Fishing for Catfish on the Red River was one of the most exciting and action packed fishing adventures I’ve experienced.  From broken hooks to broken rods, the shear strength and stamina of these fish were astonishing.

Catfish have never been on my fishing wish list.  For one, I’ve always considered them a rough fish. They are slimy, rough looking creatures with long barbels who dwell on the bottom of dirty lakes and rivers. They are related to the bullheads and carp, neither one being a species that I’ve ever had any interests in. However, when encouraged by one of our Manitoba friends to give it a shot with her, we went for it.

During an afternoon of fishing my opinion entirely changed!

From the finesse bite to the all out battle, these cats put up an adrenaline filled fight that gets any angler excited.


I live near the source of the Red River of the North, home of the world class channel cats. Although here it’s more known for it’s muddy water and pollution problems than it is for it’s excellent fishing.  

 This 550 mile northbound tributary of Lake Winnipeg can hold its own in an area dominated by world-class fisheries (think Lake of the Woods, Rainy Lake, Devils… to name a few.)  Not only is it home to some of the biggest channel cats in the world, it’s also an excellent location for a variety of game fish.

The stream itself starts near the North and South Dakota border and slowly makes its way to “Big Windy”.  However, before it gets there, it not only crosses international borders but it also goes through the Lockport Dam. Which is now a “code name” for people who want to experience some of the best channel cat fishing in North America. This dam is known for it’s abundance of huge catfish and people lined up to catch them.



Vaguely calling them “catfish” is actually a poor use of words, considering there is an incredible number of catfish in the world. In fact, there are over 3,000 different species of them.  Of these 3,000 different species of cats, we targeted the channel catfish.  These fish are known for their bluish tint colors, long barbels, and incredible resilience. In fact I was even told that people have caught fish that have had injuries from boat props.

Practicing my “Hannah Barron” pose. It was so much easier holding these heavy beasts over my shoulder than simply by arm.

Catfish are an aggressive, mean fish. They can grow upwards of 40” long and weigh over 30 pounds.  Not to mention, their strength is like no other. It’s no wonder they can put up such a fight.

Another interesting feature is their color. They vary greatly (something I can attest to after catching them) in shade. In fact, we caught one in nearly every color between a light olive to a dark blue.  As for the disparity? Of course environment and genetics play a part; however gender seems to be the dominant factor.  Males will be the darker blue of the two.

It’s also worth mentioning that males are known for their massive head. Check out the photo below and you’ll see a massive male we pulled up cat with a jaw dropping size head.

“There are over 3,000 different species of catfish in the world”


The best thing I ever did was make friends from the wonderful province of Manitoba.  Our neighbors to the north not only have spectacular fishing but they have spectacular fishing knowledge. It’s helped me move passed my traditional walleye endeavors and learn how to simply catch fish. Therefore it’s only fitting that they introduced me to Catfishing as well. 

I was initially astonished at how closely Catfish resembled Sturgeon fishing (which you can read all about right here). We used the same weight of rod/reel combo, the same setup, and the same presentation. The only difference? We used shrimp instead of night crawlers and salted minnows.

Here is how it worked:

  • We anchored down stream from the dam near the center of the river.  Our location wasn’t particular as people seemed to be pulling up fish all along the river.
  • Our presentation was simple.  It consisted of a circle hook on the end of a leader (a pre-made setup).  We had a 2 oz weight holding the leader to the bottom of the river. The leader was maybe 18″ in length, therefore keeping the bait right off of both the weight and the leader.   For bait we used shrimp; however others were catching and cutting up goldeneye.
  • We had three people in the boat and one person available for netting.  This ended up paying off well; considering there were numerous times when we had doubles and someone needed to be available.


We started with two rods, each in  a holder, and three people kicked back and waiting on the boat for that first sign of a bite.

We didn’t wait for long.  

Within minutes we not only had one but two fish hooked and the race was on.  One after another, we had none stop action for hours. 

Channel catfish are resilient creatures. They can take a beating like no other.  With this resilience comes incredible strength and stamina.  With 50 to 70 lb line weight; I figured we would have no problem “horsing them in”. 

Too broken leaders and a broken rod later, I couldn’t have been more wrong. These are mean, tough creatures and you or your gear will get beat up in the process.


The Red River has great cat fishing opportunities from the mouth of the river to the source.  However, as a general rule they get bigger towards the mouth.  That’s why many people congregate north of Winnipeg to chase these beastly cats.

They seem to congregate around the dam, where I assume the bait fish such as goldeneye pile up.  Many anglers will even fish for bait and cut it up for their catfish setups.

We caught numerous master anglers in a matter of hours. Master Angler catfish in Manitoba is 34″.  Something very easy to beat on the Red!


One last thing worth mentioning is you can fish from shore! Although there were plenty of boats piled in from the Lockport Dam to Selkirk, there were just as many lined up along the shore.  Therefore, if you are looking for an ultimate fishing adventure; but don’t have the luxuries that many big waters require, then this is the perfect opportunity for you.  With affordable hotels from Winnipeg to Selkirk, it’s an action – packed adventure that any angler can enjoy.


About The Author

Co-founder of Ladies of Angling. Can be found chasing walleye, pike, and the occasional sunfish. Find me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Watch me on YouTube.