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Dokken: Red River is among Top 5 US fishing destinations

The Red River’s designation as one of the top fishing destinations in the country is well-deserved, in the mind of this writer, especially when it comes to the river’s reputation for trophy channel catfish. Those of us who fish channel cats and have seen the Red River’s potential firsthand indeed are spoiled.

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Channel catfish. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)
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GRAND FORKS — On any given day throughout the summer and especially on weekends, dozens of people cross or pass by the Red River en route to fishing destinations in Minnesota lakes country or any number of places in North Dakota.

The options on both sides of the river are tremendous, but anglers who bypass the Red River might not know what they’re missing.

The folks at Abu Garcia, the renowned and longtime manufacturer of fishing equipment, apparently think so, too.

To commemorate the company’s 100th anniversary, Abu Garcia this week released the Top 10 lakes and rivers in its list of the 100 top fishing destinations in the country.

The Red River came in at No. 4.

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No, not the Red River of southern U.S. renown; the Red River that flows through Fargo and Grand Forks, the Red River many people disparagingly refer to as “the muddy old Red.”

As a growing number of local anglers will attest, given the popularity of events such as the Red River Catfish League and various tournaments, they don’t know what they’re missing.

The Red River’s designation as one of the top fishing destinations in the country is well-deserved, in the mind of this writer, especially when it comes to the river’s reputation for trophy channel catfish.

Those of us who fish channel cats and have seen the Red River’s potential firsthand indeed are spoiled.

I wouldn’t want to trumpet it too loudly, but it’s a pretty darn good walleye fishery, as well, during certain times of the year.

Here’s some of what Abu Garcia had to say about the Red River and its status as the No. 4 fishing destination in the country, as determined by a panel of seven judges, all with impressive credentials in the fishing industry:

“... the area between Fargo, N.D., and the Canadian border is paradise for those who like to catch channel catfish, walleye or even musky. This stretch of the river has plenty of them all, as well as some smallmouth bass, pike and even sturgeon.

“As indicated by the name ‘Red River,’ the water is typically muddy but high in quality as evidenced by the impressive summer mayfly hatches and self-sustaining game fish populations.”

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While the Red River wouldn’t be my first choice as a muskie destination (my preferred spelling, as opposed to “musky”), they certainly have been documented in fisheries assessments along the river. Northern pike are considerably more abundant, but there’s no doubt the channel catfish is king when it comes to fishing the Red River.

Thinking back on my experiences fishing the Red River, the list of species I’ve caught includes catfish, walleyes, saugers, pike, goldeyes, smallmouth bass, freshwater drum, burbot, carp and even white bass.

I’m pretty sure I’m missing a few, as well.

One of the beauties of river fishing is you never know what you’re going to catch, and the Red River is no different. According to “Fishing the Red River of the North,” a guide published by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, more than 70 species of fish have been documented in the Red River.

I’ve never caught a sturgeon in the Red River but I know plenty of other anglers have. Red River fishing guide Brad Durick even had a sturgeon jump into his boat a few years back while anchored below the Drayton Dam.

That will get your attention.

The Red River is the only fishery in either Minnesota or North Dakota to make the Top 10. Topping the list was the St. Lawrence River in New York; followed by Lake St. Clair, Mich., second; Lake Erie, third; Red River, fourth; Santee Cooper, S.C., fifth; Lake Guntersville, Ala., sixth; Sam Rayburn Reservoir, Texas, seventh; Clear Lake, Calif., eighth; Lake Fork, Texas, ninth; and Lake Chickamauga, Tenn., 10th.

Other Minnesota and North Dakota fisheries among the top 100 were Lake Mille Lacs, 17th; Devils Lake, 18th; Lake Sakakawea, 28th; Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, 39th; Lake of the Woods, 42nd; Leech Lake, 56th; Mississippi River pools in Red Wing, Minn., 71st; Lake Minnetonka, 78th; and Lake Vermilion, 80th.

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I’m a nerd for lists, to be sure, but they’re simply good fun and should be taken with a grain of salt.

“The truth is, whatever fishery makes an angler excited to be fishing, that’s the top fishery in the country,” Jon Schlosser, Abu Garcia senior vice president of marketing, said in a news release announcing the Top 10. “But the fisheries on the list, especially those in the Top 10, really separate themselves from the rest of the group for different reasons.”

So there you have it, our own Red River, one of the top fishing destinations in the country. That probably comes as a surprise to everyone but the anglers who fish it regularly.

Well done, Red.

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Brad Dokken, outdoors columnist

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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