Apparently, Winnipeggers aren’t the only Canadians who like making trips to Grand Forks because a number of catfish tagged along the Manitoba portion of the Red River have shown up in town in the past couple of weeks.
Manitoba launched a tagging study of channel cats on the Canadian portion of the Red River in 2012 in conjunction with the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Stephen Siddons, a Nebraska graduate student, has been coordinating the fieldwork portion of the tagging study, and we’ve been in touch several times in the past couple of years about reports of tagged fish showing up in Grand Forks.
More than 9,000 catfish have been tagged since the study was launched, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is on track to tag about 2,000 more this summer along the U.S. portion of the river as part of the same project.
Interestingly, the tag returns this spring started trickling in at the same time the river came up. Catfish obviously aren’t afraid to swim against the current, which I’d assume would be a bit like riding a bicycle into a 40 mph wind. Try battling one sometime, and you’ll understand why that’s not a problem; cats are mean, strong fish.
The timing of the upstream migration also suggests catfish will cross major barriers such as the St. Andrews Lock and Dam in Lockport, Man., and the Drayton (N.D.) Dam when they can.
I received the first tag report of the season from Grand Forks catfish guide Brad Durick, who reported catching one May 27 on the river downstream from Riverside Dam. Siddons said that fish was tagged June 22, 2013, at the Lockport Dam.
Another return came last week from Lucas Bye of East Grand Forks. The fish was a behemoth, well over 20 pounds, and also came from the Red River downstream of Lockport.
This past Saturday afternoon, I caught one downstream from Riverside Dam. The fish measured 33 inches, the same length it measured when it was tagged May 25, 2013, on the Red near Sugar Island downstream from Selkirk, Man., which is another dozen or more river miles past Lockport. The fish weighed slightly more than 17 pounds when it was tagged, Siddons said, and while I didn’t weigh the fish, it certainly hadn’t lost any weight during its travels.
Where the fish spent the past two years is anyone’s guess, but it was in Grand Forks on Saturday afternoon, more than 300 river miles from where it was tagged.
“Nice job!” Siddons wrote in response to my email reporting the tag. “Y’all must be into the fish this spring.”
Indeed we are. …
The sweepstakes winner, though, goes to Brad Olson of Grand Forks, who has caught two tagged catfish since Saturday while fishing from shore with his boys, Carter and Jackson. The trio caught the first fish Saturday afternoon and the second Monday evening.
Both fish were tagged below the Lockport Dam, the first in 2013 and the second last August. And since Olson was fishing upstream of Riverside Dam, that means the cats actually had to cross three dams to get to the stretch of river where he caught them.
No wonder, then, he went out and bought a lottery ticket Tuesday.
How long the tagged catfish bonanza continues remains to be seen, but it’s obvious an increase in flows and river levels are triggering factors. The long, narrow tags are inserted just behind the dorsal fin and have both a tag number and a toll-free telephone number to contact. Siddons is quick to respond to the tag reports, and the findings are providing some fascinating insights into the travels of Red River catfish.
Be sure to write down the tag number, the length of the fish, the general area it was caught and whether the cat was kept or released.
Siddons said he’s received tag returns from as far away as the Sheyenne River in North Dakota and the Red Lake River in Minnesota. He also has gotten the occasional report of a tagged catfish being caught multiple times, but it’s rare.
The Minnesota DNR was supposed to have started its once-every-five-year full Red River assessment this week, but high water forced them to postpone the fieldwork until conditions improve. It will be interesting to see how many fish their sampling gear catches, and where the catfish they tag end up.