Feeling Around for Some Bay of Quinte Beauties

With Scott Campbell doing the driving and taking the photos, the two of us set off for the Bay of Quinte to meet up with the Quinte Ice Fishing Team. I wanted to feel for myself the magnificent Walleyes that fishers routinely pluck out from under the ice. We met up with Jeff Chisholm and his partner Paul McTaggart at 5:30 on a Saturday morning at a Tim Horton’s in Bellville on December 28, 2013, along with several other of the Team’s guests for the day.

While waiting for my turn to be transported on to the ice at the launch sight, I spoke with a local who showed up that morning specifically to observe where the Quinte Ice Fishing Team planned to fish that day. Even though both Jeff and Paul deliberately set off from the launch in false directions prior to extinguishing their tail lights and changing courses for the intended destination, by no means did we end up with a chunk of Bay ice to ourselves. They had us positioned over 12-inches of ice and 19-feet of water with all holes drilled by 6:30.

Jeff and Paul tested baits constantly and circulated among the four of us guests to pass on information about which baits and techniques were icing fish. From 6:30 to 9:30, the bite can be quite hot, and in spite of the four of us losing five Walleye sub-surface, we managed to successfully ice ten or so decent Walleye measuring between 16 and 25 inches.

An extreme low pressure system had moved in the day before bringing temperatures up to just above zero. Sudden barometric shifts such as this always result in neutral fish, but given that we were on the ice within three weeks of its forming, there was still plenty of action to be had. Strikes were most often sudden and aggressive, but the occasional Walleye had to be finessed into biting – the longest “cat-and-mouse” game lasted 12 minutes and lured the fish 4-feet off the bottom.

Throughout the 11 hours on the ice, Jeff or Paul would be firing up either a BBQ or deep fryer making sure we were well fed. If it wasn’t hot sausages, it was fresh buns stuffed with Walleye smothered in tartar sauce. The Team also made sure everyone had access to the hottest artificial baits and an ample supply of live minnows, and was quick to offer up fresh propane tanks and 12V batteries when the need arose. Between the food, drinks, supplies and tips, none of us had anyone to blame but ourselves if more than an hour past without a fish.

As big as the Bay of Quinte is, even 20 feet can make the difference between catching fish or not. However, with Paul and Jeff constantly scouting, it wasn’t long before anyone of us four guests found ourselves being shifted over to a more productive location. It’s this sort of constant attentiveness to the fishing needs of the guests that keep people coming back to the Prince Edward county area year-after-year even if it means driving from as far away as London, which was the case of the Ice Team’s other two guests.

Hot baits were flutter-type spoons with rattles in a chartreuse colour. Dead-sticking live bait is rarely a productive method on the Bay during the winter, for whatever reason, resulting in seasoned pros such as Jeff having developed a two-handed “double-barrelled” approach to jigging. One rod is rigged with a “call” type bait, such as lipless rattle baits, and the second has a vertical presentation tipped with a full minnow.

Cadence for the baits generally consists of a 6-inch snap up of the rod tip using the wrist, with as much as a 3-second pause between snaps during which the bait is pulsed. When a fish is marked on the sonar, the “teaser” style bait is reeled up, and if this doesn’t result in a strike, the Walleye is then left with a single target to focus on. The 2-handed method takes some coordinating, especially when reeling up, but will increase your odds significantly given the amount Walleye move around under the ice. It would seem that Quinte Walleye never cease patrolling the thousands of acres of the Bay’s nearly featureless bottom.

In spite of The Bay of Quinte being part of Lake Ontario, wind patterns pushing the open water on the lake either towards or away from the Bay result in currents being established under the ice. These currents and slack water areas influence exactly where the Walleye will or will not be at any specific time in the winter. These currents can also produce dangerous ice conditions as they ware ice away from underneath – a hazard that’s difficult to detect visually from above. Having guides who spend almost every winter day on the ice keeping you safe can make a lot of sense if you’re from away.

After several seasons of relatively pour ice conditions, all indicators would seem to suggest this year’s ice fishing on the Bay of Quinte will be excellent. What little snow there was on top had pretty much melted and soaked into the more porous ice below during the weekend we were there. With the return of the extreme cold that followed, solid ice should be around for some time to come.

At the end of the day, Scott and I left for Ottawa with five decent eater-sized fish. No truly large Walleyes were kept, but just knowing they are there will keep bringing us and others back year-after-year. A big thanks to Jeff and Paul for the great day on the ice, and to Scott for applying his driving and photographic talents, not to mention his “blow-by-blow” colour commentary as he verbalized the action being revealed on my Lowrance elite Five Ice Machine.

Not being able to see the display on the fish finder myself, I fish hard all day just like everyone else did prior to sounders coming on to the scene. I still manage to catch roughly the same numbers of fish as others. It would seem the primary benefit of using fish finders on the ice is keeping fishers focussed on their fishing. Having said that, these sounders really come into play later in February when the Walleye stop feeding and the only way to elicit a strike is to tease them as if you were using a ball of string to provoke a big-old lazy house cat to pounce.

Five Steps to Selecting the Right Bait

Over the past ten years fishing has witnessed a revolution brought on by the merger of technological innovation, scientific research and knowledge passed on by generations of fishers. The result has been ever-more innovative baits. Manufacturers are also working closer than ever with their field staff to fine-tune new offerings, and are publishing increasingly detailed usage instructions. For recreational fishers, it’s resulted in a reduction in the use of live bait, and more importantly, fewer slow days on the water. And, when minnows can cost as much as 50 cents each and night crawlers a quarter, switching to artificial makes for sound economics. So what is it that makes a good artificial bait?

Some of the variables manufacturers take into consideration when developing and marketing artificial baits include matching-the-hatch, light levels, time of year, intended species, water temperature, underwater structure, use ability, longevity, cost effectiveness, environmental impact, fishing trends, etc. It may seem like a long list, but when you take the time to think about what the modern fisher considers when deciding how to invest their time and money, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Of course there’s always the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to fishing that accounts for many of the tried-and-true baits that can be found in the average fishers tackle box.  These most often are reaction-style baits noted for their ability to generate moderate success under a variety of conditions – a sort of “one size fits all” style of lure that we wouldn’t mind being stuck with on a desert island. But, since the chance of being stranded these days is pretty much nil, why are so many tackle boxes filled with ump-teen different versions of the same style baits?

Increasingly, premium bait manufacturers are counting on fishers to possess a certain level of competency when they launch a new bait. These same companies also assume that we will take the time to learn how to properly apply their latest innovations. It’s this spirit of cooperation that is responsible for the sport’s recent and dramatic evolution.

Successful fishers begin the process of selecting which baits will be used during an up-coming fishing trip many Days before lines are actually wetted. It starts with researching the characteristics of the aquatic environment to be fished, takes into consideration the locally preferred tactics and equipment, and then determining what existing and additional new tackle is required. In short, the right bait at the right time under the right conditions. Other than weather, little about fishing as to do with luck.

No doubt, in addition to the brain-numbing variety of baits on the market, making bait selection even more difficult is the insistence of some manufacturers that their baits do it all. To counter this absence of information, deciding on what bait to buy and use comes down to both a fishers direct experience and what they have learned from trusted experts by reading articles or listening to seminars. More-and-more though, bait manufacturers who have made the investment in developing quality baits are now including educational materials on when, where and how to get the most out of their product on the water. The internet has been a game changer in this regard.

Tackle manufacturers are now able to launch new products at the time of their choosing; no longer being tied to a few days each year based on the schedule of an annual outdoor show. They also recognize the value of getting their baits into the hands of trusted experts so these fishers can, in turn, offer-up their opinions and tips through social media.

With so many choices available to fishers it’s understandable why some have grown slightly cynical of the motives of bait manufacturers. Mistakes can happen however, and it’s not uncommon to find baits in bargain bins never intended for fishing conditions within 500 miles of that store’s location. Choosing to buy baits based on first impressions alone might offer one an immediate thrill, but it’s completely reverse to how the process should unfold. The following five steps should help you to maintain control over your tackle purchasing impulses — indulging your compulsive tackle purchasing “wants” should be relegated to an optional sixth step.

  1. Learn from local experts to identify currently productive fishing techniques and baits specific to the region or body of water you plan to fish.
  2. Assess recent and potential climactic and other external influences that could impact your chosen body of water.
  3. Inspect your existing tackle suitable for the fishing scenarios being considered.
  4. Make a list of essential tackle you will need to acquire.
  5. Consult with your local tackle stores staff to identify what available stock might best fit your needs.
  6. Only once steps one-through-five have been implemented should you risk a peek in your local tackle venders clearance bins.

I like to conduct my on-line research about new baits brought to market between seasons. It’s during these slack line moments that I also sort  baits according to how each performed under various conditions. I spend just as much time remembering those glory days and the baits I used, as I do thinking how I could have turned around those less productive days. By spending time focusing on the lessons I learned I’m able to identify where I need to expand both my fishing skills and bait collection. In practical terms, it often means investing more time to research and experiment with new-to-me  products and tactics designed to address the sort of challenges that have been causing me grief.

Like everyone I enjoy telling stories about the big ones, but just as importantly, I always take time to revisit those unproductive moments with my fishing buddies at the end of each day. By thinking and talking our way through our feelings of disappointment, it becomes possible to learn from our mistakes. Sorting through the subjective emotions that cloud logical thoughts allows for clear objective problem solving, and that’s exactly the mind-set needed when you plan your next tackle purchase.

Ontario Bass Nation Qualifier

I just fished my first Provincial B.A.S.S. qualifier among 199 other competitors. It was an individual event with boaters and non-boaters rotated daily. The event is hosted each year by a local club selected by the presidents of the 21 clubs that make up the Ontario Bass Nation. This year the event was held on the Bay of Quinte, a body of water located along the north-east shore of Lake Ontario. Even though tournament limits excluded our going out into the lake proper, it still left us the 40 mile long bay to explore – a lot of fishable water.

My day one boater was the current president of the Ontario Bass Nation, Mr. Paul Kroisenbrunner. Paul’s a true gentleman to fish with, even though we were competing against each other aboard the same boat, (the Qualifier uses individual weights). Paul keeps his Stratos impeccable and his 175hp Johnson works perfectly. It was a true pleasure to fish from with its expansive rear deck.

We caught most of our fish up one of the many rivers that empty into the Bay. Paul, being from southern Ontario, is a seasoned Steelhead / Salmon River fisher and understands currents and the best way to present baits. Having grown up myself fishing trout rivers, I too took readily to the challenge. A combination of tubes and drop-shot techniques were the ticket. Paul also spotted some additional fishable waters further up the river that he saved for day two, with good results. Each of our respective bags presented the tournament director and his weigh-in officials with some of the first Smallies of the day.

Day two had me aboard Mr. Doug Catton’s brand new Ranger Comanche 520C. The Ranger easily pushed 70 MPH, and proved as nimble as a cat as we passed by quite a number of boats that left ahead of us on day two’s start.

Although our first few strategies failed to produce the numbers we were looking for, our continuously adjusting and trying different styles of water eventually paid off. Seven-inch Senkos seemed to be the ticket in the end, fished along weed edges in 8-10 feet of water.

Weigh-ins was well organized with 100 boats and 200 bags of fish to process. Mr. Reno Viola and Mr. Andrew Pallotta co-hosted the stage. Andrew also provided the staff and equipment to ensure the fish were weighed in without mortality using Shimano’s water weigh-in system.

Final results had our own club president, Mr. Frank Ramsey, taking home top prize with over 33lb of fish caught in two days. Another of our club members, Mr. Charles Sim, qualified in position 11 of the 12-person team that will represent Ontario at the 2014 North-East Regional championships to be held somewhere in the state of new York. Our club, the Ottawa Valley South Bass Masters, finished close to the top.

In addition to the actual event, tournament organizers held a one-day junior tournament the day prior, took over 30 military vets fishing, and hosted a kids fishing derby. Hats off to all the volunteers, sponsors and organizers – job well done.

Jenda Paddle Sports Kayak Fishing Derby

Each year Jenda Paddle Sports in Ottawa kick off the summer with a kayak fishing tournament. Held on the Rideau River, winners are determined by the longest fish for each species, including a prize for smallest fish over-all. The format is catch, photograph and release, and then turn in your digital camera’s card at the end of the day if you have an entry you think warrants entering.

Jason Kirby, owner of Jenda Paddle Sports, organizes the event with assistance from his wife Laura and quite a number of key sponsors associated with kayak fishing. Jason always includes a great BBQ for competitors as part of their entry fee.

My fishing buddy David mingy and I set off in our kayaks from the Baxter Conservation area with the other 35 competitors. To ensure I didn’t deviate into the boating channel, we attached a bear bell to the tip of one of Dave’s rods mounted in a rear rod holder, and a second small brass bell suspended just off the stern using a wire coat hanger and some duct tape. Unfortunately, the bear bell fell off somewhere between the staging area and the shore from where we launched, and in spite of my bending the coat hanger in every possible configuration, we just couldn’t get that small bell to ring in any sort of consistent manner without Dave having to perform the shimmy while seated in his kayak.

Navigating by talking compass on a river isn’t feasible due to the river’s numerous turns and twists. However, there are lots of sounds along the Rideau River for me to focus on as navigational aids. Whether it was cottage owners tending their lawns, birds in trees, or cars passing along nearby roads or overhead on bridges, there were plenty of audible clues to keep me well oriented. Of course, I took GPS coordinates at the start point just in case I had to return solo. Otherwise, I simply listened for the splash of Dave’s paddle, a system that works well given that my kayak is virtually soundless thanks to my Mirage Drive peddle system from HobieCat.

It wasn’t long before we got into some nice largemouth Bass chucking craws along weed edges. My biggest for the day was 17.5 inches, and my largest Walleye, also caught on a Texas-rigged craw, was 16 inches. Neither fish were big enough to win me a prize, but I came close.

By noon the recreational boat traffic on the river had grown fairly intense. When motor boats were travelling in my direction it wasn’t always easy to determine which side of me they would pass – often sounding like they were heading directly for me. After a boat had passed, the sound of its fading motor for the next five minutes or so provided an excellent audio indicator to either follow or use in maintaining orientation. Of course, there was also Dave’s yelling when I headed off in a direction that he judged as less than prudent.

Half the fun of an event such as this is the story telling and catching up with old friends at the end, and even on the water. Kayaks don’t pass each other at blazing speeds, and given that we were all travelling along the edge of the boating channel, one couldn’t help but stop and chat with fellow competitors. A truly social day with some great fishing and exercise thrown in for good measure.

New Ranger 620 Fisherman / 250 HP High-Output E-Tech!

Continuing through 2013 as a Pro Staff member for both Ranger Boats and Evinrude E-Tech, I recently took delivery of my 2013 fishing boat that I’ll be using to both introduce blind people to the sport of fishing, and to take part in the roughly 25 fishing tournaments I compete in each year. Thanks to the great support from Orleans Boat World, the transition from last year’s Ranger to my new boat was absolutely painless.

In 2012 I had the privilege of owning a Ranger 619 Fisherman rigged with an Evinrude 225 HP E-Tech. I loved that boat as it provided me the best of two worlds. Equipped with a full rear deck extension, the boat served more than adequately as a Bass fishing platform. Remove the deck, and the boat quickly converted into a Walleye / Musky trolling machine. My 2013 620 goes further in several important ways.

The new 620 also came with a rear deck extension, but now even with the extension in place, there is still more than ample room to move about the cockpit, and with the extension removed, there’s plenty of room for four guys to troll for Walleye all day.

Both the 619 and 620 have mammoth front casting decks. The extra nine inches in the 620’s length is made evident in the cockpit. Snap out carpet in the cockpit also reduces maintenance and worry.

While the rear storage boxes in the 620 aren’t as wide as they are in the 619, the fact that there are four instead of three, more than makes up for their reduced width.

Once again I let Ranger Boats put the colour package together. The 45th anniversary colours were complimented this year by Evinrude with a custom painted motor to match. The black / silver with red pin striping is quite the crowd pleaser.

Lowrance HDS Gen-II fish finders are flush mounted in the bow and driver’s consoles, which is also where one finds the key pad that replaces the key. The three deep-cycle batteries for the Minn Kota Terrova 101 are positioned mid-ship along with the starter battery in a special battery compartment in the floor.

The front deck houses five compartments. A centre rod storage box that easily swallows up 12 of my longest rods, an aerated 5-gallon bait well just ahead of the starboard console, a built in cooler in front of the passenger (port) console, and two quite large and deep compartments – one of which now contains my PDFs, safety gear, paddles, etc., leaving the other wide open for guests.

To aid with launching and trailering, I ordered the retractable keel roller system for the trailer. Once the trailer is in the water, I can simply turn the secondary winch’s handle, raise the three rollers positioned below the keel, and easily slide the 620 off the trailer. The same works in reverse, eliminating the need to power the boat on to the trailer by simply winching the boat all the way up using just one arm to turn the handle. An emergency break on the trailer also removes the need to place bricks behind trailer wheels, and the up-graded “American Racing” rims on all five tires (including spare) are a nice touch.

Finally, a really cool refinement Ranger made to the 620 was the reduced height to the walk-through windshield. Sure, it means slumping down somewhat to get out of the rain when underway, but it also means less of a “sail” for the wind to catch, and less chance of the windshield getting in the way of rods or landing nets. It just also looks a whole lot cooler!

Multi-Species Tournament

To kick off each year’s tournament season, the Ottawa Valley South Bass Masters club organizes a fun tournament in which seven species of fish need to be caught, with the total length determining the winner. Species include: Northern Pike, Walleye, Crappie, Rock Bass, Perch, Bluegill and Pumpkinseed.

This year we held the event on the Rideau River. Last year’s event on the Ottawa River was won by my partner and I, but it was tough fishing. This year most teams did well, but everyone was missing a Walleye.

Three of the ten teams caught six species. The winning over-all length was 72 inches. My team caught five species with a beautiful kicker Pike that I caught on a 1/16 oz jig on 4lb test Super Slick Power Pro line. Unfortunately, not only could we not find a Walleye, but catching a Perch also seem to be near impossible. Turns out five other boats also had trouble finding a Perch.

Great weather, great company, and a fantastic BBQ afterwards at Tim Baker’s home made for a near perfect day.

Girl Guides Go Fishing!

Part of my role as the Conservation Director for the Ottawa Valley South Bass Masters club is to find ways to pass on knowledge to others on fishing sustainably. What better way to accomplish this than to bring 38 Girl Guides ranging in age from 5 to 17 shore fishing after school.

Management at the Dows Lake Pavilion generously offered up a sizeable discount on the parking next to their facility located on the shores of a small inner city lake, which was formed as a result of the creation of the Rideau Canal system. Sail outdoors offered up the worms, and a dozen OVSBM club members volunteered their time, expertise and a half dozen or so fishing rods each. Species being targeted were panfish, and the technique was float fishing.

Fishing was fast and furious. Each and every girl caught at least one fish, with most catching five or more. 100 night crawlers divided into quarters lasted just long enough – we just had enough.

Mid-way through the event we took a short break from the fishing so we could cover off the instructional component of the evening. I provided a short presentation on the type of fish we were catching and where they fit into the ecosystem. Tips on fish handling were given, and then I turned it over to Julie Charen, a competitive well sponsored member of our club. Julie entertained and informed the girls with stories and explanations of the various types of fishing gear and techniques she uses to catch fish, and provided demonstrations and samples to make the presentation that much more engaging.

The evening fish was the last event of the year for the Girl Guides, and when the parents showed up around 8: p.m. to take them home, it was interesting to hear just how many girls were able to astonish their parents with their impressive catch reports. I have no doubt a number of those parents will be picking up fishing supplies this summer to satisfy their daughter’s requests to go fishing.

A big thanks to Sandra Kuchta and the rest of the Girl Guide leaders for facilitating things at their end. The girls were just a pleasure to fish with. Their enthusiasm for the sport was truly impressive.