For years anglers from all over the world have been coming to Manitoba to experience firsthand what it’s like to fight a Master Angler channel catfish.
Two of my friends from Saskatchewan finally decided this June to strike it off their bucket list. When the big day arrived so did the heat. The forecast high for June 2nd was 34 Celsius, a hot day in any angler’s book. We had overnighted at the family cottage in Gimli and headed south to launch at Selkirk Park. In no time we were anchored below Lockport with four lines in the water tipped with cut sucker.
While the fishing in our first spot was steady, it wasn’t spectacular. I learned long ago to watch surface feeding activity and fifteen minutes later we were anchored on the honey hole. Many trophy catfish later we were headed off the water out of the blistering heat.
What makes this fishery so spectacular? Smart management is mostly the reason. Back in the early 90’s Manitoba decided to protect this fishery by not allowing anglers to keep a channel catfish over 24 inches. This stopped the harvest of large fish and secured the longevity of this trophy fishery.
In 2012 research money became available to fund a tracking study for these valuable predators. Enter Mark Pegg and the University of Nebraska. In three years Mark and his students have put spaghetti tags on 15,000 catfish.
Since then this research has expanded to include the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well as the Manitoba Fisheries Department. There was a huge grant from the Fisheries and Wildlife Enhancement Fund ($116,000) to Manitoba Fisheries to buy acoustic tags and receivers to constantly monitor catfish movements for the next six years. This was matched by DFO who have laid a network of acoustic receivers throughout the south basin of Lake Winnipeg, even into part of the north basin as well as the Red River. Walleye and big mouth buffalo along with lake sturgeon have since been added to the list. It all means that we are finally getting hard data about fish movements, recaptures and overall fish populations that will allow fisheries managers to make proper decisions in the future.
Here is one piece of information that will blow your mind. In Netley Marsh alone there are is one catfish per square metre! That’s right, one fish per square metre! Now most of these are small catfish just over half a metre in length but it shows you how incredible the population is. Close to Lockport the size of the catfish increase and the density of fish over 66 mm. (26 inches) is 3,000 per river kilometer. No wonder the fishing is so spectacular.
There are a couple of areas of concern. One is the movement of catfish south of the border. Many of the larger fish migrate south at certain times in their existence and a high number don’t return. Survival rates are much higher in Manitoba and a lot of that has to do with habitat and harvest. There is also some concern of the number of catfish that are caught incidentally by commercial fishers. This research should supply a lot of answers on what is happening to Lake Winnipeg and its valuable fishery so we can make correct management decisions.