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Brad Dokken: Now that's a big walleye! Red River kicks out a trophy for Grand Forks 12-year-old

Set up along a muddy riverbank in south Grand Forks, Caden Erickson was hoping to catch a catfish, when he got a bite about 8:30 p.m., shortly before dark.

Caden 1.jpg
Caden Erickson, 12, of Grand Forks, caught this 32-inch walleye Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, while fishing from shore along the Red River in south Grand Forks. The big walleye hit a frog, Caden says, and he kept the fish to have it mounted. Caden is a 7th-grader at Schroeder Middle School in Grand Forks.
Contributed/Jared Erickson
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Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken

GRAND FORKS – One of the many great things about fishing a river is the unknown, the anticipation of what’s going to be at the end of the line when a fish bites.

You just never know.

Nowhere, perhaps, is that truer than on the Red River.

So it was that Caden Erickson of Grand Forks was fishing the Red River last Friday night, Sept. 9, with a buddy, just like he’s done many other times throughout this summer.

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Set up along a muddy riverbank in south Grand Forks, Caden was hoping to catch a catfish, when he got a bite about 8:30 p.m., shortly before dark.

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“I was using a frog, and I just threw it out there in the middle of the river,” Caden said.

The fish at the end of the line, he recalls, didn’t feel that big at first.

“He didn’t fight too hard,” said Caden, 12, a seventh-grader at Schroeder Middle School in Grand Forks. “It only took me a couple of minutes to get him in.”

Landing the fish, however, revealed a different picture: The fish was a walleye.

Make that a big walleye – a really big walleye – as in 32 inches of really big.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Caden said.

Anywhere you go, a walleye that size qualifies as a trophy.

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“Yeah, I’m getting him mounted,” Caden said.

Out of curiosity, I checked the North Dakota Game and Fish Department’s online “Whopper Club” and “Catch and Release Club” databases to see what I could find about big walleyes in the Red River.

The Whopper Club recognizes anglers who catch and keep a fish of a minimum weight, which varies depending on the species. For walleyes, the fish must weigh at least 8 pounds. The Catch and Release Club, as the name suggests, is for fish that are released, with a minimum length requirement of 25 inches for walleyes.

Do you have a fishing or hunting photo you'd like to share? Send your photos to bdokken@gfherald.com.

As I suspected, 32-inch walleyes, whether kept or released, don’t come along very often.

Of 72 Whopper Club entries on the Red River, only three other walleyes measured 32 inches, the most recent entry being caught in October 2001. A walleye reported to measure 34 inches was caught and kept in September 1987, but the recorded weight on the fish was only 8 pounds, 6 ounces.

Unless the fish was part eel, a walleye measuring 34 inches should weigh a lot more than 8 pounds, 6 ounces, so I’m inclined to question the validity of that measurement.

The Game and Fish Department’s Catch and Release Club currently has 41 walleye entries for the Red River, the largest being a 34-inch fish that was released in November 1999. A 33-inch walleye was released in April 2016 at the Fargo North Dam, and two 32-inch walleyes were entered into the database, one released in October 1997 and a second in October 1999.

If you’re beginning to see a pattern here between fall time and big walleyes, go to the front of the class.

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The 32-inch walleye Caden landed was his biggest to date, he says – by far. He wasn’t sure about his previous personal best walleye – or “PB,” as they’re called in the fishing lingo.

“Not too big,” he said. “Probably, like 7, maybe 8 inches – something around there. I don’t catch walleyes too much.”

Caden says he’s been fishing the Red River “every day for quite awhile” – at least up until school started.

It’s been a good year for catfish, he says.

“I’ve caught some pretty big ones,” Caden said. “This summer, I caught about a 25- to 30-pounder, probably.”

That might be a bit of a stretch – at least without seeing a photo for proof – but that’s an angler’s prerogative, after all. We’ll give Caden the benefit of the doubt on that one.

There’s no doubt the Red River holds some monster-sized channel catfish.

As for the walleye he caught while fishing along the muddy banks of the Red River on a September evening in south Grand Forks, the fish is a trophy in every sense of the word.

It just goes to show. … You never know.

Especially when you’re fishing on a river.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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