Talk to any Manitoban about the term ‘fishing vacation’ and automatically thoughts of deep sea fishing in the warm Caribbean or maybe a fly-in trip to a remote resort somewhere in Canada’s pristine northern wilderness comes to mind. Every summer there are many anglers from places throughout the United States, other parts of Canada, and even from Europe who pack up and leave home to embark on one of these such ‘fishing vacations’. Their destination? The lower Red River from Lockport to Selkirk. Like many of you reading this now, I was at first surprised that someone, out of all of the places, would plan an angling holiday getaway to these relatively mundane yet nevertheless wonderful municipalities. The answer is that they come here to target a species that we here locals truly take for granted, that being the mighty Channel Catfish.
Species belonging to the catfish family can be found throughout the world. In the Philippines these would include fish called Hito and Dalag. The catfish species we have swimming in Manitoba waters along with the Channels are the often maligned Brown Bullhead and even smaller species the Stonecat. Anyone who has fished our surrounding rivers and waterways will undoubtedly have come across any three of these species attached to their line at some point. Channel catfish exist in other places, but what makes our local population so distinctive is the fact that they are so much larger and in such comparatively absurd abundance. For many visiting fisherman, our waters provide the best opportunity to catch a true fish of a lifetime.
The minimum length requirement for a ‘Cat’ to qualify to be a Manitoba Master Angler trophy fish is 34”. Catching those sized fish on the Lower Red is the closest thing to a sure thing as there can be for a trophy hunter. A Master Angler is a great accomplishment but these fish are fun to catch no matter what the size. Channel Cats are one of the strongest freshwater fish around and any medium to extra large specimen (25” to 39”) will most definitely give you a workout.
While the Red River at Lockport to Selkirk gets the most attention from visiting and local catfish anglers alike, there are trophy fish swimming all throughout the Red until well south of Winnipeg. The entire Assiniboine and the latter portion of the Seine River in the city also have healthy populations of supersized cats. I have caught monsters fishing from shore at places like Kildonan Park, The Forks, and the end of Ferry Road.
To target one of these monsters, an angler should have equipment and tackle strong enough to match the brute force that these fish can exhibit. Incidental catches on pickerel rigs or jigs does happen but purposely using light gear to go after cats causes unnecessary stress on the animal as a ‘fight’ can go on for as long as half an hour or more in some cases especially when battling in stronger river current. Thicker rods that are designed for cats or shore-fishing for greenbacks come in all price ranges and are readily available for sale in local stores. Recommended fishing line strength is anything upwards of 25 lbs. Pre-made catfish rigs can be purchased at any tackle shop or you can make your own. A simple rig that I make myself consists of a 5/0 circle hook, 18” of 25 lb or stronger monofilament, a size 1/0 barrel swivel, and a 2oz flat lead sinker. A Google search can show you instructions on what knots to use and advantages to various styles of rigs and hooks.
As for bait, anything that gives off a strong scent will work. The most popular choice by far is either cut pieces of sucker or goldeye or whole shrimp. I’ve found that store bought packaged baits are not as effective and anglers would be better off using chicken hearts or pieces of red meat instead. I can recall times when I was younger when I would steal a small zip-loc of my dad’s BBQ babad (marinade) and use that as bait with great success.
A reminder that the Manitoba regulation for Channel Catfish is a possession limit of 1 for Conservation License holders and 4 for a Regular License. Also, any catfish over 24” (60cm) must be released. Catfishing can get very addictive and doesn’t take too much of a time or cost commitment as world class prime waters are practically in our backyard. Give it a try this summer and send me your trophy catfish pictures.
My favourite way to prepare white bass. The result is very similar to a tilapia cooked the same way.
- 1 small tomato, diced
- 1 small red onion, diced
- Thumb sized piece of ginger, sliced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tbsp Calamansi juice
Dress fish by scaling, gutting, and trimming fins. The scales on white bass can be easily removed by your fingers. When cooking whole fish I wash it thoroughly with a vinegar and salt solution first and then water to remove any remaining fish slime. Make a couple diagonal slices into each side of the fish and then rub with salt.
Prepare stuffing by combining tomatoes, onion, and ginger in a bowl. Add calamansi juice and salt and pepper to taste. Stuff mixture into the fish’s cavity then wrap the fish in a banana leaf or aluminum foil making sure to fold up or close the ends.
Cook fish on gas or charcoal grill for approximately 10 minutes on each side. Serve with desired dipping sauce. My favourite is toyo (soy sauce) with calamansi juice and sliced chillies.