Austin Engen had big plans for the $12 his dad, Charlie, and fishing partner, Aaron Kroetsch, landed Wednesday evening for placing third in the Red River Valley Catfish Club’s second league night of the season on the Red River.
The younger Engen, 12, joins his dad and Kroetsch on the river for most league events and even reeled in one of their two fish Wednesday night. The 5.8-pound catfish, along with an 11.8-pound catfish, earned the boat a top three finish with 17.6 pounds.
“He’s the anchor man, and we put him in the rotation tonight,” Charlie Engen, Grand Forks, said of his son.
Now, about that $12…
“We’ll put it in the bait fund — how does that sound?” the elder Engen said, trying — in the way good dads always do — to be diplomatic.
“Bait fund? I don’t have a bait fund,” his son replied. “I need $12.”
And so it went Wednesday night in East Grand Forks, where fishermen gathered in 12 boats for a few hours of fun, camaraderie and friendly competition on the Red River.
High stakes fishing it’s not, but for the regulars in the Wednesday night catfish league, the event offers a perfect excuse to get out on the Red River.
And there’s always room for more, league members say.
“What we try to do first and foremost is promote the fishery,” said Rob Raymond, president of the Red River Valley Catfish Club. “A lot of people don’t realize what a gem the Red River is.
“It’s a night for guys to get out, have some fun and maybe get lucky and win a little bit of money at the end of the night.”
Bragging rights, of course, are a given.
On the rebound
Now in its 15th season, the Red River Catfish League is in the middle of a comeback, of sorts, as Raymond and other club members seek to get new anglers involved.
In the early years, the league regularly drew 30 boats — the maximum allowed — but interest dwindled to the point where organizers were lucky to see six boats a week.
In an effort to boost membership and participation, the club held an open house May 4 for prospective anglers to learn more about the league. The effort seems to be paying off, and organizers say they expect to have 15 boats competing within the next few weeks.
“If we can get 15 boats a night, I’ll be happy as heck,” Raymond said.
Joining the catfish club costs $20 annually, and there’s a $5 per angler entry fee each league night. Boats can have more than two people onboard, but only two form the team, and each boat can have no more than four lines in the water. Teams can bring two catfish to the scales — all fish are released — and for every $5 the club receives in entry fees, it pays back $4 in winnings each Wednesday night, Raymond said.
League nights, which run from 6 to 9 p.m., continue through July 20 and alternate between the Whopper John (North) Landing in Grand Forks and the LaFave Park boat ramp in East Grand Forks.
“We try to fish about three months,” Raymond said. “It’s always kind of a crapshoot in the spring because you never know what the river conditions and levels are going to be like.”
So far this year, at least, high water hasn’t been an issue.
As an incentive for anglers, the club this year resurrected the optional “Fat Cat” and “Stray Cat” contests. Anglers who enter the Fat Cat contest pay an extra $30 in hopes of weighing the biggest catfish of the season in the winner-takes-all competition. Stray Cat anglers throw in $40 each and pick their top five league-night weights. The team with the heaviest weight at the end of the season then wins the pot of money.
New this year is an optional “Mystery Partner” contest Raymond says has been well-received. And even though the league is two weeks into the season, it’s not too late to put those catfish skills to the test, he says.
“You can join anytime you want,” Raymond said. “We’ve had guys show up the last two weeks of the season, put their extra money down for the Fat Cat and take home all of the money, which can be $300 or $400, so it’s a nice little bonus.”
Raymond said club members also are happy to show new or prospective members the ropes of fishing the Red in an effort to alleviate any fears newbies might have.
“Maybe there’s somebody with a boat sitting in the driveway, and they’re afraid to take it out because they’ve heard all the horror stories about the Red–which I’ve never once witnessed myself,” Raymond said. “But if they want to come out with us and maybe get the confidence to take their own boat out, or if they want to take a boat out, we’d be more than happy to throw a guy in with them that’s experienced on the river here and show them the ropes.”
Until they win, at least.
“It’s funny because the guys when you’re new, they’ll help you as much as they want until you win,” Raymond said. “Win your first night, and then you don’t get any more help.”
On the water
Wednesday night, Raymond joined Mick Messelt of East Grand Forks in Messelt’s fancy new fishing machine, a 20-foot Stratos powered by a 250-horse Mercury and loaded with enough gizmos to dazzle the senses.
On paper, at least, the catfish shouldn’t have had a chance. Two stops into the evening, though, the score was catfish 2, Raymond and Messelt 0.
That would change on the third stop, where Messelt reeled in a catfish that weighed 9.6 pounds. He also landed a smaller cat they decided to release.
That can be a tough decision when only two fish can be weighed.
“There have been many nights where a 6-pounder would have won it, and you’re just kicking yourself for not bringing it in,” Messelt said.
Fishing overall was slow, but the small catfish wouldn’t have been enough to get Raymond and Messelt into the top three, the cutoff for prize winnings Wednesday night.
The Engen-Kroetsch crew, meanwhile, lost a big fish at the boat that would have given winners Phil Jeffery and Jason Kalt a run for their money.
The winners weighed in two catfish for 28.4 pounds.
“I had the net on his nose,” Charlie Engen said, adding the big cat likely weighed 18 or 19 pounds. “Nice fish.”
Engen says the potential for fish like that got him hooked on the Red River last year–and keep him coming back.
“It’s a blast–15 minutes from my house, and I can be on the river,” he said.
Even in city limits, it’s a different world. Wednesday night offered sightings of deer, beavers and a brilliant May sunset.
“Perfect night,” Engen said.
Now, about that $12…
For more information, contact Rob Raymond at (218) 791-3762 or check out the catfish club’s website at rrvcatfish.com.
Upcoming league nights
Here’s a look at remaining nights in the Red River Valley Catfish Club’s Wednesday night catfish league. Registration begins at 5 p.m., and fishing runs from 6 to 9 p.m. More info: Rob Raymond, (218) 791-3762 or online at rrvcatfish.com.
- May 25: North Landing.
- June 1: LaFave Park.
- June 8: North Landing.
- June 15: LaFave Park.
- June 22: Off-week.
- June 29: North Landing.
- July 6: LaFave Park.
- July 13: North Landing.
- July 20: LaFave Park.
- Aug. 13: Year end tournament, North Landing; $100 entry fee; need not be a member.