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BRAD DOKKEN: Fishing still No. 1 on Red

It doesn’t look like much now — strewn-about garbage, tangles of trees and a steep drop to the river — but a piece of city-owned land downstream from Riverside Dam in Grand Forks near the old wastewater plant is the likely location for a new boat ramp on the Red River.

So began a story I wrote 10 years ago about plans for improved boating access on the Red River north of Riverside Dam in Grand Forks.

The old “North Landing” about a quarter-mile downstream was a mud hole, and the ramp was beginning to collapse into the river.

The story appeared in the Herald’s outdoors section May 2, 2004, and at the time, it would have been difficult to envision the transformation that occurred in a matter of years. Completed in 2005, the north-end boat ramp today is tied in with the Greenway on both sides of the river, part of a recreational network that includes paved trails for hiking and biking and a walking bridge that crosses the river just upstream from the ramp.

It is, in short, a beautiful facility, and anglers have landed walleyes, saugers and catfish exceeding 20 pounds within casting distance of the ramp. A friend and I even had food delivered to the landing a couple of years back when we were fishing and didn’t want to leave the water.

In that context, I couldn’t help but be mildly disappointed this week when news reports about a soon-to-open boathouse where canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards can be rented talked about the Red as if recreation on the river was somehow a new concept.

I’m all for the boathouse, and I think the facility will be a fine addition to outdoor life in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. But as a fisherman more inclined to cut bait than paddle a kayak, I maintain the river has been safe and open for business long before now.

Local anglers had to battle for years to get a couple of boat landings along the river — I know this because I covered meetings where opponents argued against ramps the same way an environmentalist would argue against toxic waste dumps — but aside from occasional mention in the Herald’s outdoors pages, that effort largely went unheralded.

Fishing as a recreational activity on the Red River is alive and well, and its significance to tourism and the local economy shouldn’t be overlooked. A 2001 survey showed fishing pumped more than $4.5 million — including $2.16 million from nonresident anglers — into communities along the U.S. side of the river from March through October 2000.

A similar survey conducted in 2010 documented anglers from 17 states who logged more than 120,000 hours on the river from April through October. I know of at least two Coast Guard-certified fishing guides who offer catfish trips right here in Grand Forks, and they have hosted anglers from 20 states as far away as Alaska and Florida.

In addition, the Cats Incredible catfish tournament long was recognized as one of the top events of its kind in the country, and a Wednesday night catfish league is a popular attraction for local fishing enthusiasts throughout the summer.

Not everyone fishes, of course, and the addition of kayak, canoe and paddleboard rentals undoubtedly makes recreation on the Red even better. But the Red River’s reputation as one of the top channel catfish destinations in North America shouldn’t be underestimated.

It’s big stuff, and it deserves to be recognized as such.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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