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!

Catfishing Revisited

 

 

Though I seldom get to fish for them these days, I’ve long had a love affair with Manitoba’s Red River channel catfish. I caught my first cat some 35 years ago. It turned out that I was severely under gunned, equipment-wise, and before I brought that 30-pound brute to the net, I’d shattered my rod; it was a minor miracle that we landed it at all. I learned through that first experience that you don’t "play" catfish, as you would a trout, walleye or pike. There’s nothing playful at all about wrestling a catfish into submission. It’s more of a schoolyard fight, and as often as not, before you release a catfish back into the murky waters of the Red, you or your tackle will be bruised and beaten for the effort.

I suppose I’ve fished the Red for cats a dozen times or so over the years and look forward to it whenever the opportunity arises. So I was particularly excited when long-time friend Stu Thompson invited me to join him for a day tackling catfish when I visited Manitoba this past August. And while catfishing is always a thrill, I knew this would be even more exciting, as Stu fishes almost exclusively with a fly rod.

Stu Thompson. There are few fish species in western Canada that Stu hasn’t caught on a flyrod.

Stu Thompson. There are few fish species in western Canada that Stu hasn’t caught on a flyrod.

Typically, presentations for catfish mean using a pyramid weight on a three-way swivel or a slip sinker fished below a seven-foot medium-heavy rod and reel combo with 14- to 20-pound line. Current speed determines your sinker weight; you use just enough weight to hold your bait stationary. Below your weight you tie a 2/0 or 3/0 hook on a 24" to 36" leader. Over the years I’ve seen a variety of baits used, including nightcrawlers, minnows, cut goldeye, frogs, frozen shrimp and chicken livers. All will work, though shrimp seem to be the most popular these days as it’s relatively inexpensive and easy to get. An alternative to a stationary bait presentation is to drift your bait through the current below a large slip-bobber, much as you would when fishing walleye. It’s more work that fishing stationary bait, requiring repeated casting, but it can be astonishingly effective.

Long-time friend Brian Hagglund and a chunky catfish caught using a traditional stationary bait presentation.

Long-time friend Brian Hagglund and a chunky catfish caught using a traditional stationary bait presentation.

Stu Thompson, meanwhile, has learned to catch catfish, and all the other fish species in the Red from drum to walleye to carp and white bass, on cast flies. I met him at the river on a cloudy late August afternoon, just below the Lockport dam. As he’d recommended, I showed up with an eight-weight rod and matching sink-tip line. I’d imagined we’d be throwing massive streamer flies, much like you would for pike, so was surprised when he handed me a relatively small pink and purple streamer he called a DDH Leech. As I was to learn, this fly is a Stu Thompson original design and at last count has been documented as having caught 96 different fish species across 15 countries.

The flies we used were surprisingly small for the Red River’s notoriously voracious channel cats.

The flies we used were surprisingly small for the Red River’s notoriously voracious channel cats.

We waded in to knee-deep water and Stu advised me to cast upstream, along the edge of a relatively strong current, and then let the fly swing downstream, strip retrieving it at the end of its swing. It couldn’t have been more than my fourth of fifth cast when my fly stopped dead on its swing and I felt the unmistakeable tug of a heavy fish. Catfish on! Unfortunately, after fighting the big cat to a standstill after 15 minutes of ferocious give and take, I lost it shortly before I could guide it to the net; I’m still not sure how it got off and was even more disheartened when Stu said, "Darn, that was a big one, too." When Stu calls it big, you know it’s truly a good fish.

Battling my first cat on the fly. Ultimately, I lost this one.

Battling my first cat on the fly. Ultimately, I lost this one.

Still, I’ve never met a more positive guy than Stu, and he just laughed it off as things that happen when you’re fishing. I couldn’t argue and got right back at it. We fished for another hour or more with no results except for a small sauger that Stu landed. Shortly before we were going to call it a day, however, I had that familiar tug and was into my second catfish on a fly. I made no mistake this time, in part, I suspect, as this wasn’t nearly as large a fish as the first one. Despite that, I couldn’t have been prouder holding up my first Red River catfish caught on the cast fly, and it was a great way to close out the day.

 

The first catfish I landed on a cast fly.

The first catfish I landed on a cast fly.

I went out with another friend, Brian Hagglund, the next day only to find the locks had been opened and water levels were a full three feet higher. The choice spot Stu had shown me was now unreachable. I knew what to look for in terms of current edge, however, and after a couple fishless hours I managed to hook into another cat. It was bigger than the one I’d landed the previous day, but nowhere near the size of the leviathan I’d lost. Still, catching another catfish on a cast fly served to reassure that my first day wasn’t pure fluke; fly-fishing is a legitimate way to tackle the Red’s legendary cats.

 

My day two fly-caught channel cat landed on the Red River at Lockport.

My day two fly-caught channel cat landed on the Red River at Lockport.

Two days later I was back on the Red, further downstream, with friend Brian and renowned Manitoba angler and outdoor communicator, Don Lamont. Don, Brian and I have fished together a handful of times over the years, but it had been a while. We, too, were fishing catfish, albeit using the more traditional stationary bait method. Few anglers can read water as well as Don can and not surprisingly it wasn’t long before he had us into fish.

 

With Don Lamont, reliving past days fishing for catfish on the Red.

With Don Lamont, reliving past days fishing for catfish on the Red.

Over a couple hours, before a torrential rain set in, we landed a dozen or so catfish. Several would have met Manitoba’s Master Angler standards, but we weren’t about measuring fish. The day was a chance for some old friends to relive some past times and have a few laughs together. What better way to do that than tackling world-class channel cats on Manitoba’s infamous Red River?

 



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