Big Fish, Big River

Large walleye and catfish are to be found in the Red River of the North. For those who have not yet fished these waters, this blog from Fargo Moorhead provides a video detailing fishing for catfish and information on large walleyes. You don’t have to travel to central Minnesota to catch nice walleyes!

Check out these blogs, showing some of the catfish found in the Red! Or go to Cool_Cats to read a story from the Minnesota Volunteer on channel catfish of the Red (May-June 1993).

Trivia: Which town in North Dakota sports the largest fiberglass catfish?

Stormwater Education from around the country

In the wake of a week filled with 4 and 6 inch rainfalls, I thought it might be appropriate to provide some resources for stormwater education – either for yourself, or for those you might teach. Most of these resources come from a nice little pdf put together by Rivers West Red River Corridor Inc. to address watershed health, outdoor learning and natural play opportunities.

From their Water on the Land, Sustainable stormwater management guide:

Rivers West has a goal to “restore and protect the Corridor’s natural environment through the application and encouragement of sustainable practices.” Since its inception, the organization has executed studies and projects, and has created resource guides and other informational and educational pieces to attain this objective.

Within the Water on the Land guide are examples of educational activities targeted for a variety of age groups. These activities come from a range of sources, and are listed below. (please note, no review has been made of these materials…I list them only as potential resources). In addition to the resources listed below, I encourage you to look at the full document Water on the Land as it is full of information on reducing our impact on water quality and working towards healthy watersheds. – Stormwater and students, from Eugene, Oregon. – Salt Lake County Stormwater Coalition, Utah

Lake Winnipeg Water Stewardship – a resource for Grade 8 Science

Clean Water Education Partnership – give watersheds a hand

Yellow Fish Road Trout Unlimited Canada’s storm drain stenciling program

Treat it Right – Stormwater Education Guide, Edmonton, Alberta

Build a Green Roof! Lesson plans..

~ American Society of Landscape Architects

~ Green Roof BC

Give Water a Hand

Ecology Centers Urban Runoff Game

Many more useful links found in the document, check it out!

Reforesting the Red

Trees and rivers, a good combination…”strategically planting trees along the Red River creates a buffer, maintains river bank stability, encourages growth of native plants, improves water quality (Fargo-Moorhead’s drinking water source) and provides habitat for wildlife.”

Join River Keepers on May 22nd and help them plant 1500 trees and shrubs! Contact for more information and to volunteer!

The Red Rive Basin Riparian Project is a project available to help landowners with technical and financial advice in regards to their lands adjacent to rivers, or riparian. Below is a Google Earth view of a well forested river between Neche and Pembina, ND.

As one drives along in the valley it is often quite easy to see where the rivers are based on the trees visible on the horizon. Anyone who has spent time on these waters also knows that rivers are alive, and move.

In their movement they eventually take  some trees along with the soil, particularly at high flows. Since the high flows are often made worse by humans, it’s a good thing to help out the health of our streams by planting new trees and shrubs along the river edges. This is also a good time to remind ourselves that if you live on a river, take care where you place your home, and be responsible about what you do on the land. Mowing to the rivers edge, and clearing the trees for a ‘view’ will most certainly get you an upclose view down the road. Rivers move – check out the old oxbows and paths this stream once took in the not so distant past.

We can control how we live with rivers, and it may behoove us to consider learning more about them without assuming that we can just make them go where we want.

Six word memoir project – Waters of the Red River Basin

Energy, enthusiasm, interest, connected by rivers. –  2012 River Watch Forum
Flowing water, inquiring minds, outdoor classroom. –  River Watch Program.

I’m challenging you, River Watch team members, water resource personnel, citizens of the Red River Basin, to share your description of water’s influence or connection to your life, in six words. How do rivers impact or shape your life here in the Valley? Here are some ideas to get you started.

Students: How would you describe your streams? your monitoring experiences?
Teachers: How does water influence your teaching? What does water offer?
Resource Professionals: What’s special about the  Waters of the Red River Basin?
Citizens: How visible are the waters of the Red River Basin in your daily life?

Share your words through a comment on this post, or send to my email and I will compile them.

The “Six word memoir” project. Your life, in six words. Your relationships, in six words. Your relationship to the planet, six words.  EPA has teamed up with Smith Magazine (home of the “Six word memoir”) in a special project entitled: “Six words for the planet”.

from their website:

“Share your six words to celebrate the environment, share your concerns, and talk about the planet. EPA will feature some submissions on EPA.govFacebookTwitter and YouTube. And your Six Words for the Planet will be considered for a future book, calendar and more.”

To find out more about the Six word memoir – check out this video at

Fargo/Moorhead Area Events

The following events are from an E-Newsletter of the River Keepers organization in Fargo. Lots of activity this upcoming week, from catfish to rain barrels!

River Keepers is presenting information on Rain Barrels and how to build one at “Green, Growing, & Grand” this Saturday at Moorhead’s Horizon Middle School. Don’t miss out on learning something new from experts, whose presentations cover a wide range of gardening topics which will be covered between 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.  Pre-registration ends March 7th.  Cost is $34 ($29 reduced fee for Moorhead School District residents). Included are a continental breakfast and buffet lunch.   Go to on the catalog icon, then choose the Home & Garden category and click Gardening Seminar 2012 or call 218-284-3400 to register.
Attend the Community Garden Forum on Wednesday, March 14 from 6-9 p.m. to visit with local gardening experts, supporting agencies, and leaders of gardening programs.  For more information on this free event or to register, contact the Cass County Soil Conservation District at 701.282.2157 x3 or emamil

The Red River of the North is home to the finest channel catfishing in the U.S., yet is often overlooked by locals as a fishing destination. Attend Catfish University on Saturday, March 10 at 1 p.m. at the Settle in in Fargo for $40/person. Catfish University will teach participants everything they need to know to get started catfishing. The class begins with choosing the right gear, right bait, basic catfish behavior, seasonal patterns, and how to catch catfish in all water conditions. Space is limited. To attend, call 701.739-5808 or email

Recapping the Red – Oral Histories of the RRBC, TIC and RRBB

So, you never know what you might find when surfing the web. In a bid to look for logo ideas and watershed outlines for the Red River Basin, I came across a document called “The Power of a Dream” – Biographical oral histories of The International Coalition, Red River Basin Board and Red River Basin Commission. Now I’ve been working in the Valley for nearly a year and I don’t recall ever seeing this. The document was put together in 2007 with funds (it appears) from the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Project at the University of Minnesota – Crookston. The student editor listed is Kayla Kappes.

Forty-two (42) individuals across Manitoba, Minnesota and North Dakota are highlighted in this document. The interviews provide an oral history of the above organizations, including not only how they came about, but also the dreams and hopes of the people involved in creating them. New to the valley? or just new to water issues in the valley? This paper is a great place to start in understanding the history of people and the issue of flooding in the Red River Valley. An easy read, you may learn something new about someone you know in the Valley! Check it out at

Here is a list of people interviewed in the paper:

Arland Jacobson, Ben Varnson, Bob Halliday, Bruce Furness, Bruce Third,Bud Wessman, Carolyn Engebretson, Chris Kranendonk, Cliff McLain, Dale Frink, Dan Wilkens, Don Ogaard, Don Schirrick, Earl Anderson, Harold Taylor, Herm Martens, Hetty Walker, Jake Gust, Jay Leitch, Jim Eldridge, Joe Belford, Joel Heitkamp, John Oxton, Jon Evert, Ken Madison, Linda Kingery, Lisa Bourget, Lyle Eiserg, Melissa Hotain, Mike Kotchman, Milton Arneson, Molly Macgregor, Morris Lanning, R.S. “Bud” Oliver, Richard Andring, Riley Rogers, Roger Moe, Roland Gullekson, Ron Harnack, Todd Johnson, Tom Jorgens, and Valerie Rutherford







Rethinking dams

If you haven’t had a chance yet, review the previous two posts. An interstate and international collaborative is working to restore stream continuity along the Red River of the North. In the case of the Red River, dam removal is not occurring as much as dam remodeling is taking place. These small dams, often called ‘drowning machines’ due to the nature of their hydraulics (water movement), are typically less than 10 feet tall and many were built in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. They are referred to as ‘drowning machines’ because during high water flows people and animals that go over the dams can become trapped in a re-circulating current up against the base of the dam, often resulting in drowning. The work currently being done on the dams will result in a stream that fish can migrate through and it will eliminate the ‘drowning’ hydraulics.

Out in Washington State the Condit dam is being demolished to restore the  river and salmon habitat. Click here to see a video of the initial blasting – who knew so much sediment could be stored behind a dam. Pretty amazing footage! I had to watch it several times. This is one of two dams being removed on the White Salmon River, to restore migration of salmon back up into the headwaters areas. According to an AP report, modifying the dam would have cost $100 million, while removing it was only $32 million. Few dam removals have ever been done. Check out for more information on how it’s being done and for a look at some cool before  the dam pictures.

Dams are controversial. You don’t have far to look to hear of the environmental issues associated with dams, just nod your head north. More than half of Canada’s electricity comes from hydro dams, with 5 more on-line for completion in the next 10-15 years.  National Geographic highlights a documentary just out using Google earth to show the impacts that dams can have and more importantly, questioning the building of new dams in light of climate change. Click here. Dams are not built to respond to changing climate and extreme weather patterns.


Modifying Christine and Hickson Dams

Christine and Hickson dams are located south (upstream) of Fargo, ND on Red River of the North (Red River).  These dams represent significant migration barriers to many native fishes that depend on a connected Red River system to access habitats at a broad scale.  Restoring fish passage through Christine and Hickson dams will reconnect a large portion of the Red River system and provide significant short and long term benefits to stream fish communities in the Red River basin.

The mainstem of Red River offers summer and winter habitats for many fish species.  However, spawning habitat for species such as lake sturgeon, walleye, and sauger that require swift currents and coarse substrate materials is lacking in Red River.  Habitats for these species exist primarily in the farthest upstream segments of Red River and in tributary streams that pass through the remnant beach ridges associated with glacial Lake Agassiz.  Christine and Hickson dams restrict fish species from using Red River to migrate freely between the different the habitats that are needed seasonally and during various life stages.  Reconnecting these habitats is being accomplished by modifying the profile of the two low-head dams into rock-arch-rapids with a 5% slope, similar to what has been done successfully on many dams in the Red River basin and throughout the State of Minnesota.

Modification of the two dams will provide other benefits as well.  As is the case with many dams, life-threatening hydraulic rollers are located immediately downstream of Christine and Hickson dams.  Modification of these dams into rock-arch rapids will eliminate the hydraulic rollers and help provide a safe environment for river recreational activities.  There will also be significant reductions to maintenance costs associated with the dams.

The Christine and Hickson dams modification project is a cooperative effort with a total estimated cost of $1.7 million.  The Minnesota DNR and the City of Fargo are major funding and service contributors to the project.  Other project partners include: Regions 3 and 6 of the USFWS, North Dakota State Water Commission, Great Plains Fish Habitat Partnership, Buffalo-Red Watershed District (MN), Cass County Water District (ND), ND Game and Fish Department, River Keepers, and the City of Moorhead.

Project construction activities began early November, 2011.  Modification of Christine Dam is expected to be finished in late December, 2011 and completion of Hickson Dam is planned for mid-February, 2012.

Prehistoric fish in the Red River

Lake Sturgeon from the Rainy River, note the hose like mouth hanging below the eyes.

My first reaction to hooking a lake sturgeon several years back was to laugh and laugh some more. I was laughing in part because the thought that I had any control over the hidden creature on the other end of my line was ludicrous. Yeah, right, I was simply in a waiting game, hanging on to my fishing rod and letting this unseen monster swim where it would. I was no more going to ‘haul it in’ than I could stop a semi. I simply had to wait until it ran out of gas….20 minutes later. Even then, bringing something that is nearly five feet long out of the water and into a boat, is not an easy task. Sometime I’ll upload the video! Of the four sturgeon we caught that day, only one was within the slot length for keeping. We let them all go, back into the river. After ‘fighting’ one of these prehistoric lunkers for twenty minutes, it just didn’t seem right to take any more from it. Don’t get me wrong, I love eating fish – I was just so amazed by the ‘battle’ with this fish that the only way for me to end the encounter was by watching it swim away!

Lake sturgeon were once plentiful in the Red River, but were then wiped out. Dams cut them off from spawning areas in the adjoining tributaries, water pollution destroyed their habitat and over-harvest reduced their numbers even more. Did you know that sturgeon can live to be over 100 years old? Females don’t mature until they are around twenty years of age, so bringing back this population is not a quick fix! Thankfully, our water has been cleaned up, dams along the Red River are being modified, and sturgeon are being stocked in the Red and its tributaries in an effort to restore the population.  Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, local watershed districts and North Dakota have all worked together to restore critical fish habitat connections along the Red.

Currently fishing is not allowed for sturgeon along any of the tributaries of the Red River. If you catch one, be sure to return it to the water – its an investment towards a future encounter that will make you laugh!

The Christine and Hickson Dams are undergoing modification this winter to reconnect sturgeon habitat on the Red (and all other species that move up and down the river). Follow along with these weekly pictures!

Additional Resources on Sturgeon: People of the Sturgeon is a new book out, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society. People of the Sturgeon is a history of the cultures surrounding lake sturgeon in Wisconsin’s Lake Winnebago region, told by a fascinating collection of photos, artifacts, and a few good fish tales

Landscape exhibit on watershed interventions to reduce flooding

Okay, a bit wordier than I like to be, but I encourage anyone in the Fargo/Moorhead area to check out this new exhibit going up Monday, November 21 at the Stationhouse Gallery at 916 Main Ave. Flooding in the Red River Basin is a regional even an international issue. A lot of talk has been about reducing flows into the Red and it appears that NDSU students in the 5th Year Landscape Architecture program have taken on the task of modeling alternatives for the entire 28 million acres of the Red River Basin. This exhibit is only up through Dec. 2nd, 2011. If you can, catch a look at it and let me know what you think! Below is a piece from their website at

Landscape Interventions in the Red River Basin is an exhibition that addresses social and ecological issues in ecosystems prone to frequent flooding and drought. Organized by the 5th Year Landscape Architecture studio at North Dakota State University, the exhibit will interest all Fargoans including architects, landscapes, architects, engineers, and ecologists.”

“The exhibit is a showcase of 30 large-scale projects that address these issues. Each project has inventoried a separate 1 million acres, from the Turtle Mountains in the west past Detroit Lakes in the east, to determine the most urgent programs that could be implemented basin-wide.”