Inaugural Scheels Boundary Battle Catfish Tournament is in the books

The team of Tim Brooks and Dave Clement weighed in a two-day total of 53.2 pounds to win the inaugural Scheels Boundary Battle Catfish Tournament held Saturday and Sunday on the Red River in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.

Brooks and Clement landed $1,160 for winning the tournament. Teams could weigh in three fish each day, and 29 teams fished the tournament. Teams fished north of Riverside Dam, launching at the Whopper John Landing in Grand Forks, the first day, and south of Riverside Dam, launching at LaFave Park in East Grand Forks, the second day.

Rounding out the top five teams were:

  • Second: Darwin Lunski and Trevor Lunski, 53 pounds, $870.
  • Third: Jamie Gudajtes and Dustin Lunski, 51.6 pounds, $725; the pair also won $1,000 for heaviest weight (34.2 pounds) on the first day of the tournament.
  • Fourth: Brian Rud and Jackson Rud, 49.6 pounds, $435; they also won $1,000 for heaviest weight (32.4 pounds) on the second day of the tournament.
  • Fifth: Riley Gregoire and Tony Sirek, 48 pounds, $290.

Winning $100 Scheels gift cards for placing sixth and seventh were Dana Conners and Dick Hinrichsen with 46.4 pounds; and Andrew Vigan and Jared Kovar with 45.2 pounds.

Teams also competed for big fish honors each day. Daily winners were:

  • Day one: Tim Brooks and Dave Clement, 18 pounds, $290.
  • Day two: Brian Rud and Jackson Rud, 18.2 pounds, $290.

Catfish from Manitoba tagging study showing up in GF again

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.

Brad Dokken caught this tagged catfish Saturday afternoon on the Red River downstream from Riverside Dam. The fish had been tagged  May 25, 2013, near Selkirk, Man.

Brad Dokken caught this tagged catfish Saturday afternoon on the Red River downstream from Riverside Dam. The fish had been tagged May 25, 2013, near Selkirk, Man.

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. …

Brad Olson (left), Grand Forks, and sons Carter and Jackson show off a tagged catfish they caught Monday night while fishing from shore upstream of Riverside Dam. It was the second tagged catfish the trio had caught in the past three days.

Brad Olson (left), Grand Forks, and sons Carter and Jackson show off a tagged catfish they caught Monday night while fishing from shore upstream of Riverside Dam. It was the second tagged catfish the trio had caught in the past three days.

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.

Otters showing up on the Red in GF

Daniel Johnson of Grand Forks sent me a photo and a video clip of river otters he has been watching from the walking bridge that crosses the Red River downstream from the Riverside Dam rapids.

Daniel Johnson of Grand Forks shared this photo of a river otter he photographed in late November along the Red River near Riverside Dam rapids in Grand Forks.

He described the encounters in an email as follows:

“The day before Thanksgiving, I was on my normal afternoon walk and as I started across the north end pedestrian bridge from the EGF side I happened to look down on the small island of ice underneath the bridge.  I thought I saw a black lab sitting in the middle of the ice eating something.  That’s what it looked like from above.  I whistled at it and it looked up and I realized from the narrow face and light colored hair on its lower mouth area it was an otter.

“It ran into the water and I watched it dive in the brown water. I stepped back and hid for a bit and it came back up on the edge of the ice looking for me. I got a few pictures and some video but it was pretty concerned about me.  This was at 4:30 p.m. the afternoon before Thanksgiving. I walked the same route the next two days and saw it again. On Sunday afternoon (Nov. 30), I had my binoculars with and watched four of them playing in the Red, about 200 to 300 yards north of the bridge, behind the old Pillsbury plant.”

This past Thursday afternoon,Johnson said he saw another otter, this time sitting on the ice along the edge of the river about 30 feet below the dam and upstream from the walking bridge. The otter was sitting on the ice eating what appeared to be a fish, Johnson writes.

“It saw me and darted around for a bit and went swimming,” Johnson said. “Fun to watch.”

I’ve also seen otters along the Red River, and they are indeed fun to watch. UND Professor Emeritus of Biology Robert Seabloom, in his book, “The Mammals of North Dakota,” writes that river otters never were abundant in North Dakota but historically were present in all of the state’s major streams. Numbers declined to the point where there were only two reports of otter sightings in the early 1960s, Seabloom writes, but river otters in recent years have become more abundant.

“There have been numerous reports of river otters from the Red, Sheyenne, Missouri and Souris rivers and nearby wetlands,” Seabloom writes in his book. “Of these, most have been since the year 2000.”