The Red River of the North is the boundary water between North Dakota and Minnesota. It contains some of the finest gamefish in the midwest, yet is often overlooked by anglers. During open water season, I spend roughly 80% of my fishing time on the Red River near Fargo. Living so close to such a diverse fishery has allowed me to try out a ton of different techniques to catch everything from walleye and pike in the spring and fall to huge carp, catfish, and freshwater drum during the summer. Variety is the spice of life, and it is very available in the Red River! Though you can catch almost any species of fish in the river on a simple slip bobber set up (and I have), having experience in a variety of techniques is a great way to challenge yourself and will help you excel as an angler on the Red. The great thing about this incredible fishery is that the equipment required is inexpensive and you have a legitimate chance at catching the fish of a lifetime.
Slip bobbers are really my bread and butter on the river. Much of the bottom of the river is covered in downed trees, boulders, and other debris that is easy to snag your line on. Using a bobber, I can keep my bait up off the bottom and above anything I might snag on. Using a slip bobber allows you to adjust the depth with the bobber stop which is very useful as the river level rises and falls significantly in response to rainy or dry weather. If you’re fishing from shore, look for slower moving water to cast your bobber into and try a variety of depths. Goldeye will hit baits on the bottom or just inches below the surface. You’ll be surprised at the variety of depths that you will find fish in the Red River. A good starting point is to start fishing right above the bottom and move up gradually until you fish, or vice versa.
You’re going to find that the current speed is never quite the same from one day to the next and also from one spot to another. High or low water levels, breaks caused by downed trees, or just the winding nature of the river make for a variety of fast and slow moving water conditions. Because of this, it is nice to have a variety of different bobber sizes in your tackle box. To save time cutting your line and re-tying your line every time you want to swap out your bobber, check out Wing It Fishing’s QuickSwap bobber system which allows you to quickly and easily remove one bobber and replace it with another.
Bobbers move around with the current and wind. Getting your bait down to the fish and keeping it on the bottom with heavy current requires a fairly substantial sinker. Often times I use a two or three ounce sinker to anchor big baits to the bottom for channel catfish.
I have a whole post on how to tie and use a Carolina rig that can be found here. Here’s a list of the parts needed for the Carolina Rig:
- 1½ to 3oz Egg or No Roll Sinkers
- Barrel Swivels
- Bead or Rubber Bumper
- 6-18″ of 10+lb mono leader
- 1/0-5/0 Kahle or Circle Hook
Jigs and Plastics
Using jigs and plastics is a classic technique that walleye anglers everywhere are familiar with because it’s so deadly effective. Plastics are most effective in spring and fall when walleyes concentrate in predictable areas. I typically tie my braided line straight to a 1/4oz jig so if I snag, I can rip it free without breaking off more often than if I was using monofilament. In the spring, snow melt and the resulting runoff into the river reduces visibility to almost none, so live minnows are often more effective than plastics because of their scent. In fall, the river tends to settle down to lower levels and the visibility increases significantly. If I’m using soft plastic lures, I’m looking for something that has a lot of action such as a Mr. Twister Curly Tail Grub. Use bright colors like white, chartreuse, and pink so the fish can find them in the murky water.
Hard Baits and Spoons
Crankbaits each have a unique action designed to entice fish to bite. My all time favorite for Red River fishing is the Rapala Husky Jerk (sizes 10, 12, and 14). Just like with jigs and plastics, try bold colors. I like firetiger, glass minnow, and silver blue. I also really like the Eppinger Dardevle Spoon in a nickel finish. It looks sort of like a small goldeye or shiner minnow and is great for late fall northern pike.
It’s always good to have plenty of hooks, split shots, swivels, etc., in your tackle box because you will inevitably snag and lose your rig. It is better to be over-prepared. For hooks, I recommend Kahle or Circle hooks in the biggest size you can get away with. If you use bigger hooks, it becomes harder for fish to swallow them, easier to unhook the fish, and cuts down on fish mortality. Size 1/0 to 5/0 hooks work great for me. If you can, try using tin split shots instead of lead as they are more environmentally friendly. #LeaveNoFootprint
That’s a basic shopping list for pretty much everything I’ve found to be effective on the Red River. By my estimate, open water fishing on the Red will return in 8-10 weeks (weather permitting). This list might not be anything enlightening to most experienced anglers, but hopefully it can shed some light on the basics for a beginner like I was a few years ago trying to figure out the ins and outs of river angling.