Cats Incredible revisited

Another Cats Incredible is in the books, and by all accounts, a good time was had by all. The weather mostly cooperated, river levels were ideal and some very respectable fish were brought to the scales.

Cats logoWinning the tournament and the top prize of $3,800 was the team of Pat Carter, Elk Point, S.D., and Travis Carter of Fargo, who weighed in their five-fish limit both days for a total weight of 79.02 pounds. The Carters also finished first in 2006 and 2008.

Teams could weigh in five fish daily, only two of which could exceed 24 inches.

The tournament paid cash prizes down to 15th place. Rounding out the top 15 according to the weigh slip calculations posted on the East Grand Forks firefighters’ website were:

Second: Rob Horken and Greg Stennes, East Grand Forks, 77.76 pounds, $2,280.

Third: Aaron Johnson and Nathan Mytych, Grand Forks, 76.82 pounds, $1,520.

Fourth: Darin Lunski and Trever Lunski, Grand Forks, 76.01 pounds, $1,140.

Fifth: John Sonstegard and Buck Nordlof, Baudette, Minn., 72.45 pounds, $760.

Sixth: Dustin and Brandon Lunski, Grand Forks, 71.49 pounds, $532.

Seventh: Curt Helgeson, Crookston, and Ryan Ova, Reynolds, N.D., 71.12 pounds, $494.

Eighth: Brian and Jackson Rud, Grand Forks, 69.09 pounds, $456.

Ninth: Justin Kahl and Troy Weber, East Grand Forks, 68.59 pounds, $418.

10th: Ray Lee, Grand Forks, and Eric Thompson, East Grand Forks, 63 pounds, $380.

11th: Brian and Jaelyn Nelson, East Grand Forks, 62.93 pounds, $327.

12th: William Murray and Jennifer Brendon, East Grand Forks, 60.01 pounds, $304.

13th: Christian Meland, Grand Forks, and Pablo Avendano, Minneapolis, 57.87 pounds, $281.

14th: Jimmy Yowell, Chillichothe, Mo., and Larry Yowell, Kirksville, Mo., 57.77 pounds, $243.

15th: Phillip Jeffrey, East Grand Forks, and Jason (no last name listed), Warren, Minn., 57.27 pounds, $175.

Cats Incredible was open to 125 two-person teams, and 95 teams fished the tournament. Anglers weighed in 570 catfish — 291 on Saturday and 279 on Sunday — for a total weight of 4,002.34 pounds and an average weight of 7.02 pounds per fish. A couple of cats exceeding  20 pounds were brought to the scales Sunday.

By comparison, 111 teams fished last year’s tournament, weighing in 596 fish for a total weight of 4,563.51 pounds and an average weight of 7.63 pounds per fish.

The full listing of tournament teams and their finishes dating back to 2010 are available on the East Grand Forks firefighters’ website at iaff3423.org. Click the Cats Incredible link at the top of the page.

Catching catfish – and tagging catfish

I had a chance to spend a few hours on the Red River near Selkirk, Man., on Monday afternoon with Mark Pegg, a fish ecologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who is faculty adviser for a channel catfish study underway on the Canadian portion of Red River.

Mark Pegg, a professor and fish ecologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, holds a hefty channel cat after tagging it Monday on the Red River near Selkirk, Man. (Brad Dokken photo)

Mark Pegg, a professor and fish ecologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, holds a hefty channel cat after tagging it Monday on the Red River near Selkirk, Man. (Brad Dokken photo)

Manitoba and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are coordinating the study in cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

Pegg, who is spending the summer in Manitoba helping to tag channel catfish for the study, tied up to our boat Monday afternoon while a couple of friends and I were fishing. Despite the sweltering heat, the catfish were surprisingly cooperative, and 15 catfish now sport the orange-colored tags behind the dorsal fins as a result of our time with Pegg.

Under Pegg's guidance, Brad Durick (left) of Grand Forks tags a channel catfish Monday on the Red River near Selkirk, Man. (Brad Dokken photo)

Under Pegg’s guidance, Brad Durick (left) of Grand Forks tags a channel catfish Monday on the Red River near Selkirk, Man. (Brad Dokken photo)

He even let Grand Forks catfish guide Brad Durick, who joined me on the trek north, tag several cats. Durick has documented nearly a dozen of the catfish tagged in Manitoba after catching the fish here in Grand Forks. That means the catfish have traveled upwards of 300 river miles from where they were tagged.

Durick and Pegg had corresponded by email about the study and our planned trip north, so the meeting wasn’t coincidental. Durick also caught one of the tagged Manitoba fish while we visited with Pegg. He probably should have bought a lottery ticket that day.

Since launching the study in 2012, Pegg says he and a handful of Nebraska students working on the project have tagged some 13,000 channel catfish along the Manitoba portion of the Red from the mouth near Lake Winnipeg to the border at Emerson, Man. DNR fisheries crews also tagged about 500 catfish on the U.S. portion of the Red this summer as part of the same study Pegg is advising.

An Iowa native, Pegg says the size and quality of the Red River’s channel cats has spoiled him for fishing catfish anywhere else.

Pegg says plans also are in the works to install transmitters in a small sample of the Canadian catfish — perhaps 12 to 15 to start with — in an effort to learn even more about where they travel. The Minnesota DNR coordinated a similar catfish telemetry study in the late 1990s, but this will be the first project since then looking at movements of fish in the lower Red River.

I’ll have an update on the tagging study and our time on the water with Pegg in Sunday’s Northland Outdoors section.

Back from Alaska — jet lag and all

Limited Internet access and problems with the Area Voices website prevented me from posting as many blog entries as I’d planned during my recent trip to Alaska, but I’m back in the flatlands, mildly jet-lagged but invigorated from the epic 10-day adventure I was fortunate enough to experience.

Our last day on the water was Saturday, and the four of us — Bob Jensen and Jerry Stanislowski of Grand Forks, Keith Omlie of Lankin, N.D., and myself —  finished the trip in style. Jensen, a veteran Alaska fisherman who organized the adventure and captained the “C Dragon,” our rented 25-foot boat, for the duration of our stay, put us on a veritable halibut mother lode.

With calm seas for the second day in a row, Jensen steered us some 50 miles from our home base in Seward, Alaska, and the bite was on as soon as we dropped our baits some 200 feet below.

I didn’t keep count, but by some estimates, we landed 100 halibut up to about 30 pounds in a couple of hours. That’s relatively small by halibut standards — the biggest fish are farther offshore than we dared venture — but the fish gave us everything we could handle just the same.

Anyone who says fishing isn’t exercise has never fished halibut.

“I’ve never been so tired from reeling in fish that I just wanted to quit,” Omlie said later.

We rarely were off the water before 9 p.m., but Saturday, we headed for port early to begin cleaning up the boat and preparing for the 125-mile drive north to Anchorage on Sunday.

We got back to Anchorage about 1 p.m. Sunday, and disaster was averted when a wheel bearing went out on the boat trailer just a couple of blocks from the house of Jensen’s older brother, Jim. Bob Jensen, who was driving the 30-foot RV that towed the boat, limped the rig the last few blocks, and Stanislowski, a mechanic by trade, was called on to put his skills to work yet again. Luckily, auto parts stores were open, and he was able round up the replacement parts needed to get the trailer back in commission. If the bearing had gone out somewhere along the mountainous Seward Highway, we would have faced a lengthy delay or perhaps lost a wheel, which could have been disastrous.

Our Monday flights from Anchorage to Minneapolis and from Minneapolis to Fargo were right on schedule, and we landed at Hector Airport shortly before midnight. The salmon and halibut we brought home, along with the photos, videos and countless stories we accumulated along the way, will serve as reminders of our Great Alaska Adventure for a long time to come.

Sunday, I’m planning a photo page featuring some of the photographs I took during the trip, and I’ll follow that up with stories from the adventure July 26. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here are some more photos from a trip that flew by:

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Jerry Stanislowski of Grand Forks earned bragging rights for the trip with this 60-or-so-pound halibut.

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A mountain goat effortlessly walks along a cliff that towered above the Pacific Ocean near Seward, Alaska.

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A fishing boat is dwarfed by snow-capped mountains and glacial ice Saturday afternoon on the Pacific Ocean near Seward, Alaska.

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Bob Jensen of Grand Forks shows off a black rockfish he caught Saturday afternoon on the Pacific Ocean, the last day of a 10-day fishing trip to Seward, Alaska.

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Wilderness camping it’s not, but the campground in Seward, Alaska served up plenty of scenery for an evening meal of fried halibut, rockfish and — yes — even veggies.

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Safely back in Anchorage — bad wheel bearing and all — Sunday afternoon at the home of Jim Jensen, older brother of Bob Jensen, Grand Forks. Thanks to the mechanical savvy of Jerry Stanislowski of Grand Forks, the wheel bearing — which went out just a few blocks from Jim Jensen’s house — was replaced a short time later. Bob Jensen, a veteran Alaska fisherman, organized the trip and drove the RV that served as home for the 10-day adventure.