Separating the cities of Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN, is an amazing fishery that few anglers take advantage of. The Red River is an often overlooked paradise for the angler seeking a true trophy. While there are over 70 species of fish in the Red River, Channel Catfish are the preferred target, largely due to the fact they are plentiful and powerful. We have had the opportunity to fish with John Dickelman of J&K Cats on a few occasions and have picked up some great tips from this very popular guide.
You can target these fish year round, but late summer through the fall is prime time. This is because of all the top predators feeding heavily in preparation for a long winter. Shore fishing is certainly an option, but fishing out of a boat can increase your odds of finding the feeding grounds for the true trophies of the Red River, Channel Catfish exceeding 20 lbs. You will want to look for obstructions in the river and places where fallen trees and branches are gathered, creating changes in the current flow. Many of the river’s fish species hang out in the eddies created by these deadfalls, waiting for the sight or scent of food to come drifting past. We will usually anchor the boat upriver of these snaggy areas so when we cast out the baits, they will be 10 yards upriver from the snags. The scent from your baits will then drift right through the lair of these trophy catfish, ringing the dinner bell.
With scent being the primary locating and triggering factor, putting some type of protein on the hook is a common tactic. Cutbait such as goldeyes sliced into strips, frogs, beef or chicken liver, or our favorite, large sucker minnows cut into 1” long chunks will leave a trail of scent downstream.
Having the proper equipment is crucial for a successful battle with these massive fish. A Shakespere Ugly Stik 7’ Medium Heavy rod paired with an Abu Garcia Ambassador 6600 reel will give you the combination of strength, power, reliability, and feel that will pay big dividends when you hook up with a 20 lb plus fish. Fill the reel with 30 lb Berkley Big Cat mono, add a high quality swivel, then a 24 inch leader of 20lb Berkley Big Cat mono. If you do end up in a snag, which does happen occasionally, your leader will break instead of the mainline, saving you time retying everything, not to mention some of your gear. To keep the rig from rolling in the current, use a 5 oz no-roll sinker to keep it stuck to the bottom, which is very important. If your rig is allowed to move along the river bottom, it will end up in a snag every time, which is obviously not productive. For the business end of the rig, a 5/0 Gamakatsu Circle hook will help ensure that the catfish will always be hooked in the corner of the mouth, allowing for easy removal and minimizing injury from deeply hooked fish.
Throw the rigs behind the boat downstream and put the rods into rod holders and wait. Within 20 minutes it will become evident if there are fish in the area. If not, move to the next location. Not every spot will hold fish, so it’s important to keep moving and searching for active fish.
Fall is primetime for targeting these trophies of the mighty Red River, and it’s not as hard as you may think. It will only take one trip for you to be “Hooked”.