The mystery of the catfish puncture wounds

Catfish action is winding down for the season with the onset of cooler weather and falling water temperatures, but there still may be a few more days to do battle with the whiskered brutes that roam the Red River — especially with weekend forecasts that call for highs in the 70s.

Puncture wounds cover the side of a catfish caught recently on the Red River near Grand Forks. Could it be the work of a large northern pike?

Puncture wounds cover the side of a catfish caught recently on the Red River near Grand Forks. Could it be the work of a large northern pike?

Kent Hollands of Grand Forks shared a photo of a catfish he caught the other day on the Red near Grand Forks. The side of the fish shown in the photo is peppered with small puncture holes and a larger wound near the tail that obviously is bleeding.

Hollands speculates a big pike attacked the catfish, and that’s certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. Big northerns definitely inhabit the Red, and I’ve heard of the fish swallowing prey as large as adult ducks.

I’m at a loss to explain what else would have inflicted so many puncture wounds on the side of the catfish, but it obviously survived the ordeal well enough to take the bait Hollands put in front of it.

One things for sure, it’s a cruel world down there in the Red’s murky depths.

Taking in the Middle River Goose Festival

With a stiff south wind and temperatures that soared into the 80s, Saturday wasn’t exactly waterfowl hunting weather — season opened Saturday in both North Dakota and Minnesota — but the day was ideal for the 41st annual Goose Festival in Middle River, Minn., which wrapped up Sunday.

Kelly Jo McDonnell (left) and Cy Dodson of "Minnesota Bound" interview Cory Loeffler on Saturday at the end of a morning goose hunt  to kick off the 41st annual Middle River Goose Festival. (Brad Dokken photo)

Kelly Jo McDonnell (left) and Cy Dodson of “Minnesota Bound” interview Cory Loeffler on Saturday at the end of a morning goose hunt to kick off the 41st annual Middle River Goose Festival. (Brad Dokken photo)

Along with a variety of other — mostly broadcast — media from around the region, I took in this year’s festival. The day started at “oh-dark-30” with a morning goose hunt near Holt, Minn., hosted by Cory Loeffler of rural Red Lake Falls, Minn., and his hunting partners Ian Lund and Scott Stueber of Thief River Falls and Jeremy Hawthorne of Big Lake, Minn.

Loeffler, an avid goose hunter and guide, owns DRC Call Co., and is one of the sponsors of the annual Middle River festival.

I didn’t attend the noontime parade in Middle River, which I’m told featured some 60 floats, but I took in the goose calling and goose cookoff competitions that got underway at 5 p.m. The goose calling contest drew competitors in the youth, women’s and men’s divisions, and the winning participants showcased their calling virtuosity.

Not being what I’d call an avid goose hunter — which might be putting it mildly — I was amazed by the sounds experienced callers can produce. It’s an art form, without question.

Part of the reason I don’t spend much of time hunting geese — besides the getting up at 4 a.m. part — is I’m not a big fan of the taste, which normally is too gamey and liver-like for my palate. The four teams competing in the goose cookoff, however, all did admirable jobs of putting the main ingredient in the best possible light. I sampled the bacon goose poppers, the boneless hot wings and even the goose poutine but the goose and wild rice soup was gone before I had a chance to try it.

The crew from the "Wild Dakota" outdoor TV show in South Dakota took first place in the goose cookoff with their bacon goose poppers, which were a hit  among Goose Festival attendees. (Brad Dokken photo)

The crew from the “Wild Dakota” outdoor TV show in South Dakota took first place in the goose cookoff with their bacon goose poppers, which were a hit among Goose Festival attendees. (Brad Dokken photo)

Jeff Boer and his team from the “Wild Dakota” outdoors TV show in Sioux Falls, S.D., took top honors in the popular vote for this year’s cookoff with their bacon poppers, while DelRay and Rhonda Beito placed second with their goose poutine.

Both recipes were tasty, but my personal favorite, the boneless wings concocted by defending cookoff champion Cory Loeffler and his DRC Call Co. hunting partners, only managed a third-place finish. The fact I went back for fourth helpings should tell you everything you need to know about the boneless wings, though. It’s not every dish, after all, that will bring me back for extra helpings when goose is the main ingredient. (Truth be told, though, I also sampled more than one helping of the poppers.)

This past Sunday’s section of Northland Outdoors went to press before the Goose Festival, but I’ll have a story and several photos from the morning hunt and the festival itself in Sunday’s Outdoors section. Be sure to check it out.

Looking back on the Cabela’s NWT championship tourney

I’ve been out of town and on vacation the past few days, so I’m in catch-up mode with the results from the Cabela’s National Walleye Tour that ended Saturday on Devils Lake, but Scott Larson of Mayville, N.D., won the pro category with a three-day total of 74.89 pounds of walleyes. With the victory, Larson won a fully rigged Ranger 621FS fishing boat with a 225-horse Evinrude outboard and $15,000 cash for a total prize package worth $83,000.

Here’s a news release from Cabela’s NWT about the championship event:

Larson started out the tournament in second after he brought in 27.52 pounds using a one-two punch of a morning trolling bite and a big-fish jigging bite. However, he admits he played it extra safe on day two, just trying to assure himself that he’d make it to the final day. He nearly played it too safe, as he boxed his first five trolling fish, but then went to his jigging area and never got a bite in four hours. With only 18.12 pounds on day two, Larson went into the final day of competition sitting in sixth place with ground to make up.

Larson opted to start the final day targeting big fish jigging isolated rock piles in the Six Mile Bay area. He had one main spot, but would search around using his Humminbird Side Imaging to mark and come back to other ones, which eventually proved crucial.

Larson’s trolling bite was one many other anglers had found in Pelican Lake. The difference is that Larson was able to quickly catch limits thanks to one key adjustment while others barely caught anything.

“I slowed way down,” Larson said. “Most guys were in that 2-2.2 mph range. I was trolling at 1.5-1.6. That really worked to allow the lead-core to take my lures (Berkley Flicker Shad and Rapala Jointed Shad Raps in bright perch patterns) and get them to bump against the sidewall of the long structure we were trolling. Other guys were just going too fast and trolling above the fish’s heads.”

While the trolling bite had been good for quick limits, on day three it produced quantity and quality. Larson said he was throwing back too many four-pounders to count, and by the time he opted to try and jig up one more big fish, he already had 26-27 pounds.

Still, he had an hour and wanted to see if those rock piles would produce. With about 30 minutes left he marked a big fish suspended off the bottom.

“I just hovered over that fish, and she finally bit,” Larson said. “It was a 7-8-pounder, and once I caught that one I laid down in the bow of my boat. I had a good feeling I had a chance.”

With nearly every angler above him stumbling, Larson’s chance turned it a realized dream.

“It’s incredible,” Larson said. “To beat the best of the best, it’s such a privilege. It’s an awesome feeling. It’s probably the best feeling I’ve had since my kids were born. This is my first major win, and to do it on my home waters makes it that much better.”

Ed Stachowski (second), Gary Maher (third), Robert Bruegger (fourth), Paul Steffen (fifth), Todd Zemke (sixth), Gary Parsons (seventh), Chad Schilling (eighth), Mike Gofron (ninth) and David Andersen (tenth) round out the top ten for pro-anglers.

Clint Glass, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, won the co-angler category for the championship event with a three-day total of 69.78 pounds. The angler was paired with Gary Larson on day one and with Paul Steffen on day two. His final-day pro partner, Gary Maher, had brought in the largest bag of the tournament the day before.

Unfortunately, those big bites eluded the Maher and Glass on the final day. The anglers’ 16.46 pounds was enough for Glass to hold off the hard-charging Aaron Saar who finished 1.77 pounds behind Glass. The winning co-angler took home $6,739 in winnings.

“All of the guys I fished with were excellent fishermen,” Glass said. “Gary had a great game plan, but the fish just weren’t there for us. Still, it feels amazing to win. I couldn’t be happier.”

Aaron Saar (second), Karl Sprengel (third), Chester Jones (fourth), John Hoyer (fifth), Kurt Zins (sixth), Bernard Schauer (seventh), tom Wiehoff (eighth), Leon Mucha (ninth) and Scott Cisewski (tenth) round out the top ten for co-anglers.

Mark Courts and John Hoyer captured the pro- and co-angler Angler of the Year titles. Both anglers will receive custom Lucas Oil rings and paid entries for the 2016 NWT season.