Red River Fishery

Where we find the big cats

The Red River is formed at the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers along the Minnesota-North Dakota border and is part of the Hudson Bay drainage. The Red River flows north for 640 km to the USA Canada international border, forming the boundary between Minnesota and North Dakota The lower Red River continues north another 233 km before emptying into Lake Winnipeg in southern Manitoba.

Within the USA, the drainage basin encompasses parts of western Minnesota, eastern North Dakota, and a small portion of northeastern South Dakota, draining a total of 108,800 km2. The Red River drains an area of 185,474 km2 in Canada, most of which is in the Assiniboine River watershed. The Assiniboine River, a major tributary to the Red River, originates in Saskatchewan and joins the Red River in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Perhaps the most well-known fishery for trophy Channel Catfish is in the Red River of the North (Red River), which lies at the northern extent of the Channel Catfish’s distributional range. The lower Red River is known for producing trophy Channel Catfish; individuals greater than 800 mm and 10 kg are common.

This fishery gained notoriety in the 1980s and, as fishing pressure increased, fisheries managers felt the need to place regulations on harvest to protect the size structure of Channel Catfish. Manitoba enacted the first harvest regulations in 1981, when a creel limit of eight individuals was implemented. A creel study in 1986 reported almost 4,000 kg of Channel Catfish were harvested in just 16 km of the lower river that year, and most of the catfish harvested were greater than 750 mm. In 1986, Manitoba further reduced the creel limit to four Channel Catfish, only one of which could exceed 750 mm. The lower Red River is now managed primarily for catch and release, and since 1992, Manitoba regulations allow the harvest of four Channel Catfish less than 600 mm per day. However, few catfish less than 60 mm are caught by anglers on the lower Red River. Another unique aspect of this fishery is that the Red River is one of few large rivers in North America that has not been subjected to commercial catfish harvest.