Although goals differ from person to person, all anglers set them. While some people fish for food; others fish with the hopes of finding a new species; and others just want to hook a giant fish. When we set off for the Missouri River in late July, our goal was to find giant catfish! In a sense, the Missouri trip was a form of redemption and cleansing after our last excursion down south. This time, we were on a mission for a giant fish, a legendary fish people would talk about for years to come.
That morning, we set out with boat in tow and headed south towards Kansas City, Missouri. Less than a year ago we did the same trip in February and it was cold! We struggled putting together a pattern and ended our trip with 3 fish, the biggest blue catfish was only 36 pounds. Don’t get me wrong, a 36 pound blue is a respectable fish, but not what we were hoping for.
With all fishing trips there is always a hiccup either before leaving or while traveling. This trip was no different than the ones before. We had our hiccups but still felt like this would be an unforgettable trip. Interestingly, we ended up traveling towards our destination with no bait! Thankfully, a couple locals we know, Derek and Anthony, showed us a place in St. Joseph to buy bait. Derek and Anthony are avid tournament fisherman in the area and have vast knowledge of how to fish for blues which was a tremendous help. Since we had such a long drive and would be arriving late, the bait shop owner was gracious enough to stick around until we arrived. Finally, at midnight, we grabbed some bait and headed to the river to hit the night bite.
Setting up Camp
At 3 a.m., after an hour of loading the boat with camping gear, fishing supplies, coolers and film equipment, we were finally on the water! The Missouri River isn’t like the rivers we’re accustomed to in Minnesota. The river has fast raging water and is full of wing dikes or wing dams as we call them. At this point we started looking for a place to camp. We were told by locals about a camping area nearby but after an hour decided it was not a suitable location. We desperately needed to find a place to camp so we headed back on the water to scan the shorelines. Finally, we found a beach to camp on nestled between two wing dikes. We set up our campsite and eagerly headed out on the river to find some catfish. After a few hours with no bites we decided to get some sleep.
After a few hours of sleep we were ready to start the day. We decided to throw a line in from the beach while we were waiting to make some breakfast. Within 2 minutes of the line being in the water the rod was doubled over on the bank! We ran for the rod and began to fight whatever had taken the bait. The first fish we pulled in was a 20-25 lbs. blue catfish which was not a bad start to our morning! We quickly ate breakfast and headed out on the river. We fished most of the afternoon with few bites and even fewer fish.
Fishing with the Locals
That evening, Derek and Anthony decided to fish with us. During the day we landed a couple fish but the biggest fish was the 20 pound blue we caught while making breakfast. We picked up the boys and headed to some of their favorite bait spots to catch some fresh gold eye. Turns out the boys knew just the spot and we cleaned up some bait in no time.
We landed a couple blues that night, but what really gave us the upper hand was the information Derek and Anthony gave us on how to fish for monster blue catfish. On another note, Northwoods own Luke Hentges caught his first ever longnose gar out with the boys which measured a whopping 48 inches. Luke caught some alligator gar over 100 lbs. down in Texas but never a longnose which was exciting.
We headed back to camp around 2 AM to get a good nights rest. In the morning, woke up ready to roll. With new knowledge of the river, we set off with hopes of finding a legendary fish! At the start of our day we treked a solid 10 miles upriver before we reached our first spot. The area we fished had a fast current and chunks of lumber floating around. We decided to check the radar and noticed a storm was coming right at us. It wasn’t a big storm, but it looked like it was going to pack a punch so we headed down river to look for cover. As soon as we found shelter, it started down pouring! For 15 minutes or so we hung out under an overhanging tree on a beautiful little sand beach waiting out the rain.
After the rain stopped we continued down river. Using the knowledge we gained the day before, we decided to fish a an unfamiliar spot since it had the characteristics we were looking for. Fish are sensitive to changes in the environment so we pulled in quietly. I call it pulling in high and wide! Finally, we anchored the boat, baited our rods and started fishing.
About 15 minutes in Jakob’s rod bent over the boat and the drag ran! We knew we had a decent fish. I was maybe 20 seconds into recording Jakob when BAM, my rod went horizontal. My line was ripping off the reel, the rod was pulsing and we knew this was a big fish. The moment we saw the fish smash the rod, we knew it was something legendary. Jakob’s fish was getting close to the boat as I buried my rod under my arm and grabbed the net simultaneously. I went for the fish and missed with the net. The second time was a success, we had one fish landed and unhooked. Next, Jakob picked up the camera and kept recording.
The fish on my line was a fighter and after a few minutes exhaustion set in. I soon realized the fish was bellying down on the bottom of the river. Eventually, I got it moving towards the boat but it took off again peeling my drag and taking line without even trying. We decided to tie a life jacket to the anchor rope. Next, we threw it out to level the boat with the fish. This made it easier on me to get the fish in the boat, but it’s also good for the fish (you don’t want to overwork a big fish). We finally got on top of the fish and I slowly started dragging it off the bottom. The tip of my rod was down to the handle but it continued moving up the water column. Could this be the fish we were looking for?
Minutes later the fish came out of the water. I did not see the fish initially but Jakob did, he knew it was the one. When it finally surfaced again I knew it was over 100 lbs. I found the fish I had dreamed about! This fish wasn’t just a fish, this was a life goal and it was happening right before my eyes with one of my best friends.
Although we thought the fight was over, it was not. Getting this fish in the boat was going to be a challenge. I gave it everything I had, grabbed the netting and hauled it in the boat. I was exhausted, ecstatic, and wasn’t really sure what to do at this point. In order to keep us safe in the boat while handling the fish, I had to motor back up to the floating anchor rope and tie up. Finally, I had a chance to really look at the fish for more than a few seconds. It was one of those times a fish is so big it doesn’t even look real. When we measured the fish, it was 55 inches long with a 41.5 inch girth! We estimated the fish to be around 115 lbs., which makes it a very rare specimen for the Missouri River.
We sat for over an hour with no rods in the water, we hugged it out a few times, talked about how we were feeling and reflected on what had just happened. Jokingly I said “alright, lets head home”, knowing Jakob would not approve I started to laugh and said, “well, let’s throw out some more lines and get fishing, let’s get ourselves another one!” That about sums up our trip to the Missouri River and encounter with a giant blue catfish!
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