CATS ON THE FLY
For a true channel catfish challenge, tackle Canada’s whiskered giants on a fly rod
My buddy Mike was standing waist deep in the water, with his 10-weight fly rod bent in a perfect U-shape. He couldn’t believe what was happening—a fish had taken the entire length of his fly line, along with 80 yards of backing, and it was still running. After an intense 10-minute battle, he landed a beauty of a channel catfish, measuring 37 inches in length.
“Not bad for your first one,” I told Mike. “But there are bigger ones out there.”
“Really?” he said. “It’s hard to believe it gets any better than this.”
I’ve been fly fishing for channel cats for 40 years now, and even I’m still sometimes humbled by this remarkable species—one of Canada’s biggest, strongest and most underrated gamefish.
I’ve also learned a lot about catching them on the fly, and I’m blessed to live 30 minutes away from what I consider the absolute best spot in North America for big channel cats: the Red River, at the town of Lockport, Manitoba. Every summer, thousands of cats longer than 34 inches are caught at this location, and there’s even opportunity for 40-inch fish. The fishing is so good, in fact, that numerous TV fishing shows are shot here every season.
I appreciate that casting flies for channel cats may seem daunting at first, but it’s not as hard as it seems. If you’ve caught brown trout on the fly, you can also catch cats. The main difference between the habitat preferences of these species is water temperature. Otherwise, both prefer the same bottom substrate—sand, rubble or gravel—and organize their lives around the riffle, hole and run sections of the river.
Of course, cats are much bigger and more powerful than brown trout, so targeting them with fly gear requires some specialized equipment and tactics. Here’s how to get started chasing cats…