Tagging Red River Channel Cats – Lockport
Having a wife who is an aquatic biologist has its benefits. In June of 2017, I was lucky to tag along on a trip to Lockport & Selkirk, Manitoba to chase big Channel Catfish (Ictalurus punctatus) in the Red River. As a group, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, University of Nebraska – Lincoln & Manitoba Sustainable Development, among other groups, have been tagging and tracking the movement of these fish throughout the Red River and Lake Winnipeg for a few years now. Every year, the DFO team tries to tag a few more fish for the movement study.
We used the public docks in Selkirk, Manitoba to launch the boats. From here, it was a roughly 15 minute ride south to Lockport. We started the day directly below the locks. Anchored in fast moving water, the number of other anglers around us was an indication there were fish around.
The Red River, and Lockport specifically, is one of the most famous Channel Catfish fisheries in the world. These fish are massive. You can easily expect to catch fish in the 15 pound range. 20 pounders are caught daily, and fish 30 pounds or more are caught more often than not.
As you can expect, you’re not going to target these fish with your usual walleye or bass fishing gear. Not a chance. Sure, you may succeed in landing some of these beasts with light gear, but you’ll likely end up exhausting the fish, killing it in the process. Heavy duty 6-8ft rods, similar to what you would use for musky, or trolling for giant lake trout, are the norm. Large, quality reels with a smooth, adjustable drag are a definite requirement. And I wouldn’t recommend line any lighter than 30lb test – mono or braid. These fish fight, and they fight hard.
A large 2-4 ounce slip weight attached to your main line helps keep your bait on the bottom. Separate the weight on your main line from a 2 to 4 foot lead of a line test slightly lighter than your main line with either a barrel swivel or a snap swivel. The lighter line test on your leader will allow you to snap the leader, hopefully saving expensive weights from loss due to snags. Large size 5/0 & 6/0 circle hooks will hold your bait.
The most common baits used on the Red River in Lockport are suckers cut into chunks, large shrimp (either cooked or raw) and Goldeye, which can be caught in the same stretch of river and sliced into pieces on demand.
This is sit and wait fishing. Cast out, allow the bait to sink and the current to take your bait where it wants to before you close your bail. Once your bait has settled on the bottom, hang on tight to the rod. Catfish will often swim up to your bait, inhale it and continue moving in search of more. When this happens, you best be ready.
Tagging Channel Catfish – Red River, MB
For tagging purposes, channel catfish are netted after being brought to the side of the boat. As quickly as possible, the fish is measured on a bump board and tagged behind the dorsal fin with a numbered tag. All of this information – GPS coordinates, length, tag number, health, etc – is logged for future use.
There’s a phone number on the tag to call and report with any information you can give. Location, length, health, etc. The contacts are Mark Pegg, 1-855-207-7706, University of Nebraska. Derek Croeker, 1-204-345-1450, Regional Fisheries Manager, Manitoba Sustainability and Developement. You can also call in and ask if fish you have reported have been reported after being caught and released again.
On this day, we boated about a dozen fish in just a few hours of fishing. It seemed at any point, looking around at other boats, someone was always hooked up and fighting a beast of a cat. The biggest catfish caught in our group of two boats was 97 centimeters. Of the 4 fish I brought into the boat, my largest was 93 centimeters.