As Red River Drops, Catfishing to Pick Up

Nick Simonson

By Nick Simonson

With the drought of 2021 in the rearview mirror for the Red River valley of eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota, following significant spring snows and ample April rains, the challenging conditions which limited angling opportunities for the flow’s large catfish late last summer and into fall are also in the past.  As the waters of the Red River of the North begin to recede and temperatures rise on that stretch from Grand Forks to the Canadian border, area guide and expert on the water’s channel catfish, Brad Durick, predicts an excellent summer of fishing.

“In the long term, this is really, really good for fishing,” Durick says of the current high waters, with temperatures now entering the middle 50-degree range activating the seasonal upstream movements of catfish, “looking how stabilization typically works, I would say there might be some shore fishing in the next four or five days that could be really, really good; although we’re just under major flood stage, so you’ve got to be really careful if you’re going to do that,” he concludes.

Food for Thought

As things begin to settle down on the flow and waters recede, the Red River and its tributaries provide a season-long smorgasbord for the resident catfish which will be reinvigorated by the recent runoff.  With water temperatures in the middle 50s, and manageable flows, fishing should be dynamic, with both shore fishing and boat angling paying off for those utilizing a variety of baits. From the spring’s baitfish, to a predicted bumper crop of young frogs later this summer with all of the water on the landscape, Durick anticipates many opportunities to match the hatch and key in on what catfish are eating throughout the spring and summer for the best success.

“I know that the suckers run in the spring, so I concentrate on the suckers early, because I know they’re the plentiful bait. As you get into late May or early June – this year it’ll be mid-June – the goldeyes make their run, so they can switch over to that,” Durick advises of early season offerings that attract catfish, adding, “when the new frogs of the year are migrating back to the river in late July and August, that’s where the match the hatch really comes into play with frogs, because if you’ve got a wet year like we’re setting up for, you have a massive migration of frogs moving out of the sloughs and the grass back to a major waterway.”

A Simple Plan

Anglers looking to get into catfishing need not break the bank to try it out.  With entry-level setups of both baitcasting and spinning combos often costing around just fifty dollars, and some relatively simple terminal tackle, those looking to tangle with catfish will find a budget-friendly starting point.  Durick recommends a stout Shakespeare Ugly Stik rod with a baitcasting or spinning reel to match, spooled with the angler’s preferred style of line, either monofilament or braid from 17 to 30 pounds. On the business end of the setup, no-roll sinkers ahead of a swivel and 12-inch, 30-pound monofilament leader with a snelled 3/0 to 8/0 circle hook (Durick often stays on the bigger end of that spectrum when targeting the Red’s larger catfish) are good all-around ways to offer catfish their favorite baits.  Cutbaits are effective at turning Red River cats much of the season and produce frequent bites.  Durick suggests that catfish aren’t sinker shy, and likes to keep his offerings stuck to the bottom of the flow, so heavier weights shouldn’t be seen as much of a deterrent to fish on the feed.

“For the most part, a piece of cut sucker or cut goldeye, put it on a hook, make sure you have enough weight to get it to the bottom, and if you’re there long enough, a fish is going to come along and bite – there’s lots of them,” Durick advises.

In an area east of Highway 1 in North Dakota, which includes the Red River valley, anglers are allowed to keep up to five catfish per day and may only have five in their possession.  West of Highway 1, there is no limit on catfish, and opportunities abound in those lakes where the fish have been stocked and where they occur naturally, such as in the Missouri River basin.

Simonson is the lead writer and editor of Dakota Edge Outdoors.

Featured Photo: With ample water this spring, catfishing on the Red River of the North should rebound dramatically after a dry and stressful summer for the species in 2021. Anglers can get after these fish for minimal cost and find some great shore and boat angling on the Red this season when things settle down.  DEO Photo by Brad Durick.


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