Riege: Summertime Catfishin’ on the Red

Published 8:13 pm Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Summertime and the livin’ is easy, Catfish are jumpin’… Hit it! Hit it! I heard from the helm of the Cat’illac , hit it came the call from Terry Belhumeur captain and owner of Red River Cats.

I quickly jumped from my chair pointed the rod tip at the striking channel cat and then jerked up to “set the hook.” That was the easy part now I had a battle on my hands. The channel cat decided that she was going to go to the bottom and maybe entangle my line into the many rocks, or if that didn’t work she was heading out into the current to free herself from the hook. Needless to say, it was like fighting a deep sea marlin, with a rod buried in my stomach and constantly pumping the rod to gain back some line that she stripped from the reel. In about 10 minutes the fish rolled on the surface, Terry netted her and removed the hook and with a couple quick pictures she was back in the water to fight another day.

Growing up in Minnesota, I have always caught catfish. I have caught channel catfish and flathead catfish, but I have never really targeted them until Ginny and I ventured to Selkirk, Manitoba where Terry Belhumer operates a guide service on the Red River.

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“The catfish is at the top of the food chain in freshwater fish”, said Terry. “They eat what they want and when they want, they are superior to all other game fish”, Terry went onto exclaim. Did you know that a channel catfish’s entire body is made up of sensory cells? Terry explained, if a channel cat brushes up to something with its tail or side they actually can taste it, before it would be investigated by the mouth. If anyone would like to debate the issue that the channel cat isn’t at the top let me know. If you want a fight they will give you one. If you want them to give you an ariel tail walk they will give it to you. If you want a trophy cat you have come to the right place here on the Red.

The channel catfish is for the most part a river fish. They are sleek with a longer body and powerful forked tail. Any one that has handled cats knows that they have large spines that protrude from the pelvic and dorsal fins. These fins serve primarily as a defense device. As a kid and guide I was stuck by a few of these spines and I know that if they stick me again I will swell up from being “horned.” Therefore, Terry showed my how to handle a big cat like these and I really learned a great deal about these magnificent trophies.

A channel cat’s diet is varied, but available forage dictates to a large extent what makes up the bulk of their diet. The Red River has one particular fish that the channel cats seem to love and that is a goldeye. The key to catching these cats in the summertime is fishing for the goldeyes first and using them as cut bait for the cats.

Terry showed Ginny, my wife and me, how he keeps his goldeye frozen and then cuts them while on deck of his “Tripletoon” boat. He uses a large surf casting rod with a large level wind reel (a little on the same order as an ocean reel). He spools up with from 20 to 30 lb. Trilene Big Cat Line. He then will slide on a slip sinker from 2 to 3 ounces to make a leader of about three feet by attaching a barrel swivel. To the end of the line Terry attaches a large Eagle Claw-Wide Bend 2/0 size and of course the cut bait and casts it out ready for the strike.

We found that the location of the channel cat were in two distinct spots on the Red River. The spot we started with was a deep river channel or hole. Some of these were located on bends in the river between Lockport and Selkirk. The other area was right below the dam at Lockport. This dam is not like the dams on the Mississippi with large scour holes below the dam. Instead the dam at Lockport is built on top of a rapids in the Red River. There is some scouring but mostly this area has some very large rocks in it. One special technique that Terry uses is to slide up to the dam and anchor, then cast the baits up into the rocks snagging them, only to attract and allow the cats to pull them off when they are feeding.

The channel cat bite is more of a mouthing action and once the cat is satisfied that it is good food it will swallow the offering. Most anglers miss the hook set because the cat may not be as aggressive and smash the bait. Instead the cat will tap the bait or move it around “mouthing it.” That is the time to drop the bait back to the cat and hit them with a quick hook set. Otherwise you might reel in your bait and find it crushed but not taken.

The day that we spent with Terry Belhumer on his boat was a beautiful sunny day with a slight breeze, temperatures in the high 70’s and the livin’ was easy. The catfish were jumpin’ and Ginny made Master Angler with a 34” channel cat. Every time I am on the water and the livin’ is easy with that same warm breeze I still hear Terry shouting Hit It! Hit It! For more information about summer catfishing or trophy walleyes in the fall contact him at www.redrivercats.com or email him directly www.hammock101@yahoo.ca