Q. Why do channel catfish in the Red River grow larger than channel cats in other parts of the country?
A. There are a combination of reasons, but the biggest reason, I believe, is that channel catfish in the Red River aren’t kept by anglers nearly to the extent they are in other parts of the country.
Channel catfish in many states are “the” fish of choice. Not so on the Red River. People keep a few catfish, no doubt, but by and large, catfish on the Red are a catch-and-release species.
According to the Red River Angler’s Guide, published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, catfish in the Red grow slow, but they live a long time and can weigh more than 30 pounds.
Catfish regulations on Manitoba’s portion of the Red River are even more restrictive. Catfish longer than 60 centimeters — about 23½ inches — cannot be kept, and anglers with a conservation license can keep only one catfish. A limit of four channel catfish is allowed under a regular license, but the Manitoba side of the Red basically is a catch-and-release fishery.
Such progressive regulations have helped ensure the Red River — especially downstream from the St. Andrews Lock and Dam in Lockport, Man. — remains the “Mecca” of channel catfish in North America.
The other factor, of course, is the Red River’s rich and diverse forage base. Channel catfish on the Red have an extensive menu that includes everything from goldeyes to crayfish and bottom-dwelling bugs.
Ironically, perhaps, the Red River didn’t produce the North Dakota state record channel catfish. That honor goes to tiny Moon Lake in Barnes County, which produced a 42-pound, 1-ounce behemoth in July 2009. Game and Fish stocked the 106-acre lake a handful of times between 1986 and 1993, but the lake primarily was known for rainbow trout, which apparently provided the perfect high-fat diet to grow a giant.