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Fishing the Red River

The Red River boasts more than 70 species of fish. Channel catfish in the Red River can attain weights of more than 30 pounds, walleye as big as 13 pounds, and northern pike can grow as long as 45 inches. Find out more about fishing the Red River in this guide produced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife with technical assistance provided by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department.


Fisheries Management the Red River

The Red River Fisheries Technical Committee was formed in 1989 to manage shared fish stocks in the Red River. Fisheries professionals from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the Canadian province of Manitoba are represented on the committee.

Goals of the committee:

  1. To determine the status of the fish populations,
  2. To determine necessary management options to protect the fish stocks,
  3. To develop standardized fisheries assessment methodology, and,
  4. To develop an action plan for future management on the Red River.

One of the first actions of the committee was to suggest a special regulation to protect the population of large channel catfish from over-harvest - reduced the possession limit of catfish to five and only one fish could be over 24 inches - and this was in place for the 1990 fishing season for North Dakota and in 1991 for Minnesota.

In 1990, Minnesota and North Dakota conducted a project where 6,800 catfish were tagged in the Red River and four of its tributaries. A radio-telemetry study of channel catfish movement in 1997 and 1998 was done by the University of North Dakota. A study of fish species spawning in the Red River and its tributaries was done in 1999, 2000, and 2001 by University of North Dakota was funded by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department. From 1996 to 1998, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department conducted a series of population estimates to determine the number of larger channel catfish in the river. These intense sampling efforts were in part to evaluate the impacts of the 1990 channel catfish regulations, to determine the number of fish in the river, and the size structure of the Red River’s channel catfish population.

Both states have conducted angler surveys on the Red River to determine: the use of the river by residents and nonresidents; catch and harvest rates of various fish species; time of year and general location when harvest of fish was occurring; and a series of angler attitude questions. Creels were conducted in 1994 by Minnesota during four summer months, in 2000 during the open water months by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department during the spring creels in 1998 and 1999, 2000, and 2003 to determine the impacts of experimental spring fishing on the river’s walleye population.

In 1998 process of evaluating the impacts from opening the Red River to fishing in the spring began, prior to 1998 the Red River was closed to fishing which was prevent the over-harvest of walleye and sauger. Spring fishing on the river from 2000 to 2004 included a series of size limits and possession limits to limit the number of walleye harvested and the harvest of large walleye. Based on the information that the angler surveys provided, the restrictive limits on walleye in the spring and more liberal limits during the remainder of the year were having little or no impact on the walleye population. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department proposed a year round daily and possession limit of three walleye and or sauger with no size limits. This regulation will provide year round restrictions to the over-harvest of walleye or sauger and the regulations is reasonable and enforceable by conservation officers from both states. This new regulation went into effect on the first of April, 2004. As with all new regulations, the three walleye limit will be evaluated to see if it is accomplishing the goals and objectives needed for the river.

In 1995 and 2001, the Minnesota DNR was assisted by North Dakota Game and Fish Department in routine sampling the Red River. This work is to determine the general fish population, the numbers and size structure of various species, and serves to develop a trend line to look for changes in the fish populations.

The committee has attempted to standardize regulations on the Red River to make fishing the border more user friendly. Any fishing regulation should be based on sound biology, be enforceable, and be evaluated to ensure that it is making fishing better and more enjoyable.