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Angling Water Felines

Don Sangster hoisting a thick catfish caught from the southern Ontario’s Grand River • Credit: Don Sangster
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Angling Water Felines

Grand River Channel Catfish



I’d heard that there’s good catfishing near the mouth of the Grand River in southern Ontario, downstream of the dam in Dunnville, and my curiosity for cats led me to Steve Hardcastle. Steve owns the tackle shop and marina in Dunnville and runs Fishmasters Ultimate Charters. Steve’s had a passion for catching catfish since childhood, and always makes time for guiding clients looking to tackle these water felines.

The best time for both size and numbers is from ice-out to about the end of April, but good opportunities exist right through July. Steve runs a local catfish tournament each spring with cash prizes for the top three fish. The winner is usually pushing 25 pounds!

The earliest I could join Steve was early May, and the catfish just weren’t biting -- although his clients the day before had boated 18 fish. It was early July before our schedules allowed a return trip.

Rather than trying to anchor in the river’s strong current, Steve prefers to beach the boat or tie it up to shore, and then cast into deep holes from a fixed position. In the spring, channels prefer cut bait consisting of pieces of sucker, which Steve prepares in his own special brine. Later, the fish develop a preference for whole shrimp.

Pieces of sucker meat soaking in Steve Hardcastle’s special brine make great bait for spring catfish on Southern Ontario’s Grand River. (Photo credit: Don Sangster)

The first spot we pulled into quickly produced a few eater-sized cats, but not what we were looking for. It was, nonetheless, a promising beginning. We only had a few hours to fish so Steve suggested we head up to the dam in town.

Soon after we had our rods set in the holders, one of the reels started to quickly lose the line. Suspecting something had grabbed the shrimp, Steve handed me the rod and the battle was on. I could instantly tell that this fish was what we were after. The Grand’s muddy waters prevented a view of the cat until it broke the surface. Then a massive head and set of eyes shot us a glance of contempt before powerfully surging below for one last strong run. When Steve slid the net under it, I had my largest catfish to date, pushing 20 pounds.

Steve Hardcastle with a big Southern Ontario catfish caught from the Grand River. (Photo credit: Don Sangster)

This is a great day-trip or half-day trip for one or two anglers. Captain Steve supplies all the tackle and you simply sit back, relax, and wait for the fish. The use of rod holders and circle hooks means no hookset is required, and the fish usually stay pinned, making this an ideal outing for youngsters or anglers with little experience. Before we were done, two more channels were caught and released, one in the 15-pound range and the other around 10. I’m hoping this won’t be my last tangle with Grand River cats.

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