Many an angler has been known to throw in the towel early and call it a day after a few hours spent targeting channel catfish on the north Red River. The reason isn’t a slow bite; in fact, it is the exact opposite. People just plain tap out once they have battled and hauled in a handful of these solid beasts on rod and reel. With catfish regularly surpassing 25 pounds being the norm rather than the exception, it is understandable why anglers gleefully complain of sore arms and call timeout to catch their breath.
The channel catfish fishery on this section of the Red River north of Lockport to its mouth at Lake Winnipeg is well documented as being world-class trophy waters. Cats are caught here daily with average sizes in the 32” to 35” range, or in other words consistently close to or surpassing the Master Angler minimum length of 34”. Anglers also have a better than average chance at any given time of hooking into behemoths well over 36“ in addition to a fair shot at eclipsing the 40” mark!
On a recent trip we headed out to the friendly town of Selkirk to do battle with some brutes. My guests on the boat were a couple of catfish newbies Jordy and Bailee. They admitted to me over the roar of the outboard engine that they both have never truly gone on a fishing trip before. I hilariously gave them fair warning that they were in for quite an experience if that was the case. I decided to take them down the scenic 13km boat ride to the epicenter of channel catfish territory below iconic Lockport Dam. Throwing out my trusty grappling anchor, the boat gently settled into one of my favourite spots. After a quick rundown on the heavy action rod and bait caster setups we were going to use, a couple slip sinker rigs baited with whole shrimp were casted out to lay in wait in the strike zone at the bottom.
In actuality, the entire water column is in the catfish strike zone from bottom to surface as these voracious predators can regularly be seen violently breaking the surface to attack prey. Fly-fishing for them or hanging a big game float set-up are often just as effective as still-fishing bait like we were doing that day. It was a hot mid-day trip in the middle of July, a time that is notoriously slow for tracking down active fish in general. Red River cats on the other hand can steadily be counted on to square off with angler combatants seemingly at any time, from opening day in May right through to ice-up in early November. This season long ‘hot bite’ does fluctuate with changing water levels, strong wind, or change in bait preference being factors, but we are talking about good fishing to phenomenal fishing being the range.
I had just sat down after setting the lines when Bailee told me that her rod was getting pulled in. A gentle sweep back is all I instructed her to do. The circle hooks we had rigged up do most of the work hooking into the side of the catfish’s mouths every time. After an intense fight with some trial and error on reeling technique, Bailee was rewarded with a picture with her very first channel cat, a 38” monster no less. No sooner had we released the fish when Jordy set the hook on another hungry cat that took the shrimp bait. Hanging on for dear life was probably more accurate as this cat out of nowhere tried its best to rip the rod out of her hands. This particular 34” Master Angler cat bulldogged several times under the boat before I was able to get it in the net. Other popular baits to soak that work just as well as shrimp are cuts of goldeye or sucker, frogs, and chicken hearts.
As is often the case when targeting channel catfish here, the captain of the boat had no time to drop a line of his own. It was all I could do to keep up as the ladies proceeded to catch catfish after catfish over the course of three hours on the water. All-in-all they successfully boated eleven Master Anglers, six under 34”, two freshwater drum, and a feisty carp. Throw in three double headers on the day and they had me running around the boat pretty good. There were a few times where each said that their arms were too beat up to catch another one, but every time their rod tip started to dive towards the water they were on it in an instant to do it all over again.
Earning a Master Angler Specialist Badge (five MAs of a species) in one outing truth be told isn’t the norm, but it was definitely the case on this day. These ladies went from having never caught a catfish before to reeling in a slew of trophy fish in the span of a few hours. Drive out and give hauling in a Red River tank a try for yourself from the many shoreline accessible areas, from your boat, or with one of several professional outfitters who specialize in catfishing here. The only thing more sure fire than the outstanding channel cat bite is you getting hooked on going after these giants.
For more information on fishing for catfish in Manitoba visit our Channel Catfish page.