LOCKPORT, Man. -- Two years had passed since I had last wet a line in Canadian water, and I was looking forward to changing that last Saturday morning, Sept. 11, when I pulled up to a Manitoba border crossing with a mix of anticipation and apprehension.

Anticipation, because one of my favorite fishing holes – the Red River below St. Andrews Lock and Dam in Lockport, Man., known for its trophy catfish – once again was within reach.

Apprehension, because I was attempting to cross the border during a pandemic on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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Crossing the border is stressful during the best of times, but there’d been more anxiety than usual as the day of the trip approached. Canada requires fully vaccinated Americans to provide results of a negative COVID-19 PCR (short for polymerase chain reaction) test taken no more than 72 hours before crossing the border, and the clock on my test was ticking.

I took my test Wednesday morning, Sept. 8, and the 48-hour mark came and went Friday morning, Sept. 10, without any results. Morning turned to afternoon, which turned to evening.

Still no results; the 72-hour time limit was ticking ever closer.

Knowing my best bet for crossing the border in time would be to spend the night at the family getaway in northern Minnesota, less than a mile from the Manitoba border, I headed north last Friday evening, fully expecting my anticipated Canadian fishing trip wouldn’t be happening.

I support the testing requirement, and I had a solid Plan B in place if my results didn’t arrive on time.

My visions of monster Canadian catfish had all but faded late last Friday night when my phone beeped, first alerting me to a text message and then seconds later to an email message.

That could only be one thing, I knew, and sure enough, I was right: my test results. If all went according to plan, I’d make it to the border with 14 minutes to spare in the required 72-hour testing window.

Whew. Back to Plan A.

I had crossed the border Monday, Aug. 9 – the first day Canada allowed nonessential American travelers to enter the country – as part of the Herald’s coverage of the border reopening, so I was familiar with the Canadian government’s ArriveCAN app and the information that must be submitted before attempting to cross.

Seeing I had my ducks in a row – including passport, proof of full vaccination, a negative PCR test and a quarantine plan in case I was flagged for random testing and tested positive – the Canada Border Services Agency officer cleared me for entry into Manitoba, and I was on my way north within minutes.

Apprehension had given way to full-blown anticipation.

My original plan had been to drive to Canada on Friday to spend the weekend with friends who live near Lockport. That would give us two full days of catfishing on the Red River before I headed back south to Grand Forks on Monday, Sept. 13.

Waiting for test results delayed my departure until the next morning, but the impact was minimal.

Fishing in my Canadian friend’s new boat, we launched at Selkirk, Man., early Saturday afternoon and landed 31 catfish up to 29½ pounds in four hours on the water. Sunday, we fished six hours and released 40 catfish, a tally that would have been even higher if we’d landed every fish we hooked.

There’s something about the pull of a Red River catfish at the end of the line that never gets old. With access to massive Lake Winnipeg, catfish on the downstream side of Lockport Dam grow larger than their counterparts upstream.

Anyone who says fishing isn’t exercise has never tangled with a big Red River catfish, especially a Lockport catfish. As per usual, several of the catfish we landed last weekend weighed 20 pounds or more.

I’ve fished the Lockport stretch of the Red River numerous times in the past 20 years, and while I’ve had tough days, the good ones have far outnumbered the bad. In catfishing circles, the Lockport stretch of the Red River is called the “channel catfish mecca” for good reason, and on this trip, the fishing definitely didn’t disappoint.

This trip was about more than fishing, though – much more. The leaves were beginning to turn, there was a fall bite in the air and a glorious Saturday evening by the fire with good Canadian friends included plenty of laughs and conversation as geese noisily flew overhead somewhere in the darkness.

It almost felt normal.

Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken