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Catfish Week: Go Shallow For Canadian Catfish

Big Canadian channel cats are easier than you think.

Catfish Week: Go Shallow For Canadian Catfish
Canada offers the finest channel catfish fishery in the world near Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Donovan Pearase would prefer anchoring in 20-plus feet of water, dropping several heavily weighted rigs to the bottom and waiting for those rod to double over with Manitoba’s freshwater equivalent of grouper fishing.

No doubt, the giant channel catfish populating the Red River present an eye-opening option in this fertile fishery. With good water flow and a seemingly endless bounty of forage such as goldeye, suckers, perch, sauger, minnows and juvenile carp and drum, Pearase knows this is an ideal scenario for the traditional bottom fishing.

However, sometimes that summer staple’s not working, in which case, Pearase will pack it up and head for shore. But he’s not calling it a day; rather, the Blackwater Cats Outfitters owner is shifting gears to a sporty follow-up that’s nearly always a hit.

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Intense boat-side battles are a common occurrence, and a lot of fun.

“The standard technique for catfishing up here is still fishing anchored on bottom 90 percent of time,” he said. “But another technique that’s used occasionally, but we do it with more regularity in the summertime is casting floats to shallow rock piles and shallow current areas when the cats are tough to get.

“The floats are ideal to fish in water that’s too shallow for bottom fishing.”

Certainly a pragmatic approach, but as he points out, the scenario typically favors highly receptive targets.

“Cats go shallow when they’re feeding,” he said. “You’re not going to have cats in 8 feet of water just hanging out.”

Productive Scenarios

He said he’s seen catfish venturing shallow spring through fall. Summer tends to see a little more of this behavior, especially when water levels dip lower.

“When it feels like the cats have almost evacuated the river and it’s really tough, if you fish shallow, you will get the most aggressive fish around,” he said. “You’ll also get them shallow in high water; it’s not a hard-and-fast thing, but whenever they go shallow, it seems that float fishing is the best way to target them.”

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While the fish are certainly big and willing fighters, they are numerous too. Catching numbers of fish from the same hole is quite common.

Perhaps a little surprising, he said the key to catfish float rigging is visibility. The whiskered ones are generally thought to be guided by their snouts and barbels, but don’t discount the eye work.

“What’s important for float fishing is visibility,” he said. “Cats are known to be scent feeders; that’s why can get them good in really dirty, fast, turbid water.

“But corking is 100% a visual presentation, so the prerequisite is that you have to have some clear water. On our section of the Red River, when the St. Andrews Dam (Lockport) has the curtains open and there’s a lot of dirty water racing through, you’re going to have a tough time getting anything going with floats.”

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When the dam curtains are closed and the flow if lighter and filtered, Pearase has high confidence in his float tactics.

Rigging Right

Same as his bottom fishing, he fishes his slip cork rigs on 8 1/2- to 9-foot medium-heavy, moderate action baitcasters and 300 series reels with smooth drags and high line capacity. His choice of 80-braid may seem like overkill, but for this catch-and-release fishery, it’s a sensible call.

“Catfish tend to role in your line and with lighter braid, they will cut themselves to pieces,” he said. “That 80-pound braid is a thicker line and it doesn’t seem to hurt the fish.”

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Big channel cats are abundant north of the border. They are worth the trip!

He said his bait choice is generally based on seasonal abundance, but fresh cut goldeneye is a summer staple. Suckers are big in the springtime, while he uses a lot of tullibee in the fall. Shrimp, chicken breast, and squid also work, but Pearase stresses his circle hook avoidance.

Because his fish rarely “follow the script” of grabbing a bait, turning away from the angler and ensuring their own hook set as they head downriver, his shallow water float technique usually requires his anglers to load the rod and lay the wood to ‘em. For this, he finds a 5/0 to 7/0 owner offset bait hook ideal.

Presentations & Performance

Noting the requisites of shallow water float rigging, he said it can be challenging in the fast water because, on one hand, you want the bait to drift naturally, but line maintenance is imperative.

“You want your line tight so when you get a bite, you don’t have to reel for 10 seconds to catch up to the fish,” he said. “You don’t so mach slack that you can’t rip that line tight in 3-4 cranks.”

At the moment of truth, he tells his anglers the right response is all about discipline and consistency.

“You want to keep the rod loaded and pump and reel,” he said. “A lot of people make the mistake of watching the water to see where the fish is, but I say ‘watch the rod.’

“When it gets hard to reel, you want to pump the rod to lift the fish. The main thing is just keeping that rod bent and keeping pressure on the fish.”




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