I was enjoying a pleasantly unproductive Sunday morning over a cup of coffee when I got a text from Brad Durick.
“Let’s go cattin’,” he said.
A longtime friend and fishing partner, Durick had gotten a tip that big cats were biting on the Red River near Grand Forks. He spends a majority of his summer days on the river guiding for catfish and had planned to enjoy a day off, but the report was too good to resist.
So, he readied his 4-year-old son, Braden, for a few hours on the river and hooked up the boat. They were waiting at the boat ramp when I pulled up shortly after noon.
Spur-of-the-moment excursions often are the best ones, and that certainly proved to be the case Sunday afternoon. We landed six kitties in about three hours on the water, including a couple that weighed more than 20 pounds.
Best of all, though, two of those cats sported tags from a study that’s been underway in Manitoba the past two years.
There were a handful of tagged Manitoba catfish caught during the recent Cats Incredible catfish tournament, but these were the first either Durick or I had seen. Catching one is unusual enough, but catching two in just a couple of hours mere yards from each other is a rare occurrence indeed.
Despite the hours he logs on the water, Durick hadn’t seen a tagged catfish before Sunday afternoon.
The first tagged catfish measured 27 inches and looked to be in excellent shape, despite its cross-border journey. It was dwarfed, though, by the 38-inch, 22.6-pound behemoth we landed a short time later.
Anyone who’s ever fished the Red River below the Lockport Dam in Manitoba knows the catfish on that lower stretch of river before Lake Winnipeg run larger than they do anywhere else.
This fish definitely had the “look” of a Lockport cat.
I recently reported on the Manitoba catfish study so I emailed Stephen Siddons, the Nebraska graduate student in charge of the fieldwork, to report the tag numbers of the two fish.
He got back to me a short time later, suggesting we should buy lottery tickets after catching two tagged fish in the same day — especially when one of those fish measured 38 inches.
As it turns out, the smaller of the two fish was tagged June 17 in north Winnipeg while the larger cat was tagged Aug. 8, 2012. That fish — just as we suspected — was tagged below the Lockport Dam. That’s about 275 river miles from Grand Forks.
This summer’s high water, apparently, was just the excuse the catfish needed to head upstream and make a run for the border.
If our encounter was any indication, there are plenty of other Manitoba-tagged catfish in the Grand Forks area right now, and anyone who catches one of the fish — the orange-colored tag is inserted next to the dorsal fin and is hard to miss — should write down the tag number and call the phone number listed on the tag.
We’ve long suspected that Manitoba catfish make big upstream runs during high water, and Sunday’s encounter proves it.