Catch a river monster of your own this summer.
By Rob Olson
My son and I are big fans of Jeremy Wade from the hit show River Monsters. Jeremy travels the world looking for big, mean river-fish to do battle with. Did you know you can catch a real river monster of your own, right here in Winnipeg? And like Jeremy, you can do it from shore. Here’s how to do it easily and a whole lot cheaper than Mr.Wade.
My family lives on a street close to the Assiniboine River. There is a little park just around the corner that we can walk to from our house. There are heaps of City Parks like this in Winnipeg. In the summer, we routinely grab our fishing gear and head down to the river to catch our favorite fish: the big, gray, and so-ugly-their-beautiful Channel Cats.
The best part about Cats are their fighting ability. For someone new to fishing or especially for kids, this is high adventure. Cats pull so hard, they are unlike most anything else in our waters short of Sturgeon or giant carp in terms of sheer, brute force. What could be more exhilarating for a kid? There’s nothing else like it and it is as close to a guaranteed and easy world class fishing adventure as you will find anywhere.
A Hot Day in June
Last summer, my son Ben and his two cousins, Petey and Joey, and I headed down to the river to do battle with the Big Uglies. City Parks are such a wonderful place to fish from shore for newbies.
Parks usually have large, clear grassy banks perfect for new anglers to practice their casting moves. Literally pick any Park in Winnipeg on the Red or Assiniboine and you are in business. If you live outside of Winnipeg, it remains the same. Find an open piece of shoreline along the Assiniboine or Red and heave some bait out there. It doesn’t matter where you go along our brown rivers, these Monsters are lurking everywhere.
Each of the boys took their turns casting out a variety of special bait offerings, weighted down to get the goodies where the whiskered monsters normally lurk. We stuck some rods into the mud and we put others in rod holders. I attached a small bell to the ends of the rods to alert us to a fish biting. This helps because we often toss around a football or Frisbee if the bite is slow and if you look away for a second, you might lose your rod to one of these beasts. But it wasn’t slow on this day.
Shortly after getting our “big rod” set up, it bounced and nearly went straight into the river. Our big rod is a cheapie, surf-casting type of brute we picked up at Cabela’s. It gets our baits out nearly to the middle of the river where the big guys often lurk. My nephew Petey grabbed the rod and the battle was on. All three kids were yelling and screaming at this point because they could tell we were tied up to something huge. The rod bounced and strained and the kids howled. Joey took a turn with the rod and with great effort and lot of grunts and groans, he worked the fish a bit closer.
My son Ben grabbed the rod next and the little guy mostly just yelled but did manage a few cranks of the oversized spinning reel before handing the rod back to Petey. It was the best kind of pandemonium. Finally, the gray giant showed itself, which had all the kids screaming again. It’s hard to believe one fish could bring so much fun. By this time, dog walkers had gathered behind us to cheer the kids on. I scooped this big Cat up in a net causing many ooohs and aaahs from everyone. One onlooking adult commented, “I had no idea there were fish that big in that river! Gawd is it ugly!”
The beautiful part of this kind of big-game shore fishing is that anyone can do it with a very modest investment in fishing equipment. A short trip to Cabela’s can get you started for under $100. The main investment will be in the fishing rod and reel. Luckily, there are relatively cheap spinning rod and reels available, often already spooled with line strong enough to pull a shopping cart out of the river – we’ve done that! If you take care of this equipment, it will last for years of fishing fun.
Tackle is simple: you just need a large hook and a heavy weight. The staff at Cabela’s will get you set up. Many people use a local favorite: the pickerel rig. The pickerel rig has two wire arms that allow you to connect two hooks. It works fine for big cats. The light wire hooks that come with the pickerel rig are not strong enough for river monsters though, so you will want to ask about buying a package of larger, stronger snelled (pre-tied) hooks. They are cheap like Borscht and easily connected to the pickerel rig. Ask the Cabela’s folks to show you how.
The other way to go for Cat rigging is to rig up a sliding single hook rig. Again, the guys or gals at Cabela’s will show you how. The key thing is that this tackle is super cheap. The other important thing is you need a heavy weight. Six ounces of lead isn’t too much. The big dudes often hang in the heavier current and to keep your bait out there, without getting pulled into shore by the current, you need lots of lead.
It’s all about the Bait
These whiskered giants will eat pretty much anything you put out there, and I do mean anything. But if you want to target the Big Guys, use shrimp. Yes, shrimp. A bag of big, raw shrimp might last you all summer so don’t scrimp on the shrimp. The $15 bag of raw shelled shrimp at Superstore is the price of admission to Monsterville. Remember that pickerel rig? Put a strong, larger, snelled hook on the bottom line and thread a shrimp on there.
There are many other great types of bait that tend to target big Cats. Two of my favorites are cut-fish bait and frogs. Frogs are terrific because you can add frog hunting to the adventure for kids. Bring some long handled scoop nets and walk slowly along the river edge till you see a frog then scoop him up. Some days, frogs are dynamite on Cats, and don’t be surprised if you catch the biggest walleye of your life on one too. Use your judgment, but I put life jackets on the little ones for the day while doing this river bank fishing and frog hunting. If you catch a goldeye or sucker while fishing, a big chunk of either of them is about as good as it gets for Monster Cat bait too.
Use a smaller hook that come in the package on the top of the pickerel rig and on that, put some bait for the myriad other fish that swim in the brown rivers. I like a nightcrawler worm or a frozen shiner minnow. Try both till you see what’s biting. With this rig, you could catch just about anything that swims, and you will. Our rivers are full of fish and you could catch over a dozen species which passes the time while you are waiting for one of those rod bending, massive strikes that could only be from……. a River Monster.
Need Some Help Kick-starting your Monster Quest?
If you want to kick-start your monster Cat know-how, consider investing in a day with a top flight fishing guide. There’s none better than our good friend, the Rock and Roll fisherman, Todd Longley of City Cats (www.citycats.ca or call 204-955-2744). Todd has a PhD. in Catology and loves hooking kids and newbies on chasing Catfish. The investment is worth it – you will learn more in a day with Todd than you will in years spent on your own.
Another legendary Catfish guru is long-time Lockport fishing guide Stu McKay of Cats on the Red (www.catsonthered.net – 204-757-9876). Time spent with Stu is well spent.
Check out the City of Winnipeg’s Learn to Fish summer program in the City of Winnipeg Leisure Guide. Go to Winnipeg.ca/leisureonline and check out the course catalogue under “children 6-12”. There are Learn to Fish clinics for all ages as well as cool week long summer camps for kids 7-12 where fishing is mixed with sports like ball hockey, golf, flag football and others. These are super programs that will get you pointed in the right direction.
Pop into Cabela’s and talk to their staff in the tackle section. I’ve found them to be very helpful. They can steer you in the right direction on how to get rigged up as well as providing you with fishing tips for Catfish in general.