Stu Thompson – Master of Channel Catfish on Fly

by | Aug 30, 2023 | fly fishing for channel catfish

flyfishing-ManitobaGranny and I got an early start today departing our gorgeous little Minnesota campsite around 7 AM shortly after daylight.  We eased our way along the MN border with Canada and finally made our crossing six miles north of Warroad in to Manitoba.  The reason for this trip is eight days of fishing for northern pike, lake trout, arctic grayling and walleye at Gangler’s North Seal River Lodge.


As mention yesterday, we decided to drive from home in WI to Winnipeg, Manitoba in order to save some flight money but also visit my friend Stu Thompson from Winnipeg (We fly on a charter from Winnipeg to Gangler’s on Saturday).  Stu and I go way back – like 30 years.  In fact, 30 years ago we did a TV show together for Fly Fish TV which we fly fished for channel catfish on the famous Red River.  Filming the episode was a struggle because of a massive storm and flooding and although we managed a few it turned into more of a pike trip.  Somehow we made it work out.


Stu-ThompsonSince that trip I’ve only seen Stu once.  Once!  We keep in touch and I in fact wrote the foreword to his new book “Tyed and True 101 Fly Patterns Proven to Catch Fish” but we simply haven’t crossed paths.  When I realized we were driving to Winnipeg a few days before we fly to Gangler’s I emailed Stu and before you knew it we were all set up for meeting and fishing for channel cats on the Red River today and tomorrow.


flyfishingGranny and I arrived at Lockport, Manitoba around 2 PM.  Stu was waiting with a huge grin.  We took a few minutes to catch up and he met Granny for the first time.  Then we wadered up and hit the river.  The Red is running about 25ft lower than when I was here in May of 1993 during the flood.  Then the river was chocolate red mud and today its practically clear.  You can see in the water about two feet.


Red-River-damWe fish right in Lockport below the massive dam.  Its huge water and there are boats and bait folks everywhere.  It’s a bit of a zoo but this place is the best channel catfishing in all of North America.  I’m sure some would argue but from what I’ve seen – yeah, they would have to argue.  And not only are there lots of cats but these ones average unusually large sizes.


channel-catfishFly fishing for catfish is unheard of most places but channel cats in particular are aggressive fish eaters.  If you get your fly close they will sense it quickly whether by sight or detect it with their whiskers or lateral line.  Stu is the man for cats and he recommends a 9 or 10-weight rod.  I fished my 9-weight Air 2 with an SA Sonar Sink Tip.  You don’t need to get down too much but the tip helps keep your fly on bottom.  As almost always, I went with a Clouser.  A tan and white version tied up by Stu.


fish-onIt took me a bit to get used to wading the rocks and not being intimidated by the massive water.  There are danger signs all over which really make you think.  30 minutes in Stu hooked up not once but twice.  Both times the unseen catfish took Stu to his backing.  One broke him off in the rocks and on the other the hook pulled.


Stu-ThompsonRegardless of the first two getting away, Stu was on them and soon he hooked his third.  This time Stu fought him like he was angry and worked this fish hard.  Stu never let the beast leave the pool and soon he had him in the net.


channel-catfishI get a kick out of all species of catfish.  They are strange animals.  While some are colorful and gorgeous fish, channels are drab.  They are mostly gray however when you move them under the sun there are hints of almost a purple color and hues of gold.  I clicked off a few pics of Stu and he released the beauty.


Currier-flyfishingAfter seeing Stu get hooked up I got a bit more daring in my wading.  I got in a good position to make a cast upstream and let my fly sink deep.  In a way its like nymphing without an indicator but after your fly passes you then allow it to swing like you would for a steelhead.  Wham!  I was on!


I was fishing a bit heavier leader than Stu.  Stu likes straight 12lb because when he gets snagged he doesn’t fear of breaking a fly line trying to break it loose.  I was on 16lb SA Fluoro.  I’m no stranger to putting the heat on big fish and letting my rod absorb the shock and I worked this fish like fighting a GT.  There are a ton of sharp rocks around and I wanted to avoid them at all costs.


channel-catAfter about five minutes of down and dirty we got our first glimpse.  These cats aren’t exactly pretty but nonetheless they are incredibly cool creatures.  After a little chaos and one more short run, Stu corralled my fish in his huge net.


Currier-catfishI had a hot streak in me after my first cat.  It helped that I tightened my wading boots and got my wading skills back.  I have only had my waders on a couple times this year.  I ended up catching two more.  One doesn’t count because I snagged him but two of these big boys inhaled my Clouser.  Payback from 30 years ago!


catfish-on-flyMeanwhile Stu had his game on too.  Between the two of us we landed at least four channels between 28 and 34 inches.  We released all of them and at around 6:30 we packed it up and I introduced Stu to a New Glarus at the parking lot.


catfishingStu headed home and we will fish again tomorrow.  Granny and I are camped at Bird Hill Park about ten miles from the fishing.  It’s a cool spot and we just watched the “Blue Moon” rise behind the van.


Jeff Currier Global Fly Fishing


Welcome to the Blog of Jeff Currier!

Contact Jeff

I started fly fishing at age 7 in the lakes and ponds of New England cutting my teeth on various sunfish, bass, crappie and stocked trout. I went to Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, where I graduated with a Naturalist Degree while I discovered new fishing opportunities for pike, muskellunge, walleyes and various salmonids found in Lake Superior and its tributaries.

From there I headed west to work a few years in the Yellowstone region to simply work as much as most people fish and fish as much as most people work. I did just that, only it lasted over 20 years working at the Jack Dennis Fly Shop in Jackson, WY where I departed in 2009. Now it’s time to work for "The Man", working for myself that is.

I pursue my love to paint fish, lecture on every aspect of fly fishing you can imagine and host a few trips to some of the most exotic places you can think of. My ultimate goal is to catch as many species of fish on fly possible from freshwater to saltwater, throughout the world. I presently have taken over 440 species from over 60 countries!