By Liam Kavanagh-Bradette
Ice fishing on the Bay of Quinte starts as soon as the ice is safe, which varies from year to year, but all ice huts must be removed by March 1.
With only 37 days now left in the season, this year has left many out in the cold.
“About 70 per cent of the ice on the Bay of Quinte isn’t safe,” said Jeff Chisholm, a guide with Quinte Ice Fishing Team. “That leaves only about 30 per cent with safe ice.”
“A mild winter does hurt local industry since the ice can be unsafe,” explained Belleville Chamber of Commerce membership director Wayne Zybala.
With safety a primary concern for the ice fishing industry, many pre-booked fishing trips have had to be cancelled. For safety, the ice should be more than six inches thick for snowmobiles and ATVs to drag the ice huts out onto the ice.
“We go out scouting regularly, which is where we go out and look for safe ice,” said Chisholm. “But even earlier this month, we were out in the boat fishing in open water.”
Chisholm says that they are still taking bookings for later in the season. “I think the winter might be a bigger industry. We probably have thousands every weekend once the ice is on the bay, including people during the week.”
This influx of visitors to the region is a benefit to a range of local businesses, which depend on tourism for much of their income.
“It helps boost the local economy in a season where there’s not a lot of outdoor activities going on,” said Zybala. “In the past four years, the chamber of commerce has noticed that most visitors are looking for outdoor activities. The trend for visitors is that they want to participate in the county activities, such as the wine tasting, or trail activities but they want to stay in Belleville to eat and shop downtown and stay in our hotels or B&Bs.”
“We see about 1,500 ice fishermen visit the Quinte region on a given season, including Napanee, Brighton, Picton, Trenton and Belleville. It represents close to $400,000 to the local economy. I would say that so far this year, because of the weather, this number is slightly down. February, however, looks like it will be a great month,” said Ryan Williams, President of Bay Of Quinte Tourism.
The driving force for these numbers is that the Bay of Quinte is world famous for its walleye fishing.
“The fishery is one of the best places to catch a trophy walleye,” which is a fish over 10 pounds, said Chisholm. “We get people travelling from all over. Most of our customers are from out of town. We get a lot of Americans, as well as people in from Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.”