Anticipating catfish season

A channel catfish like this one is getting a lot of attention in South Dakota.

There are sleepless nights  leading up to the walleye opener. Days in the field spent scouting or sighting-in the rifle for the split-second chance at a big buck on deer opener. Crow opener? Well, maybe that’s pushing it.

These are like addictions, and the memories of them take us to times and places we can duplicate only when we do them time and again.
It’s a little different for me.

My addiction comes in the form of a much simpler pastime that, according to my friends, borders on the edge of trashy. They say it’s lower on the fishing spectrum than even targeting rough fish. At least they used to say that, before they developed the addiction as well.

The addiction ramps up each year until June. We wait for the water temperatures to reach the mid-60s on the Red River, and then we satisfy our urge, which is to take part in the pre-spawn feeding frenzy of the Red’s channel catfish.

About a dozen years ago, a friend and catfish angler introduced me to it. He’s an avid fisherman and spends as much time on the river as possible from May through September. 

So, what is it that brings a grown man to drive countless hours to a small town north of Grand Forks, N.D., to toss a chunk of meat on a giant J hook backed with 30-pound big cat line, and a rod with a solid backbone? “Big kitties,” as we say in the catfish junkie circles.

It used to be just me, but now it’s my son Cole, too. He joined me on the Red a couple of years ago and caught several channel catfish in the 5- to 12-pound range – decent-sized fish that put up quite a tussle. But this year, my goal is to have him hook a cat that’s getting into the 20-pound range.

And the reality is that it probably will happen. That’s the great thing about channel catfish – they’re a reliable and cheap date this time of year.

I’ve been building up Cole psychologically the past couple of weeks, telling him he’ll probably be a little sore on the way home. Mostly because trying to land a channel cat is like fighting a bulldozer that hugs the bottom and never really gives up. 

“They’ll swim right past the boat and rip line off the reel,” I told him. “Think you can handle that?”

“Yeah, Dad,” he said, giving me that look that tells me he thinks I’m a little too into this and making it out to be a bigger deal than it really is.
And maybe he’s right.

But I know that a memory like this will give him new respect for catfishing, which is something he already enjoys. If he ties into a monster cat, it will take things to the next level. Maybe it will become a yearly venture and, eventually, something he thinks of along the lines of the walleye opener.

Who knows – maybe he’ll even lose sleep thinking about a drag-ripping bruit of a catfish. I sure hope so.

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