Backyard ‘Cats’ in Fargo-Moorhead

Anglers travel far and wide to chase a good bite. Sometimes they forget about those waters sitting right in their back yard. One such overlooked backyard honey hole is the Red River of the North, dividing the cities of Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN. It is loaded with catfish, walleye, sauger & smallmouth bass.

Recently my 14 year old son, Hunter and I had some free time on a lazy Saturday afternoon so we decided to take a chance to see if J&K Cats had any openings for a guided cat fishing trip. I was able to contact Captain John Dickelman, a US Coast Guard licensed captain, and we were in luck. John said he would stop to pick up some bait and we could meet him at his place at 4 p.m. for an evening trip. All we needed was a camera, snacks and a few drinks. He would provide everything else needed for fishing. J&K Cats is the only Red River guide service located within the Fargo-Moorhead area.

Hunter and I packed up and headed to the corporate headquarters of J&K Cats which is just a few miles north of Moorhead, MN, on the Red River. We arrived to find John sitting on the step all set to go. We grabbed our gear and headed down some steps on the river bank which lead to a 21’ pontoon tied to a dock. John gave us a brief safety overview and within 5 minutes we were headed downstream.

As we headed North on the river we passed many shore anglers enjoying the day soaking a line. We traveled about 10 miles downstream  (yes, downstream is North on the Red) where we came to our first honey hole, a laid down tree in the river. John let the anchor out up-stream of the snag. Once the anchor dug in and held John started to get the gear out. Using the proper gear for big cats is important.  He uses 6’ to 6’6” Shakespeare Ugly Stick fiberglass rods and Abu Garcia 6500 casting reels rigged up with 30lb test Berkley Trilene monofiliment line. The solar green color made it easy to watch the line and keep it out of snags. Our terminal tackle consisted of a large Gamakatsu circle hook on an 18” mono leader tied to a heavy swivel. Above the swivel was a no roll, 4oz flat river sinker. John baited our hook with some fresh cut bait. The cut bait consisted of fresh caught suckers from the local bait shop. They were then sliced into 1 inch sections and placed into a cooler. When baiting up, John pierced the skin with the circle hook and made sure to remove any scales that stuck to the point of the hook. Once baited up, the rods were cast out all around the honey hole. They were then placed in rod holders for us to wait and watch for a bite.

Fishing was a bit slow on the first site so we reeled up, pulled anchor and headed upstream to the next hole. John dropped anchor and we casted the baits out around the down tree. If we don’t get a bite in 10 minutes, it’s time to move and repeat. Eventually, we started to get a few bites. The rod tip would start to twitch and Hunter was all ready to start to reel in the cat but John told him “you need to wait until the rod had a pretty big bend in it. The twitching just means the cat is tasting the bait and they haven’t actually taken it”. All of a sudden the rod bent in half and Hunter was given the okay to reel him in. Catfish in current provide a good fight. As they near the boat, they like to give a jump or two with some thrashing about thrown in. Within a few minutes Hunter had the fish tired out and John lifted it over the side. It was a small one in the 2-3 pound range. We stayed for a few more minutes and then moved on.

As the sun started to go down fishing started to pick up. John, our guide, worked very hard lifting and setting the anchor on each spot we fished. I would guess we repeated the procedure a good 20 times that evening. We ended up landing a nice 14 pounder and another one in the 10 pound class, both provided lots of fun. Overall, we landed 15 cats in the short 4-5 hours we fished. Not too bad for an evening of fishing in the back yard of Fargo-Moorhead. What really surprised me was that we did not see another boat the entire time we were on the river. For a metro area nearing 250,000 in population one would think someone else would have the same idea. The Red River, for now, remains a back yard secret.

Chad Maloy is a Mortgage Banker with Gate City Bank in Fargo, ND. He is also a professional walleye angler on the Masters Walleye Circuit. He is a past president of F-M Walleyes Unlimited, Inc. and a member of the National Professional Anglers Association.