Our Man In Canada
November 3rd, 2003
By Chris Marshall

Apart from a temporary absence from 1968-1971, I've lived in the Quinte region since 1966. When I first arrived to take up a teaching post in Belleville, after two years of trout and salmon cornucopia in New Brunswick and another two in Quebec's Eastern Townships, I found the region a bit of a let down: there were few streams with trout - and those were mainly small and tangly. However, it didn't take me long to discover the bounty of warm water fishing which was available. Today, with the growth of the Lake Ontario salmon and trout fishery and the booming largemouth and smallmouth fishery on the Bay of Quinte, that bounty is even richer than it was thirty five years ago. It's the home water of The Canadian Fly Fisher, and it's my pleasure to invite you to share it.

Myers Peir, mouth of Moria River

STILLWATERS

The Bay of Quinte
The Bay of Quinte is a long, doglegged inlet full of shallow bays, which runs eastwards from Carrying Place to Adolphustown Reach. On the south shore is the almost-island of Prince Edward County, connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus at Carrying Place. I didn't fish the Bay much when I first arrived. It was so unnaturally enriched with phosphates from agricultural run-off and inadequate sewage treatment that the water resembled pea soup, shutting out the sunlight and preventing aquatic weed growth. There were a few pike, bass and walleye (mainly where rivers entered), but the bulk of the biomass was white perch, panfish, eels and carp.

However, this changed dramatically in the late 1970's after municipalities installed tertiary sewage treatment facilities and measures were taken to curtail agricultural run-off. Gradually, the water began to clear, aquatic vegetation returned to the margins, and the gamefish followed. While the bass and pike populations grew, the walleye population far outstripped them, so that by the early 1980's, the Bay had become a prime destination for walleye anglers, not only from Ontario and Quebec, but also from the northeastern USA, particularly New York and Pennsylvania.

But this was an ecosystem in a state of flux: it continued to change. The Bay had been identified as one of the problem spots in the Great Lakes by the International Joint Commission, and measures initiated by the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) reduced the phosphate levels even further. Then came the invasion of the zebra mussels in the early 1990's. These tiny molluscs feed by filtering micro-organisms from the water.

Consequently, the combined effects of the RAP and the zebra mussels clarified the water so much more that the growth of aquatic weeds burgeoned, spreading though all the shallower areas of the Bay. The clearer water also caused the photophobic walleye to seek refuge in deeper water and in the burgeoning weedbeds. Although in somewhat lesser numbers, the walleye are still there, but in different places than they were when the water was less clear. Today, the minor decline in the walleye has been more than offset by the phenomenal growth in the bass population, both largemouth and smallmouth. Moreover, from the fly fisher's point of view, this is a significant improvement-walleye are not exactly prime targets for the fly rod.

Largemouth Bass

Bass, unlike walleye, thrive in clear water. They need the clarity to forage. Pike and muskie, which have the same requirements, are also on the rebound. Consequently, the Bay of Quinte offers superb fly fishing for both smallmouth and largemouth bass. To this, add pike, musky, longnose gar, and carp.

Access

While much of the Bay is shallow (under 15'), direct access is limited due to extensive cattail marshes, littoral willows and private property. Consequently, boats and float-tubes offer the best opportunities. There are boat ramps in all the communities along the Bay, and there are plenty of places where float tubes, kick boats, and canoes can be launched, especially at culverts, bridges and in parks and conservation areas. In Belleville, there is also access for float tubing and wading along well-maintained, public shoreline trails.

Access

Fishing

Smallmouth and largemouth populations are still growing, in both numbers and size, with specimens over four pounds taken regularly. The shallow bays, creek mouths, floating cattail rafts, and uncountable weedlines near deeper water offer perfect largemouth habitat. While these are found throughout the Bay, these are most numerous at the west end. The best smallmouth fishing is in the less weedy areas, around rocky shoals close to deeper water. The best of these are found east of Belleville, especially adjacent to the cliffs in Picton Bay and in the Telegraph Narrows near Deseronto. Surface lures are best in the evening, early morning, and on cloudy days. Subsurface lures fished with a fast sinking poly leader or a sink-tip line work best in the heat of the day. Bass fishers will pick up plenty of pike incidentally, and even the occasional musky and freshwater drum.

The Bay has unusually large areas of shallow flats which are perfect for wading. The bottom is a mixture of limestone bedrock and packed rubble. Here, the fly fisher can stalk longnose gar up to ten pounds and carp to over forty. The shallow water warms up quickly and, in the summer, gar move in to sun themselves, lurking around weedbeds and deeper pockets in the bedrock, where pods of them are easily spotted in the clear water. The best way to target them is to cast big, flashy streamers just beyond and ahead of them, and worked enticingly past their noses. They're not too easily spooked, and it's possible to get quite close to them. As gar have long, bony snouts filled with sharp teeth, it's best to incorporate a trailing stinger hook in the fly to facilitate hook-ups. A section of wire in the leader helps to prevent bite-offs. While some fish are content to simply splash around a bit when hooked, a good number will make spectacular, tail-walking runs. It's not exactly like fishing tropical flats for bonefish, but it's close.

In June, prior to spawning, carp cruise in small pods along the shallow margins, especially where there are cattails. By lurking unobtrusively (carp are easily spooked) right in the cattails, it's possible to cast a weighted nymph to individual fish as they cruise past. These fish are big, strong and tireless, making long, powerful runs out into deep water. Consequently, at least a 9 weight outfit with a long rod and a minimum of 100 yards of backing is essential. Most fish taken will be between 10 and 25 pounds, but there are plenty of bigger fish up to over 40 pounds.

Prince Edward County Lakes

There are a couple of small inland lakes, Consecon and Roblin (where the poet, Al Purdy, had a summer home), in Prince Edward County which offer good popper fishing for largemouths, but the best lakes lie along the Lake Ontario shoreline. These were originally bays which have been sealed off from the main lake by gravel bars and sand dunes, leaving just a narrow outlet between the two. The main ones are East Lake, West Lake, Pleasant Bay, and Wellers Bay. All have excellent fly fishing for bass and pike, with access for both trailered boats and float tubes. The outlet from West Lake in the village of Wellington also has opportunities for fly fishing for steelhead and salmon in the fall from a long, stone jetty which thrusts out into Lake Ontario.

The south-east promontory of the County, which ends at Long Point, and the shores of the nearby offshore islands offer excellent smallmouth fishing in Lake Ontario. Here, there are low, limestone cliffs, and the water drops off quickly to 100 feet or more. A boat is essential, as this is big water. Smallmouth congregate along rocky shoals and drop-offs, where they can be taken with big streamers and Woolly Buggers on full sinking lines during the day and on surface poppers and shallow running minnow patterns in the evenings, when the surface is alive with baitfish. Rainbows and the occasional brown are taken incidentally and, in the fall, lake trout. ~ Chris Marshall

Continued next time!

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