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Doug Leier: Finding catfish in North Dakota

While the Red River may by the catfish capital of North Dakota, the state does have many other waters where catfish can provide a different or new experience for anglers. Photo courtesy of NDGF

Many anglers know that the Red River that borders North Dakota and Minnesota is a nationally recognized fishery for catfish, and it's a certainly a target fishery for some residents and visiting anglers who may travel hundreds of miles to get here.

While the Red River may by the catfish capital of North Dakota, the state does have many other waters where catfish can provide a different or new experience for anglers.

"The channel catfish fishery is truly unexploited, especially in the Missouri River System," North Dakota Game and Fish Department fisheries division chief Greg Power said in a July 2017 article in North Dakota Outdoors magazine.

The average North Dakota angler fishes 20 days per year, Power said, and of those 20, 19 are spent fishing for pike, perch or mainly walleye. "We'd just like to see anglers take a couple of those 20 days and try something different'" Power said. "Getting the news out on channel catfish opportunities in more than 40 waters across the state is a start."

Channel catfish, by nature, prefer bigger, turbid waters, which is why fisheries biologists are so successful in netting these fish in the Little Missouri arm of Lake Sakakawea. While Lake Oahe isn't as turbid, it does fit the big-water preference.

The exception to turbid water, however, is the Garrison Dam Tailrace. "Oftentimes, there is a very good catfish bite," Power said. "There are some anglers who target channel catfish in the Tailrace at those times. The lion's share of the fish are about 2 pounds, great table fare coming from that cool water. The anglers targeting them sure seem to have a blast catching and keeping them."

While channel catfish have been thriving in the Missouri River System for decades, and have largely gone unnoticed, Department fisheries personnel have for years trapped and transported adult fish to smaller waters around the state.

"We've stocked thousands of adult catfish in smaller lakes and community fisheries where anglers have easy access," Power said. "We're giving anglers a chance to catch a fish that is still eager to bite when water temperatures heat up in summer."

"When our fisheries personnel are trapping channel catfish in spring from Sakakawea or Oahe, they are hardly touching what's out there," Power said. "It's a good use of a resource that is not being utilized, and we're also bringing fish to the public by moving them into other waters around the state where they're happily caught."

In addition to the Red River, some of the more notable catfish waters in North Dakota include: Lower Sheyenne River, Upper lakes Sakakawea and Oahe, Lower portions of the Little Missouri River, including the Little Missouri arm, Heart Butte Reservoir, Dickinson Reservoir, Heart and Cannonball rivers.

Some community waters stocked with catchable catfish include: Belfield Pond, Dickinson Dike, Gaebe Pond, Kriegs Pond, Stanley Pond, Watford City Park Pond, West Spring Lake Pond.

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