My fishing line floated listlessly on the water–I was tempted to reel it in and cast again. Then I felt it. A nibble–not a bite yet–just a tentative little taste to see if the shrimp on my hook was as tasty as it smelled.
I braced my feet, leaned back, and gave the line a quick jerk to set the hook. Those channel cats looked big enough to give a dickens of a fight!
The catfish decided to grab the snack and get out of Dodge. However, one thing stood in its way…Had the hook really caught? Was I up to a catfish’s challenge? The next five minutes would tell which of us emerged as a winner.
I was only an hour into my fishing adventure and it was already everything I’d hoped for! I’d met Andrew and Todd, our guides from City Cats Guiding Service, at Selkirk Park just outside Winnipeg, Manitoba’s capital city.
- The Red River has an international reputation with anglers for its amazing channel catfish.
- Channel catfish are also called channel cats, river cats, or spotted catfish.
- Channel cats have four pairs of barbels or whiskers on their jaws, sharply-pointed heads, and deeply-forked tails.
- The channel cat has taste buds around its body, especially around its whiskers.
- While channel cats don’t have a nose, they have very sensitive olfactory receptors, so “smelly” bait works well with them.
- Channel cats on the Red River often exceed 20 pounds in weight and can grow up to 40 inches in length.
- To qualify for a Master Angler Award in Manitoba, a channel catfish must be 34 inches in length, while an exceptional trophy catfish (Designated Picture Length Category) must be 39 inches in length.
- The Master Angler record Award for a Manitoba catfish was for 46.5 inches.
- Channel catfish are bottom feeders that are mainly scavengers and predators on other smaller fish, using their whiskers to help them find food.
The day I went fishing for channel cats was perfect, lots of blue sky and sunshine, but not too hot even though it was mid-July. The Red River was splashing over its banks, due to run-off and heavy spring rains, so the water under the boat was churned to a muddy hue that reminded me of my swamp tours on the Louisiana bayou.
Our group of writers–six of us–had already caught a couple of fish when mine took the bait, so I’d watched the others fight the fish on their lines. I was prepared.
Well, I thought I was prepared. It shot through my mind that the fish had grown legs as well as whiskers, and planted them solidly in the mud bottom of the river! It wasn’t going to surrender without a fight.
“Keep your line up, or he’ll lose the hook,” Andrew advised.
I tried. It was like trying to lift your legs with a five-year old sitting on your feet. Not much happened.
“Higher,” said Andrew, his voice more urgent.
The channel cat must have paused for a breath, because this time my rod raised, then promptly bent almost in half as the fish pulled back again.
I turned the handle on the reel–it inched forward–a quarter turn at a time. This was hard work! I thought about getting Andrew to help, then discarded the idea. I could do this, really I could.
I’d pulled in about half the length of line when the channel cat either got tired or tried to trick me into thinking I’d lost him–I cranked the handle frantically with renewed energy. It turned easily for a few seconds, like there really might not be a fish on the line.
But it was still there, more powerful than before…it had been resting while I was reeling.
Those last few feet to the boat seemed to take as much energy as the whole first thirty feet!
Andrew had the net over the side of the boat, waiting to grab the cat. I pulled. The catfish pulled. It was a mighty-tug-of-war. I’m not sure which of us would have won if the playing field had really been fair, since to be honest I had a big advantage as I only had to get the channel cat close enough to be scooped up.
My fish looked enormous to me when Andrew pulled him out of the net and removed the hook from his mouth, but he turned out to be just an average size–kind of like me, I guess. But really, since it was nearly 30 inches long it was certainly the biggest one I’d ever pulled in!
Once I had my picture taken, I dropped him back into the water. In Manitoba, the majority of channel cats are released after they’re caught.
Secretly I’d hoped that my medium sized catch would be the king of the day, but alas, on a river like the Red, that’s known for its giant channel cats, it was a foolish thought. While mine wasn’t the smallest, another couple of bigger catfish–including two that qualified for a Master Angler Award–were pulled during our three hours of fishing.
You can get a glimpse of channel cat fishing fun on this video from In-Fisherman t.v. on YouTube video where they also pull in a channel cat on the Red River:
It may be easy to guess how fishing for giant channel cats on the Red River made it into spot #20 on my great staycation summer review of places I’ve already visited, since the experience was certainly exciting. However, what makes this fish even more interesting to me is that scientists believe it’s one of the oldest species of fish on the planet. The catfish skeleton on this webpage is from approximately 48 billion years ago–now that’s a lot of history, even for a history lover like me!
- Selkirk, Manitoba – http://www.cityofselkirk.com/
- City Cats Guiding Service – http://www.citycats.ca/
- Red River angler fishery information and links to a number of outfitters – http://www.northredcfdc.com/tourism/hunting.htm
- Manitoba Master Angler program – http://www.travelmanitoba.com/Wilderness/Fishing/MasterAngler/&node=6004