Think Northwoods fishing and walleye, muskie, and smallmouth bass come to mind -- unless you're
John Dickelman. His first thought is about catfish,
big channel catfish -- trophy catfish up to 20 pounds and larger!
The Red River flows through Dickelman's backyard
in Moorhead, Minn. Captain Dickelman's
fishing clients park in his driveway, walk down to the dock and motor off on
his pontoon boat in search of some big whiskered brutes.
Dickelman was once like every other angler in the
Fargo/Moorhead area. He would drive past the Red River
on his way to a lake in search of walleyes. But that changed when he found
himself boat-less for a bit. A shore angler, Dickelman
started to give the Red a try.
"We'd drive 50 miles to a lake to
catch four or five walleyes," said Dickelman, who is
37. "But five minutes from home, we can catch 25- to 30 catfish a day. A lot of
locals think it's a dirty river and it is just not utilized. It's full of fish
and people drive right over it."
In addition to accessibility, Dickelman likes
catfish because they're aggressive.
"They're strong and their fight is awesome," he said.
Another plus: tackle is simple.
"A 2- to 6-ounce slip weight and a No. 5 circle hook are all you need. Anybody
can do it. It's a matter of knowing where to find them," he said.
Red River: Prime For Channel Cats
The Minnesota DNR says the Red River from Fargo/Moorhead north to Lake Winnipeg
"is prime catfish territory." Channels there live up to 24 years and
reach more than 30 pounds on a menu of bottom-dwelling insects, snails,
crayfish, minnows, and young fish.
Dickelman admits some people may not like the Red
because it is murky. But biologists from the Minnesota DNR say that the murky
water assists in the survival of young of the year catfish because they are
able to avoid sight-feeding predators. At the same time, according to the
MDNR, water-quality of the Red is considered high. Evidence lies in the fact a
huge mayfly hatch takes place every summer and that just would not happen if
the water was of poor quality, the biologists say. Dickelman
says the hatch brings on some of the best catfishing
of the year.
The spawn happens in the river when the water is around 75- to 80 degrees.
MDNR says to look for the spawners near hollow logs,
log jams and undercut banks. Dickelman narrows his
search even more no matter what time of the year it is. Catfish, like other
river species, look for places to avoid the main current, but stay close so
they don't have to work so hard to find food that floats within range. Yes,
holes will produce fish, he said, but the fish tend to be on the smaller side
and holes can be fickle. Fish can be there one day and gone the next. The log
jams and brush piles are far more predictable locations to find big cats.
"They can lay behind the debris and the food comes to them," Dickelman said.
The primary question Dickelman faces each day is, which brush piles or log jams are likely to hold fish? The Red
River is full of them. Though the Red is prone to flooding in
spring, most of the woody cover is visible above the surface. That's especially
true since the river has been down several feet recently. The piles that are
submerged give themselves away by creating visible current changes above them.
In higher water, he looks for woody cover on the inside of river bends where
current slows. Fishing is harder in low water when catfish can move at their
pleasure without burning too much energy.
"I'll flip flop, faster water,
slower water, to find where they are that day," he said.
Another tactical change in low water -- he gives spots more time before
moving because fish are lazier. The normal wait time is about 15 minutes, but
if there's no fish, he moves. Low water may stretch the wait up to 30
"They can eat when they want," he said.
Cold weather will send them deeper for a while. Night fishing doesn't seem
worth the bother. Daytime fishing produces just as well, perhaps because the
murky water keeps light penetration to a minimum anyway so the fish don't
notice much difference whether the sun is up or not.
Dickelman anchors the 20-foot pontoon boat he uses
above the wood and casts downstream to it so the scent from his bait drifts
into the cover and attracts fish. When the cover stretches from deep water to
shallow, Dickelman makes sure that lines are set at
various depths, deep, mid-range and nearer shore.
Bait?: Frogs, Cut Bait
The standard baits on the river are frogs and cut bait. Many anglers use gold
eyes. Dickelman uses cut suckers on a No. 5 circle hook.
He almost never has a fish swallow a bait. Stink baits
work, but they attract smaller fish and the small treble hooks get taken too
deep too often.
The rods range from 7- to 8 feet long. These longer rods allow him to cover
more water from a stationary position. He uses good-quality baitcasting
reels because lesser-quality equipment won't stand up to the
His main line consists of 30-pound monofilament with a 20-pound-test leader.
His weights are slip sinkers that range from 2- to 6 ounces depending on the
speed of the current.
Once in place with the right bait and gear, it's a matter of casting
downstream toward the wood, putting the rods in the rod holders and waiting. A
bite is signaled by a rod loading up. Once they do, a
small sweep upward and the hook is in.
Most people fish the river from boats.
"Shore fishing is tough," Dickelman said. "The
current will blow your line back."
But the Red River can be hard to navigate
because of all the trees and submerged concrete. He advised to take your
"I see people going all out on plane. They're crazy," he said.
Bigger fish are released unharmed. But one reason Dickelman
loves catfish is the smaller ones taste great when they're freshly cut. Keep
recipes as simple as the tactics that brought them to the table in the first
place. He soaks fillets in salt water for 24 hours before using a 50/50 mixture
of Shore Lunch brand breading (regular and Cajun and adding lemon pepper and
Try taking a break from walleye, muskies and smallies. Give catfish a try. They'll have you seeing red,
the Red River, that is.
Contact Dickelman at Catfishing with John Dickelman http://jkcats.com or phone 701-261-9216.