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The Red River delivers

Meeting the catfish challenge on the Red River

The thrill of catching a big catfish is evident in the smile of this young fisherman. The photograph was taken on the Red River near Grand Forks. Submitted Photo

GRAND FORKS – Catching catfish, especially big catfish, is something a fisherman never forgets. They are a hard fighting fish that know how to use the currents of the Red River to test the skills of any angler. But my, oh my, are they fun!

Captain Brad Durick, catfish guide and author, spends countless days on the Red River in search of catfish. Season after season his clients boat many catfish in the 20 pound range. That’s been the case this year too, despite big fluctuations in river levels due to heavy rainfall on any number of drainages emptying into the river that forms the border between North Dakota and Minnesota.

“This year has been challenging,” remarked Durick. “Let’s call it brushing up on my skills because it is a different year. One cool thing though, there’s lots of big fish around.”

A dock frequently used by Durick to launch his boat onto the Red River, the North Landing at Grand Forks, was recently covered by six feet of fast rising water. An influx of water and a rising river meant that roving catfish would be on the move, or at least changing their previous locations to better acclimate to a rising river.

Through it all though, Durick has been able to meet the challenge and keep clients happy with getting a landing net on trophy-sized fish, sometimes several. All the big cats are returned to the river.

Big catfish are a reason many anglers choose to fish the Red River on the eastern border of North Dakota. Capt. Brad Durick, catfish guide and author, says fluctuating levels of the Red River has presented challenges but fishing has been very good. Submitted Photo

“With all the weirdness of the year I’d say that’s good,” said Durick. “With the COVID I and everybody else was pretty worried early. It was a slow starting year because nobody really knew what to expect. Then it went, really went.”

People discovered that catfishing was an outdoor activity that allowed them relief from limitations necessitated by coronavirus.

“July has been great and August is always busy,” remarked Durick. “Some people have been worried about the virus and canceled but within 24 hours I’d have three more trips booked.”

That’s not to say precautions against catching coronavirus aren’t being followed. Sometimes it takes a little innovation, said Durick, but fishermen are understanding and willing to comply with social distancing guidelines and other preventive measures.

An example is the Wednesday night catfish league that has grown to an average of 35 boats participating. In past years the anglers and spectators all gathered at a common location for the weigh-in. That, however, is not possible this year due to social distancing guidelines. The answer? An on the water drive-thu weigh-in.

To accomplish that the weigh-in boat is solidly anchored in the Red River. One at a time fishing teams approach the weigh-in boat to have their catch recorded.

“It worked for the big Scheel’s tournament,” said Durick. “Everybody said it was pretty creative. On a two fish league night it only takes about one minute per boat.”

All across the state people contending with coronavirus limitations have turned to outdoor activities to alleviate “stay at home” boredom. State Parks, campgrounds and boat ramps are experiencing large numbers of people. Catfishing on the Red is no different.

“A lot of people fishing here say they’ve never been here,” said Durick. “They say they had to do it at least once. Recently I had a stock broker from Montana in the boat who has spent his whole life fly fishing. He told me fly fishing is boring after doing this.”

Every year there are reports of people catching catfish on other water bodies in the state than the Red River, although it is the Red that has a well earned reputation for turning out big fish. If more people targeted catfish on other bodies of water though, said Durick, they might be very surprised at the results.

“You know the catfish are there because people catch them all the time,” remarked Durick.

Still, it is the Red River and its monstrous catfish that has become a draw for anglers seeking a new experience or a change from their usual fishing habits. Fishermen from Iowa, Montana, Wisconsin and many from central and western North Dakota make the trek to the Red River each year for the thrill of hooking into a big river cat.

“Many of them have become regulars and good friends,” explained Durick. “I’ve got a guy from Sioux City, Iowa who comes twice a year and tells me those are two days he looks forward to every year.”

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