Call us toll-free at 1-800-661-6954

Welcome to The Fishin' Hole Canada's source for tackle and sport fishing equipment. Try us for all of your sportfishing needs...In store, on-line or toll free. You'll get hooked on the service!

Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital


While their licence plates may read "Friendly Manitoba", I've met a number of residents of the Keystone Province who most assuredly aren't buying into the provincial motto. They're belligerent, rude, bullying, aggressive, confrontational and, at times, downright mean. Friendly? Not a chance. I'm referring, of course, to Manitoba's channel catfish, those knuckle-busting, tackle-wrecking leviathans that leave anglers bruised and battered from the encounter.

When an angler mentions Manitoba and channel catfish, the next words typically spoken are, "Red River." And why wouldn't they be? Recent statistics provided through Manitoba's Master Angler program indicate that 90% of qualifying catfish were landed on the Red. Of the remainder, 6% were landed in the Assiniboine River, a tributary to the Red that has its confluence in downtown Winnipeg. The remaining numbers were split between the Little Saskatchewan River, the Winnipeg River, the Whitemud River, Devils Creek, the Souris River, the Roseau River, Netley Creek and Lake Winnipeg.

The statistics tell it all; if you're looking to land a monster channel cat in Manitoba, the Red River is the place to be. And make no mistake about it, the Red's channel catfish, when judged by size, abundance and the opportunity for hooking into trophy-sized fish, are unrivalled across North America. This is certainly evidenced by the number of licence plates lining the Red each summer from Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and other Midwestern states that hold catfish in the highest regard. These folks know their catfish like we know hockey, and you'd better believe that if they're driving up to fish catfish in our waters it's because we have something that's truly special.

Forgiving her propensity to spring flood on occasion, the Red is a rather innocuous river. It runs north, crossing the 49th parallel near the junction of Manitoba's border with those of North Dakota and Minnesota. It meanders muddy and slow most of the time, winding its way drunkenly through the rich soils of the Province's southern farmland. Sliding slowly into Winnipeg, it neatly bisects the capital city, gaining volume as it leaves, having taken on the load of the Assiniboine. Just north of Winnipeg, the Red meets its only major obstruction, a dam that crosses the river at the Town of Lockport. Below the dam, river waters continue north for another 25 miles or so before bleeding out into the southern bay of Lake Winnipeg.

Channel cats can be caught through any stretch of the Red; I've taken them myself at both Letellier, near the U.S. border, to a point just south of the river's mouth on Lake Winnipeg, and at many points between. But it is the section from just south of Lockport to just north of Selkirk, only a handful of river miles, that has garnered the deserved reputation of producing the largest and most cats. A hot, early summer weekend will see hundreds of anglers fishing below the Lockport dam, some from boats, most from shore and virtually all have big cats on their mind. Seldom will you see less than two or three dozen anglers there on a summer's eve, and the flickering glare of small fires tells you that a handful of diehards are prepared to stick it out well into the night. Don't let the number of anglers scare you; there is plenty of shoreline and lots of fish to go around.

When is the best time of year to catch a trophy channel catfish? Statistics show that 80% of the registered Master Anglers over a recent three-year stretch were caught between May 1 and August 1. It should be noted, however, that there were trophy fish recorded in every month of the year.

The attractiveness in channel cats certainly doesn't lie in their physical beauty. They are a stout, rather than sleek fish, dark bluish-grey on top, lighter along the sides to a soft brownish-grey that may occasionally show a few freckles. Their undersides are an ivory-white. Their caudal fin is deeply forked, but it is their enormous head that gives them distinction while simultaneously making them appear repulsive to some. Their toothless mouth is huge; if largemouth bass remind anglers of "buckets", then a channel cat must surely be equated to a beer keg. Like all catfish (named because of the cat-like whiskers), the channel cat has barbels that emerge on top of its snout and below its chin, with one exceptionally long barbel protruding from the corner of each side of its upper jaw.

No, the anglers who tackle Manitoba's channel cats aren't looking for a pretty fish. They're looking for a brawl, a back alley, knock down, drag out fight that leaves both combatants a little battered and bruised, but having gained just a little more respect for their worthy opponent. Red River cats average 15 plus pounds, with monsters approaching and exceeding 40 pounds caught annually. An 85-cm cat will weigh 20 pounds on average, and there's lots of them. If we assume that 75% of anglers register their fish in the province's Master Angler program, and I suspect that considerably fewer actually do, there are roughly 10 catfish of twenty pounds or better landed every day between May 1 and August 1. To top it off, most of these come out of a stretch of river less than ten miles long! Now that's a trophy fishery!

Techniques for catfish have historically been very simple, but as with all angling they have evolved to become more complex over time. The old standby is to present a stationary bait to cruising fish; most popular is to use a three-way swivel setup. From one side an 18-inch dropper line is attached to a pyramid weight of anywhere from one to three ounces, depending upon the volume and velocity of the river current. From the other side, a 2/0 or 3/0 hook is tied to a leader that's 30 - 36 inches in length. The line breaking strength of your dropper should be at least five pounds lighter than that of your leader. This will ensure that you won't lose your hook and bait if your weight becomes snagged in rocks on the bottom and you are forced to break off. The alternative is to go to a presentation that incorporates a sliding weight system, similar to the Lindy-rig setup many walleye anglers employ. The benefit to this approach is that when fished on an open bail, a cat can pick up your bait and swim away with it, feeling little if any resistance. The downside to this presentation is that you will lose your entire rig if your weight becomes snagged on the bottom.

A technique for cats that has been gaining popularity over the last several years is to use a slip bobber rigged just as you would for walleye. It will, however, require a larger float to accommodate the heavier sub-surface tackle and bait required. This technique allows the angler to drift or tumble his bait downstream with the current, much as a natural bait would. A couple friends and I put two dozen channel cats in the boat using this system in a little over three hours one recent summer afternoon. The Red is not very deep through much of its channel and seldom would you require more than eight feet of line below your bobber, and often much less.

Preferred tackle for either of these presentations is a bait-casting or level-wind reel on a seven-foot medium heavy rod. Catfish are tremendously strong and know how to use the current to their advantage. You'll need a rod with enough backbone to exert pressure on these unrelenting heavyweights. If not you can find yourself playing a fish of even average size for a length of time that is best-measured in half-hour segments. Most anglers who've spent time tackling these brutes prefer line in the 14- to 17-pound class, though 20-pound test line is not out of place.

Bait selection is largely a matter of personal preference; channel cats are opportunistic feeders, readily taking advantage of any easy meal that drifts or swims by. Effective baits include nightcrawlers, minnows, cut goldeye, frogs, frozen shrimp, chicken livers and stink baits.

While the venerable Red River carries an international reputation for catfish, her angling opportunities most certainly do not stop there. In fact, species diversity is one of the real attractions of the Red. It's not unusual to land half a dozen or more different species on any given day. Next to the catfish, it's the Red's run of fall "greenback" walleye that appeals to most fishermen. Anglers bundle up in their warmest clothes to fish for September and October 'eyes, a period when 10-pound plus fish are not uncommon. Other denizens of the Red's murky waters include bullhead, burbot, carp, freshwater drum, goldeye, northern pike, rock bass, sauger, white bass and sturgeon. In fact, a new provincial record lake sturgeon, stretching the tape to 78 1/2 inches, was taken out of the Red near Lockport just a few years ago.

Previous Fishing Articles
(1) It’s OK to Be Little Bitty
(2) Exploring Tundra Waters
(3) The Jewel at First Ice
(4) Fly Fishing Bucket List
(5) Guided or DIY?
(6) Pond Power
(7) Caddisflies
(8) In the Good Old Summertime
(9) A Southern Escape
(10) Springtime in Alberta - Can Thrill You to the Bone
(11) Sunny Day Rainbows
(12) New "Fishing" Year Resolutions
(13) Five Fine Places to Find Trout
(14) Catfishing Revisited
(15) Discover Squamish, an Outdoor Playground
(16) Falling for Cutthroat
(17) New Water and Old Friends
(18) My McLeod
(19) Temperature and Trout
(20) On the Road Again
(21) Tips That Will Make You a More Successful Fly-Fisherman
(22) 5 Ways to Catch Your Trout
(23) The Difference Maker - Reading Trout Stream Waters
(24) Rollin’ on the River
(25) Windy Day Pike
(26) Cures for Cabin Fever
(27) Snowbirding with a Fishing Rod
(28) Alberta’s Spring Creek Browns - Blessings and Curses
(29) A day on our foothill streams
(30) Fly Fishing Crowded Waters
(31) Fly Leaders
(32) In the Zone
(33) Learners Permit
(34) Flies of Summer
(35) Selecting the Right Boat
(36) The Italian Job
(37) Making a difference
(38) Pass the Salt
(39) Hopper Time - Fly-fishing’s Second Season
(40) Pike on the Fly - Fishing New Waters
(41) Fall brings the big walleye out
(42) Hoppertunity Time
(43) Becoming a Better Dry Fly Angler
(44) Make Your Own Fishing Adventure
(45) Early Season Fly Fishing
(46) Walleye Logic
(47) Fly Fishing in the Desert
(48) Grammy’s Fish
(49) Top 10 Trout Lures
(50) All I Want for Christmas – Neil Waugh's Yule Tide Fishing Gifts Wish List
(51) Muskies - The Ultimate Predator
(52) What to expect when fishing the West Coast
(53) Tips & Tricks for Fall Fly Fishing
(54) There’s No Place Like Home
(55) A Golden Opportunity
(56) The Observational Trout Fisherman
(57) Un-matching the Hatch
(58) Alberta Super Bugs
(59) Glass is Back
(60) The Bull Trout of the Athabasca
(61) Speed Kills
(62) Entering the Twilight Zone
(63) Old Man River
(64) The Pink Salmon of the Squamish River
(65) Small stream BT fishing
(66) Fly fishing beyond Trout: getting started
(67) In The Walleye Zone
(68) Zoo Trout
(69) Fly Selection for Beginners
(70) Fly Fisher's Christmas
(71) New Waters
(72) Big Bad Burbot
(73) Looking Back
(74) Out of Africa
(75) Finding Success on Crowded Trout Streams
(76) Mountain Peaks, Fast Streams, Fall Colours And Rocky Mountain Whitefish
(77) The Browns of Autumn
(78) Fly-Fishing Pike Through The Seasons
(79) Walleye Town
(80) River Fun - One Bite At A Time
(81) Fly Fishing Larger Rivers
(82) Going With The Flow
(83) Becoming A Better Fly Fisherman
(84) Swinging The Fences
(85) A View From The Aerie
(86) Dixieland Delight
(87) Atlantic Salmon - The Fish of 1000 Casts
(88) Do It Yourself Pink Salmon
(89) Montana's Cool Missouri
(90) Pretty Is As Pretty Does
(91) Toothy Critters
(92) Hard Water Lakers at Cold Lake
(93) Top Ten Flies
(94) Northern Exposure
(95) Home Water Lessons
(96) Chicken Of The Sea
(97) Sealing the Deal – How to Ensure You Land More Fish
(98) Deep In The Heart Of Texas
(99) Keep It Up!
(100) River Fishing for Fall Walleye
(101) After the Flood - A look at Southern Alberta rivers and streams one year after the 2013 flood
(102) Reindeer Lake - A Diversity of Opportunity
(103) Hawg Holes
(104) Saltwater Salmon
(105) Early Season Dry Fly Fishing
(106) Down a Lazy River - A Fly-rodding Adventure on the Lower North Saskatchewan
(107) The Fly Fishing Season Ahead
(110) Bright Fish from the Land of Silver
(111) Canada's "Other" Salmon
(112) Fall Walleye
(113) Wet Flies
(114) Versatility the Key to Success
(115) Grayling of the Boreal
(116) Teaching Kids To Fly Fish
(117) Size Matters
(118) Fly Fishing Small Streams
(119) Chasing Winter Whites One Lake At A Time
(120) Manitoba's Fishing Jewel
(121) The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas
(122) The Point Of It All
(123) Fishing With Friends-Big Weather Seizing The Day
(124) Fall Fly Fishing
(125) Personal Pontoon Boats 101
(126) Big River, Big Fish
(127) Bottom Bonanza
(128) Fishing Small Flies
(129) So Many Choices, So Little Time
(130) Four Seasons of the Bow
(131) Favourite Lakes - Some Like it Hot
(133) Trout Hunting New Zealand style
(134) Don’t Leave Home Without Them – 10 Lures That Should Be In Everyone’s Tackle Box
(135) Edge Walleye
(137) Smallmouth Bass – An Oft Overlooked Challenge
(138) Four Corners – Four Waters
(139) Chasing Pothole Trout
(140) Springtime Stoneflies
(141) The Torrents of Spring
(142) Drift Boat Fly Fishing
(143) Bust Them With Bait
(144) Cure the Winter Blues with a Good Book
(145) Hot Strategies for the Cold Months
(146) Cutthroat: The Angler's Trout
(147) Terrestrials
(148) Fly In For Fishing Fun
(149) Rocky Mountain High
(150) Reading the clues
(151) Where the Trout Are The art of locating feeding trout in rivers and streams.
(152) K.I.S.S. and Tell Fly-fishin
(153) Fly Fishing 101
(154) To Catch a Big Halibut, or Ling Cod
(155) The Bountiful Bones of Ascension Bay
(156) Grayling in the Eye of the Beholder
(157) Fly Fishing for South Fork Clearwater Steelhead
(158) Manitoba's Red River - North America's Catfish Capital
(159) Eliminating the Spook Factor
(160) Trust Your Electronics
(161) The Most Important Hatch of the Year
(162) Early Season Nymph Fishing for Trout
(163) Finding Success for Ice Trout
(164) Walleye can be Humbling
(165) The Secret to Landing the Big One Finally Revealed
(166) Winter Flyfishing
(167) North Saskatchewan River - An Underutilized Fishing Gem
(168) Hot Fall Pike Action
(169) Tips and Tricks to Save the Summer Slow Down
(170) Reading Trout Stream Waters
(171) Frequently Asked Questions
(172) Streamer Fishing for Larger Trout
(173) The Lure of Big Walleye at Last Ice
(174) Deep Water Perch
(175) Post Spawn Brookies
(176) A Fisher's Life
(177) The River's Last Stand
(178) The Big Ones Come out at Night
(179) Coho on the Coast
(180) Chasing and Catching Halibut
(181) Summer in the Mountains
(182) Peak Walleye Season
(183) Slow and Steady Wins the Race
(184) Last Ice Rainbows
(185) The Burbot Event
(186) Tackle Matching
(187) Ice Fishing Strategy #2 - Going Light
(188) Ice Fishing Strategy #1 - Location
(189) The Lure of Brook Trout
(190) The Shallow Water Hunt is On
(191) Hot Backswimmer Action Happening Right Now
(192) Fishing Among Giants-Pursuing Lake Sturgeon on the Prairies
(193) Adventure at Davin Lake Lodge, Northern Saskatchewan
(194) The Vesatile Plug
(195) Bead Head Flies, Plugs and Shot and other Spring Favorites for Pothole Trout
(196) Planning your Upcoming Angling Adventures
(197) Good Fishing at Last Ice
(198) Maximize the Odds - Use Multiple Presentations
(199) Daily Fish Migrations
(200) Fish Migrations - Following the Spawn
(201) Lake Whitefish - An Ice Fishing All Star
(202) Pick Your Favorite Brook Trout Lake...and Go Fishing
(203) A Look Ahead to Great Trout Fishing
(204) Wrestling White Sturgeon on the Fraser
(205) The Fun in Ultra Light
(206) Flyfishing and Leadcore Lines
(207) Embrace the Spirit of Adventure
(208) Never Stop Learning
(209) Ice Fishing is Getting Hot
(210) Jigging through the Ice
(211) An Ice Fishing Unsung Hero – The Setline
(212) Rainbows on Ice
(213) The Season of Ice Begins
(214) Red Hot Fall Pike Action
(215) Hitting it Right with Water Boatman
(216) Facts On Cats
(217) West Coast Adventure
(218) June Walleye Frenzy
(219) Aerated Lakes are Big Trout Factories
(220) First Fish of the Year Pothole Rainbows and Browns
(221) Northern Exposure
(222) Sometimes There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish
(223) Early Season Pike On The Fly
(224) Man Overboard
Canada Boating License