The "Biggest" fish of the season - The Red River
By Daniel Kiazyk
Over the years folks who've come up to fish have always asked the pointed question, "So when do the biggest fish of the season bite on the Red River?" To answer this question is far from being some algorithm that will allow you to put in variables with a resultant accurate response. Firstly to be honest it should be said that the best fish come any time you have the time to fish…. Not making light of the question it could probably be said the prior response is the easiest way out of being shown to be wrong..
Take for example an occasion that was framed by a trip out to the river to catch some bait (goldeye) for catfishing. We had a full complement of anglers with us that day and were actually were not necessarily expecting a great big bite with all the heat we had recently experienced. Well as it often goes the bite was far better (yes the other result is also possible too) than we had expected it to be. We were able to successfully catch our limit in less than an hour and a half. Upon completion of our mission someone had asked if it'd be possible if we could put down a hook for a cat or two. Always happy to oblige we did just that with a surprising result. The first fish caught was a smaller cat of 26" and was quickly released. The second fish hooked seemed similar to the first upon setting the hook but when it came to the boat we all watched with utter amazement as a 12#+ walleye surfaced only to become unbuttoned with a first flip of it's tail. Who would have known? A 12#+ walleye on August 2 of the year is not normal for the Red River….it goes without saying that a big fish is possible anytime you put down that hook.
OK so there are exceptions to every rule. However for the Red River and its walleye fishing you can expect fishing to pick up considerably once the water temps drop below sixty degrees. You can also expect the best bite of the year to occur between 55 and 45 degrees (notice its going down because of the time of year). It is also a rule of thumb that the migration of walleye from Lake Winnipeg down into its connecting rivers will involve a migration where the northern reaches of the Red will be better earlier on and the south portions before Lockport will be better later on in the Fall. One final factor that really does seem to have an impact on the bite will be from where the wind blows on any given day.. If the wind blows hard from the south you can almost expect the bite to slow to a crawl but if a good stiff wind blows from the North you can probably expect the bite to improve or be at its best depending upon its intensity and duration.
So what about ol' whiskers? Well there are again generalities but they are far from any hard and fast rules that can be applied to suggest when you might run into a behemoth of the deep. Take the opener up into the middle of June. Water is relatively cool and often very high. Sometimes fishing is difficult because of run-off/flooding conditions. However, if you can get to some of the obstructions, (eg. Lockport's dam) you'll usually find some large and willing-to-bite critters. Of course we've all seen the pieces filmed by the crew from the In-Fisherman in early to mid-June. At this time you'll run into numbers and a vast variety of sizes. Too bad these spots have had to put such an emphasis on the larger fish caught where in reality it is during this part of the season when you'll see the best variety of the year.
If you've noticed nothing has been said about when you can expect the biggest fish of the season to this point….well I've caught a 40"er during each of what I call the four windows of the catfish season. Firstly there the spring early summer season described above. Then there's the spawn/post spawn period where it's pretty easy to see by color and mouth size (swollenness) a particular predominance of a particular sex of fish. Thirdly there's the post spawn "chow-down" period where I believe the best fish of the year can be more consistently intercepted than any other time of the year. Finally there's the season when the water starts to cool and you can have some of the most memorable days or some of the most frustrating days of the catfish year. Water temps typically will impact the most upon whether the cats will be willing to bite with any frequency.
It is with some trepidation that it might be suggested that most often the biggest cats of the year are caught in August. Generally the fish will have moved back from the dam at Lockport and knowing the way the Red is constructed will have a large bearing upon the success that you'll experience. OK I've said it before that thinking of the river as consisting of Riffle, Run and Pool will have an impact upon the pattern that you'll be able to establish at this time of year. Now having said the larger fish will have moved back in the river can be refuted by some. I've watched one gentleman from Illinois (R.M.) who comes up to fish the Red's cats on a yearly basis sit beneath the dam at Lockport catching 50+ fish a day….but I suggest you look at the size of said fish before excluding the suggestions made here.
I'll limit the musings of the prior paragraphs to walleye and catfish and when you might catch the biggest of either species. Of course there's a variety of other species that can be caught throughout the season on the Red. I'll get to those species in an article to follow shortly. When's the best time to get a big one? Well the best time is when you can get out there to fish. Perhaps if you're out there on a regular basis you'll establish a pattern where the approach you use and the species you target will intersect in one of the biggest fish you've ever caught.