced to pull the fish much higher with the line and as he bent over to grab it, the fish came unbuttoned and slid backed down the hole.

 

Several minutes later Ryan was calling again but this time he came out of the hut with a nice 10 pound female.  

Ryans 10 Pound walleye

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing gets anglers pumped more than a big fish being iced. After Ryan’s fish was released we moved to the same depth about 50 meters away and employed the same technique using the same lure. We began to mark fish immediately but could not coax them into biting. I changed to a new swim bait on a jig head I’ve been testing and started a yoyo pattern of simply letting the bait drop to the bottom, bounce a few times then reel it back up about ten feet. On the second drop a fish hit and almost immediately spit the bait.

 

It turns out that was the last bite of the day for me. It was early afternoon and the sun was very bright and although the stained waters of Quinte coupled with several inches of snow might have extended the morning bite, it was a long time between fish in these bright light conditions.  My cover story picture fish would have to wait for another day and there’s no doubt there would be another day during last ice when the big girls move closer to spawning areas.

 

Trip Summary
Anytime you plan a trip to the Bay of Quinte to hunt big fish your expectations are high. Unfortunately the weather and the fact that we were well off the peak of the season put a damper on the results. The “mid season blahs” as we call it,  is that time after first ice when  the fall feeding frenzy finally ends and this warm water species starts to reserve energy and become more selective of food and feeding times. It seems to even happen every year for coldwater fish like lakers and whitefish as well. For walleye it’s the time before the final staging to spawn. Fortunately, the pace and aggression of feeding picks up in the last weeks before spawn during last ice.


The tendency during this mid season lull is to slow down and simplify the offering, like putting a minnow on a drop shot or jig head and reduce the movement. But in my experience and in the opinion of many good walleye anglers I know, this is the time to work baits more aggressively. For several hours during mid day- bright light conditions I used a drop shot with a minnow, and although I marked fish they would not touch the offering. But in the same depth and area anglers that worked a minnow tipped spoon caught fish using very aggressive patterns. Mid day walleye bites are about reaction, not feeding.


In some respects, fishing during the mid season blahs can be more productive because you know the most productive times. Feeding times are the hour before daylight and again at dusk before dark. The stained waters of Quinte should prolong the morning bite, particularly on cloudy days. Save your best spots for these times. Afternoon is the time to try new baits and keep moving if you are not marking fish. The difference between catching and not catching could be a few yards away or 2 feet in depth when fish are not moving.

 

We (mostly the G2 guys) landed 15 fish in a day and a half and if it was anywhere else that would have been a good trip. When we fished in prime time in low light conditions there were fish to be caught.  We tried a variety of baits and techniques but the Buckshot Spoon and minnow combo was responsible for the majority of fish.

 
Although the size of the fish was below expectations the service from the G2 Angling team more than made up for it. Their knowledge of the fishery and equipment was top notch and we thank them for their hospitality and great service.

 

 

More about the fishery
The Bay of Quinte might be best known for its walleye but this is a very diverse fishery. Outdoor Canada recently voted Quinte as the best Largemouth bass fishery for numbers in the country, and that would certainly be qualified by tournament anglers every year. There is a healthy population of pike and panfish including some very large crappie. Areas adjacent to Quinte closer to Lake Ontario boast some of the best smallmouth bass fishing in the province. It truly is a gem of a destination and definitely worthy of a trip or two every winter for the hardwater enthusiast.

 

Walleye Limits and Season

Walleye & Sauger or any combination
Jan. 1 to Mar.1
& the 1st Sat. in May to Dec. 31
S - 4; not more than 1 greater than 63 cm (24.8 in.)
C - 2; not more than 1 greater than 63 cm (24.8 in.)

 

1st Tour Stop - Pointe au Baril

 

2nd Tour Stop - Severn Sound

 

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