by Daniel Kiazyk
Of all the cat fisheries in North America few have received the number of reviews and copy that the Red River at Lockport Manitoba has received. There are, however, other opportunities to capitalize on some other excellent cattin' in the Keystone province. The problem is that the Cinderalla of Catfishin has garnered all the attention the past few years and this need not be the case. There are other excellent catfishing opportunities in the province if we can just get out from the spell of Lockport and the lower Red.
The Lake Manitoba/Assiniboine River diversion near Portage La Prairie has a reputation for producing some excellent channel cats. The prime location to angle is just below the locks which allow water management to back water up on the Assiniboine in order to send it up a floodway towards lake Manitoba. This area is very similar in its looks to that of lockport. Boating is possible but most anglers just fish from shore doing toe to toe combat with some ornery critters. Shorter leads on rigs are required to avoid to many snags In some instances we have tied break away connections so as to save some hardware. Cut bait reigns supreme, but other baits do catch fish. Goldeye are present and if caught serve as an excellent bait when cut into two to three inch steaks. At the beginning of the season we will use sucker meat and it seams to out produce all other baits.
The First street dam in Brandon is another fishery that does produce the odd brute. The bite starts early on in the season and slowly declines as the summer progresses. This is a heavily fished area and is very "snaggy" (large amounts of concrete, re-bar and wood). A "break away" style of weighted rig works quite well here. Float rigs are also shine in the evening. Cut sucker, gold eye work very well and bunches of worm also attract the cats. Small boats and belly boats can approach this water control device (a weir used to maintain water depth above it for other uses). There are a series of larger deeper holes that exist between this structure and a riffle run near the coal hydro-electric generating station. These holes hold some excellent channels but are at best very difficult to access.
One interesting side note that might be of interest to Cat fishermen is that Sturgeon have been re-introduced into this section of the Assiniboine river. If you are angling in this area it is the law that all sturgeon be released if caught (Sturgeon have been caught up to 30 inches in this area – a really good sign.
This river in general is shallower than the Red. Catfish can be found where there are a series of holes and riffle/run sections of river attached to one another. The trick to angling in these areas is to focus on particular parts of the riffle/run structures of the river at different times of the calendar year. The riffle/run sections will produce fish in the spring of the year; however as the year progresses, the fish will retreat to the related deeper holes. Active fish will situate themselves at the head of the hole/picking up anything that washes into their proximity). Access to many of these areas is limited by long stretches of un-navigable water. Moreover, there are often few if any roads, which are near the aforementioned areas. Best bet: you have to know someone who knows of such a spot. An inflatable boat with a small outboard also allows the angler to come into contact with some excellent cats.
Red River Red River (Lower: US/Canada border to St. Andrews). This section of the Red River has a healthy population of cats, but is underutilized. We know cats migrate through this section by tracking studies that have been done over the years – they have moved from Lake Winnipeg all the way into the U.S. We also know fish spend their whole lives in this section reaching weights of over 30 lbs. In the US, pros like Backwater Eddy are able to offer his fishing service exploiting these "still" waters (that's not to say they aren't fishing dams and other water control structures on the us side but as to my knowledge of them that another thing you're better off talking with Eddy he's the guru down there!). It follows from all of this that this section of the Red holds excellent catfish. Tactics will be slower and will require a bit more movement from hole to hole. In this latter respect, series of holes in proximity to each other with obstructions will be better areas to fish. Cut bait and bottom oriented rigging generally shines. The City of Winnipeg by chance has some of this good structure, holding in its environs a fair number of channels. Anglers who are mobile and focus on larger holes –complexes ( for lack of a better means to describe a series of interconnected holes) have regular success. Don't expect to encounter extraordinary numbers on a regular basis, but a regular kerchunk isn't out of the question.
Other channel cat fisheries exist in the province. These tend to be "wilder" and not usually fished for cats – the Blood vein, Wannipiogw and Manigotogan all hold good channel cat populations. The blood vein offers an exceptional bite, but it is the hardest to get at… A ferry will get you there and you'll have to launch and navigate a smaller river (careful!). Cats, in this context, are especially present below the water obstructions; rapids, falls. Cut bait, stink baits all work. Cats even take crank baits (when fishing for walleye you'll encounter some ten pound whiskered wonders!). These cats are comparable to cats caught elsewhere in Manitoba. The difference, however, is where you catching these cats; beautiful terrain wild and untouched Another cat fishery not generally spoken of is the Winnipeg river below Pine Falls. This fishery has on occasion produced number and size for me. The difficulty here is to locate fish on a regular basis. The outlet of the generating station creates water that is difficult (at times not very safe) to angle – nonetheless this is the most regular location for channels. Anglers have also run into good numbers further down the river but this is more of an incident than a regular occurrence. Moreover, earlier on in the fall we've had the odd "supposed walleye" fight like he was on steroids only to find out that a whiskered critter had crunched down on my crank!
Those Other "Cats"
Manitoba is not well known for its other cats – really the only other catfish that fits this description the brown bullhead. These little critters inhabit all of the waters where we find channels and many other waters throughout the province. Lake Manitoba has healthy populations of good sized bullheads. The Whitemud is an example of a river that is well known for these ravenous members of the Icthoyd family.
As it goes in the Catfish world, Manitoba has been blessed with one of the more pugnacious members of the catfish family. Perhaps most significant and surprising about these fish is that they are present in extensive numbers and that their distribution is much more vast than most anglers realize. With a little time and investigation you too might find your own little posse of keystone cats.