No. 1 New Year’s Resolution for Anglers

As you think back on 2018 and consider what’s in store for 2019, consider adding this New Year’s resolution to your angling improvement program.

No. 1 New Year’s Resolution for Anglers

On the water, maybe 2018 was a year to remember — for all the right reasons. You learned a new killer technique or two, and landed multiple PBs (personal bests). But perhaps 2018 was only so-so, with some decent days, some stinkers, and you’re really crossing your fingers that 2019 is an improvement.

Regardless of which side of the creek you stand on when it comes to reflecting on 2018, I offer here my No. 1 New Year’s resolution for anglers. Place some importance on making this suggestion a reality and I guarantee that 2019 will never be forgotten. 

No. 1 New Year’s Resolution: Say thanks to a mentor by taking him or her fishing.

We all get busy with our lives, and this is certainly true after we marry and begin raising kids. It’s happening to almost all of my friends, and it’s happening to me. And one spring day 2 years ago, while fishing with my two sons, Elliott and Luke, I thought back to who taught me how to fish — my dad. I realized then and there that my dad, who’s in great shape for a man born in 1937, would appreciate the chance to get out on the water again. Dad and I hadn’t fished together in decades. 

That evening, after putting the kids to bed, I began researching where to go, and shortly thereafter booked a 2-day fishing vacation for my dad, two sons and myself. It didn’t need to be a week-long, fly-in adventure to the Arctic Circle; I couldn’t afford the time away from work or cost for such a grand adventure. Instead, we drove to Selkirk, Manitoba, where we jumped in the boat with guide Donovan Pearase of Blackwater Cats.

The author's father, Frank (left), with guide Donovan Pearase of Blackwater Cats.
The author's father, Frank (left), with guide Donovan Pearase of Blackwater Cats.

For two days we hammered world-class channel catfish on the Red River just north of Winnipeg. Dad was like a kid again, and my sons loved spending time with their grandpa. Me? I simply sat back, watched, took photos and giggled. Every time a big cat struck one of our baits, either the kids or my dad would set the hook and then fight the fish. This two-day trip was all about them, and even though I didn’t grab a rod, it was fantastic. And I know for a fact that it was a trip of a lifetime for my dad, as well as the kids.

Luke (left) and his brother, Elliott, showing off a pair of Red River channel cats.
Luke (left) and his brother, Elliott, showing off a pair of Red River channel cats.

Why This Trip?

As a former fishing guide in northern Minnesota back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I understand the work that goes into the guiding profession. Even though I consider myself to be a skilled angler, and I spend a lot of time on the water year-round, I wanted to really stack the deck in my favor for a two-day trip with my dad and kids, so I went with a topnotch guide.

Now, fishing is fishing, and there are no guarantees, but you can increase your odds for success by making smart choices. Specifically, here’s why I chose the Red River and channel catfish, and Donovan Pearase of Blackwater Cats in particular: 

Affordable

In general, what drives up the cost of many fishing vacations is travel. If you have to take a float plane to reach a remote camp, the cost increases greatly. I couldn’t afford to take three guests and myself on a fly-in trip. And even though I’m sure my dad would’ve helped pay for an expensive fishing vacation, I wanted to treat him. This was my way of saying thanks for Dad taking me fishing to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Canada when I was a boy.

The four-guest group rate for an 8-hour day with Donovan is $575 (Canadian funds). Do the conversion, and that’s about $425 in American dollars. His group price drops to $370 American if you have only two or three anglers in the boat. Donovan provides rods, reels, bait and his boat. You simply pack your own lunch and meet him at the dock in Selkirk. Because of the minimal gear we had to haul, our group of four traveled in my Toyota Corolla instead of my crew cab pickup to save on gas money.

It’s difficult to explain in words the incredible value of this Red River adventure. For a little more than $100 per day per person, we fished on the best river in the world for giant channel catfish, with the best guide on the river. And if this wasn’t enough, Donovan works a deal for his clients so they get 30 percent off their room at the clean and comfortable Canalta Hotel in Selkirk, which is only a short drive from the dock.

Need evidence that Selkirk, Manitoba, is home to the biggest channel cats in the world?
Need evidence that Selkirk, Manitoba, is home to the biggest channel cats in the world?

Group Effort

When you fish the Red River for cats, you place set lines with a variety of baits and then wait for a strike. Donovan has a large and comfortable 2017 Kingfisher Falcon boat, so you can stand and walk around while waiting for action. If the sun gets too hot, Donovan extends the boat’s canvas top/cover for shade. You can also sit under the canvas to stay dry if it rains.

Clients of Donovan Pearase spend the day running the Red River in a comfortable Kingfisher Falcon boat.
Clients of Donovan Pearase spend the day running the Red River in a comfortable Kingfisher Falcon boat.

Donovan is wealth of fishing information (he also guides for walleyes and smallmouth bass), so if you enjoy picking the brain of a knowledgeable angler, he’s your man. (Click here to read about his background.) Donovan moves from spot to spot based on the action, and you can take as much or little role in placing lines and unhooking fish as you wish. Because my kids and Dad are avid anglers, they basically all served as Donovan’s shipmates.

Elliott takes his turn landing and releasing a 20-plus-pound Red River channel cat.
Elliott takes his turn landing and releasing a 20-plus-pound Red River channel cat.

This type of arrangement means everyone is fishing together. Unlike a traditional guide trip on a Canadian lake, four clients aren’t split into two guide boats that meet up at lunch to compare notes and then switch boat partners for the afternoon. The four of us had a blast cheering each other on while doing battle with big fish. It’s a group effort filled with fun, good conversation and monster cats.

Red River channel cats will test your strength, over and over and over again.
Red River channel cats will test your strength, over and over and over again.

Dependable Action

As I said earlier, fishing is fishing, but you can put the odds in your favor by choosing the right species, a solid destination, and a reputable guide. Let me explain “right species.”

I love to fish for largemouth bass, and muskies, too. But on a trip like this one, there’s no way four people can share one boat and have a decent day on the water fishing for these species. For starters, trying to have four anglers casting artificial lures in a boat is a recipe for disaster (i.e. a trip to the emergency room because someone has hooks in his skull). In addition, bass can be difficult to catch at times, and muskies are known as “The Fish of 10,000 Casts” for good reason.

Channel cats, especially on the Red River, are aggressive and willing to bite. A great day in the eyes of a veteran guide such as Donovan is defined as almost constant action. But this is important: A fair day for Donovan, even one that is below average in terms of cats brought to the net, will likely be the best day of catfishing you’ve ever experienced.

Luke hugs the longest fish of the trip, a 38-incher.
Luke hugs the longest fish of the trip, a 38-incher.

This is not a misprint: In two days, our group of four anglers (really three, because I shot photos), landed 44 channel cats. And just so we’re clear: These are not 12- to 24-inch fiddlers (small cats). The Red River produces monster catfish; the average size is astonishing. Of our 44 cats, the smallest — smallest! — was 9 pounds. The next smallest weighed 12, and the vast majority were 18-22 pounds. Exactly half our fish qualified for Manitoba’s Master Angler Program (channel cats measuring 34 inches or more). We caught numbers of fish that topped 20 pounds, with the longest fish measuring 38 inches, and the heaviest cat tipping the scales at 27 pounds. My dad and two sons brought approximately 800 pounds of catfish to the boat in two days!

Elliott with his 27-pounder, the heaviest cat landed on the family's 2-day fishing adventure.
Elliott with his 27-pounder, the heaviest cat landed on the family's 2-day fishing adventure.

As I said, the Red River is an amazing channel cat fishery. Need proof? At the end of our trip, Donovan sort of apologized on the dock as we packed our gear: “Well guys, the fishing was kind of slow these past two days due to minimal flow in the Red River, but we ground out some fish. I hope you had a good time.”

Slow? Grinded out some fish?

I can’t imagine what the Red River is like when it’s on fire, but I hope at some point in my life I’ll be back to find out.

Who knows, maybe that day will be when one of my kids calls me up 30 years from now — perhaps making good on his own New Year’s resolution — and asks, “Hey Dad, want to go fishing? It will be my treat.”

If possible, make it a point to get your fishing mentor on the water in 2019.
If possible, make it a point to get your fishing mentor on the water in 2019.
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