We had been fishing for exactly four minutes.

Like the seasoned fishing boy that he is, Durick’s 11-year-old son Braden picked up the rod and began to spin. A fiery catfish weighing 13 solid pounds quickly collapsed on the bottom of the boat.

Seven minutes later, a 15-pound catfish was in the net. The two fish were released after quick photos.

Not a bad start.

Red River Catfish Guide Brad Durick and son Braden, 11, show off a caught catfish on Monday, June 28, on a lazy afternoon on the river.  (Photo / Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Red River Catfish Guide Brad Durick and son Braden, 11, show off a caught catfish on Monday, June 28, on a lazy afternoon on the river. (Photo / Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

There have been plenty of quick starts and quick photos this summer on the Red River for Elder Durick, in his 14th season as head of the Brad Durick Outdoors Fishing Guide Service. But in his 14 years as a Red River catfish guide, Durick, 46, says he’s never seen a year like this for low water, thanks to harsh conditions. Widespread droughts that have left the Red River and other rivers in the region at their lowest level in years.

He saw similar conditions in late summer, but never in late June.

“I’ve never seen anything like this for this time of year – ever,” said Durick. “It’s a whole new experience.

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At Grand Forks, the Red River on Tuesday, June 29, was flowing at 1,160 cubic feet per second. Last year, on June 29, the Red River at Grand Forks flowed at a level close to 8,000 cfps.

Dangerous areas

A licensed Coast Guard boat captain, Durick says he hasn’t fished the stretch of the Red River at Grand Forks downstream from the Riverside Dam for several weeks due to the treacherously low water levels. The Red River Valley Catfish Club has moved its Wednesday night fishing league events to the upstream side of the dam, where river levels are higher and less dangerous after club members start hitting rocks and damaging the lower units of their outboard motors – a repair that can cost several hundred dollars – while trying to navigate the river below the dam.

Typically, league nights alternate between the Whopper John Little boat launch below the Riverside Dam and the LaFave Park boat launch above the dam in East Grand Forks.

Durick, who runs the Scheels Boundary Battle Catfish tournament in Grand Forks, also moved the two days of competition from June 26 to 27 to the upstream side of the dam, instead of holding the competition downstream of the dam on day one and upstream. the following. .

All because of the low water level.

“I’ve avoided some sections, north of Grand Forks being the main one, just because I don’t really want to risk my gear,” said Durick. “Right now, a unit below the store takes about eight weeks to wait, and when you’re in my business, an eight week wait just won’t work. “

The Red River above the Grand Forks Dam is fine, says Durick, but there is no current. And without current, catfish are difficult to mold, he says.

“(Current) makes them predictable, so I hung out at Drayton quite a bit because we have current, although there isn’t much left,” said Durick.

Without rain and an influx of water, says Durick, it won’t be long before the Red River below the Drayton Dam also becomes non-navigable. Already pelicans are perching on an exposed sandbank in the middle of the river that is normally underwater, and bison and cattle bones – some perhaps a century or older – protrude from various places. along the bank.

Pelicans rest on an exposed sandbar on the Red River below the Drayton Dam on Monday, June 28, near Drayton, North Dakota.  Water levels in the Red River and other rivers in the region are particularly low this summer due to widespread drought.  (Photo / Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Pelicans rest on an exposed sandbar on the Red River below the Drayton Dam on Monday, June 28, near Drayton, North Dakota. Water levels in the Red River and other rivers in the region are particularly low this summer due to widespread drought. (Photo / Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Durick found a massive buffalo skull, with horns intact, on a recent trip to Drayton, and Braden collected several bones of unknown origin that late June afternoon.

The river was down about 8 inches since Durick’s last trip to Drayton just five days earlier.

“I know I’m getting closer to the lowest I’ve ever hit (at Drayton), and I know I can probably finish a little lower,” he said. “The most important thing is that it affects where I can and can’t go. I can fish wherever I want to fish; the problem is, i don’t want to risk damaging my boat just because i want to keep riding.

Braden Durick, 11, of Grand Forks, shows some bones he found protruding from the shore on Monday, June 28 on the Red River near Drayton, North Dakota.  Low water levels reveal all kinds of bones and other previously hidden objects.  (Photo / Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Braden Durick, 11, of Grand Forks, shows some bones he found protruding from the shore on Monday, June 28 on the Red River near Drayton, North Dakota. Low water levels reveal all kinds of bones and other previously hidden objects. (Photo / Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Banner season

Despite the low water level issues, business has been booming this summer, says Durick, a trend that matches the nationwide rise in fishing, camping and other outdoor activities since the start of the summer. COVID-19 pandemic. Before taking a few days off to lead the Scheels Boundary Battle tournament, Durick was on the water 27 days a 28 and 30 days a 32.

“I’ve never been so busy before,” he said. “It’s almost overwhelming because there are so many new people coming in. You can see it at the bait shop – more people are buying bait, more people are on the shore.”

Braden Durick, 11, wields a catfish as his father, Brad, takes a photo Monday, June 28 on the Red River near Drayton, ND (Photo / Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Braden Durick, 11, wields a catfish as his father, Brad, takes a photo Monday, June 28 on the Red River near Drayton, ND (Photo / Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

Durick says he’s had clients from as far away as Wyoming, Oregon, Virginia, and Missouri this year, in addition to the traditional strongholds of Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas.

“I have dealt with more people who had never fished for catfish before, I have spoken to more people who had never fished for catfish before, I think, than ever in the past year and half-past, ”he said. “So (the pandemic) is bringing in a lot of new people. “

Guiding almost every day leaves little time for leisurely fishing, and our afternoon on the Red River marks the first time Durick has had the chance to coil a catfish or spend time in the boat with his son Braden. in several weeks.

“I don’t even remember how to catch a fish,” he joked.

He doesn't have the opportunity to catch many catfish as a fishing guide, but Brad Durick was fortunate enough to land a few on Monday June 28, while his 11-year-old son Braden , took care of the nets.  (Photo / Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

He doesn’t have the opportunity to catch many catfish as a fishing guide, but Brad Durick was fortunate enough to land a few on Monday June 28, while his 11-year-old son Braden , took care of the nets. (Photo / Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

As a fishing guide, Durick says he’s reluctant to discuss numbers and size with clients before a trip or risk spoiling the outing, but we end the afternoon with 19 catfish up to 20 pounds. in about five hours of fishing.

A meticulous archivist, Durick says he’s caught an average of about 1 ½ fish per hour over the years, which works out to about half a dozen fish in a four-hour guided trip. This year has been a lot better than that, he says.

“We are blowing this out of the water,” Durick said.

Already this year, Durick and his customers landed 2,266 catfish, making it the best year ever, including six that were tagged in Manitoba as part of a multi-year study. Of that total, 38 catfish weighed 20 pounds or more, he says, and more than 99% of the fish landed were released. While numbers like those can set unrealistic expectations, Durick says his best previous year was 2018, when 2,100 catfish entered his boat. It took five months, compared to just two months this year to land even longer.

In 2019 and 2020, Durick says he barely broke 1,000 catfish for the year.

“As the water drops, (the numbers) start to loosen up and get a little more normal,” he said. “You usually have to sort a few small fish to get the big fish. We saw a lot more big fish than usual so it’s really good.

In the meantime, like farmers across the region, Durick and other river fishermen hope and pray that the rain will bring the water back to more favorable levels. Growing up on a farm near Bowbells in northwest North Dakota, Durick says he definitely sees parallels between farming and guiding.

“In the conversations I have had with my father, it’s pretty much the same,” he said. “You pay all of your expenses and insurance up front. You have big gas bills, you have repair bills, and you hope Mother Nature treats you well. It’s pretty much like that.

“Am I going to run out of water?” It’s like, ‘Will my wheat grow?’ “

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