Families gather in Floodwood for night catfishing

FLOODWOOD, Minn. -- Mona Koivisto heaves a generous gob of chicken liver in a high arc over the St. Louis River. The bait disappears into the dark, but a subtle gloop confirms that the chicken has landed.

FLOODWOOD, Minn. -- Mona Koivisto heaves a generous gob of chicken liver in a high arc over the St. Louis River. The bait disappears into the dark, but a subtle gloop confirms that the chicken has landed.

"Right where I wanted it," Koivisto says.

She sets the butt of the rod in a rod holder on the riverbank and takes up slack line.

Now she will take her place by her husband, Rick Koivisto, and the others who are gathered under the lantern light and around the campfire.

A whole stringer of Koivistos and Andersons and a couple of Wiltons have gathered on Catfish Festival weekend in Floodwood to kick back and maybe catch a few cats in the process. They're camped on private land along a lovely stretch of the St. Louis River. It's a Friday night, and the annual catfishing contest is under way.


Rick and Mona are from Pengilly but keep their camper here all summer, visiting often. Their grown sons Jeremy and Nikolai are on hand, camped just down the shore, along with Jeremy's wife, Sarah, and the girls, Ryann, 8, and Mikayla, 9.

I've joined the crew for the evening, and my rod is also anchored on shore, with its chunk of chicken liver oozing blood downstream.

"Chicken liver works good because it bleeds out in the water, and they'll follow that scent right to your bait," Rick says.

It's a good life here on the river on a Friday night in July. The mosquitoes aren't bad. The air is warm. The fire, built in an old truck rim, casts amber light on the faces of everyone gathered.

Although the Catfish Festival has added an air of excitement to the weekend, the scene around the fire isn't so different from any other summer weekend.

Jim Anderson, 62, of Floodwood, is talking about what a good buy he made on chicken livers when he was in Cloquet.

Rick and Jeremy and Nikolai are talking about the four catfish they picked up earlier in the day, fishing downriver in a boat.

The fishing is easy. We sit in lawn chairs, watching the green glow of the chemically activated glow sticks affixed to our rod tips.


They glow like listless fireflies, hovering in the darkness over the river. In addition, Rick's rod also has a tiny bell attached to it that rings if the rod tip goes to jerking.

The presentation for catfish is simple: a ½-ounce egg sinker held with a splitshot about 18 inches above a single hook.

Bait varies widely. Chicken liver is always popular. So are night crawlers, clams, shrimp and chunks of sucker, smelt or venison.

The fresher the better, Rick says.

"There was a guy once, came up here from Arkansas," he says. "He rolled some Wheaties, limburger cheese and hamburger together. Guaranteed it would work. Never got a bite.

"These catfish do not like rotten bait. They want fresh bait."

Anderson recalls fishing with leopard frogs, freshly caught from a farmer's field on the way to the river, then smashed lightly to allow the scent from its innards to wash downstream.

Rick starts to rise from his chair. He thinks his fishing rod is moving. False alarm: It's an actual firefly hovering near his glow-stick, possibly looking for a mate.


Earlier in the afternoon, Rick and others had picked up four cats, two of which were still on Nikolai's stringer.

These St. Louis River cats aren't typically big.

"A big one would be five or six pounds," Rick says. "Usually, they're around two or three pounds."

"The biggest one I've ever gotten up here is eight pounds," Anderson said.

Both Koivisto and Anderson are former winners of the Catfish Festival fishing contest.

Throughout the evening, people come and go from the Koivisto campsite. Rachel Wilton of Floodwood and her son, Justin, 13, come and stay for a while. Justin tosses his line in the river, but doesn't have a bite. Rachel is Rick and Mona's daughter.

Occasionally, a rod tip will go to bobbing, its glow-stick dancing in the night like a firefly that's been sipping Red Bull. One of us bolts from the firelight down to the river.

Most of the time, the catfish is gone, and often we're snagged. We haul our rods up to the lantern light to re-rig.

About 11:45 p.m., Mona has had enough of this not catching fish. She implores Rick to add a jumbo cocktail shrimp to her agglomeration of chicken liver. She heaves it into the water.


She hasn't been back at the fire 10 minutes when Lisa shouts, "Mona, your thing is moving."

It's hard to beat the Mona-Lisa team.

Mona hustles to the water and sets the hook. She feels the resistance of the fish.

"Fight me," she begs the fish.

Rick is standing by with the long-handled net. The river is another five feet below them.

Mona keeps reeling and the fish nears shore.

"It's right there, Rick! Get it!" she shouts.

Rick nets the fish, and the couple climbs back up the hill and into the lantern's glow. The gallery admires the fish, a 2½-pounder. It's pure channel cat with the inner-tube lips, the Velcro teeth and the whisker-like barbels flopping in the night air.

It'll go on the stringer and eventually into a frying pan or a smoker.

Once re-baited, Mona will hurl another smorgasbord of scent into the river. She's pumped now.

"The bigger fish are out there, waiting," she says.

You have to be optimistic when it's Catfish Festival time in Floodwood.

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