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Hot night on the Red Lake River produces good fishing for trio of teen anglers

It wasn’t their first choice for a shore-fishing spot, but someone already was set up near the confluence of the Red and Red Lake rivers where they’d braved the heat to fish the previous evening.

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Kyle Hamlin reacts as he picks up the biggest catfish he's caught this year during an outing with his cousin, Rylan Hanson, left, and his brother Luke Hamlin (not shown) on the banks of the Red Lake River in East Grand Forks on Monday, July 18, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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EAST GRAND FORKS – The temperature was still in the 90s on this steamy Monday evening, and making the effort to go fishing took some serious dedication.

But there they were – brothers Luke and Kyle Hamlin of East Grand Forks and their cousin, Rylan Hanson of Fisher, Minnesota – set up on the bank of the Red Lake River upstream from the Point Dam rapids, dunking crawlers and small frogs to catch whatever would bite.

It wasn’t their first choice for a shore-fishing spot, but someone already was set up near the confluence of the Red and Red Lake rivers where they’d braved the heat to fish the previous evening.

Kyle Hamlin, who’s just shy of his 15th birthday, had even caught a 16-inch walleye.

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They fish a lot, this trio of young fishermen. Lakes, mostly, such as Maple Lake near Mentor, Minnesota, now that Luke Hamlin, 17, has his driver's license. They’re bass fanatics, but on days when they can’t make it to Maple, they’ll fish the Red or Red Lake rivers closer to home.

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Not even extreme heat could keep them from this Monday night fishing excursion, although Rylan, 14, admitted he’d rather have been swimming as beads of sweat dripped from his nose.

And who could blame him? Swimming sounds better than sweltering any day.

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Kyle Hamlin, left, keeps cool in the shade of a giant cottonwood tree while his brother, Luke Hamlin, sets up along the banks of the Red Lake River in East Grand Forks recently.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

High water limits river fishing

They haven’t fished the Red River as much this year because their usual fishing spots have been underwater or too muddy to reach, Luke says. But even though they don’t have a boat – “I wish,” he says – the bass fishing has been pretty good.

Rylan even landed a 21-inch largemouth a few days earlier.

“They really are quite bass-brained,” Luke and Kyle’s mom, Evangeline Hamlin, said. “They love to catch bass.”

There’s something about shore fishing on a river, though; you never know what you’re going to catch. Two years ago, for example, Rylan caught a 32½-inch catfish – his biggest to date – on a grasshopper and a tiny hook, of all things.

Go figure.

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“There’s not anybody that fishes like these three,” Dan Hanson, Rylan’s dad, said.

For the Hamlins, ice fishing has long been a popular pastime because no boat is required, but river fishing for Luke and Kyle really kicked into high gear in June 2017, when the family moved to East Grand Forks from Bemidji.

Hearing about the Cats Incredible Catfish Tournament and the big catfish the Red and Red Lake rivers produce further fed the fever, Evangeline Hamlin says.

Luke and Kyle’s dad, Wade, doesn’t much care for river fishing, they say – “he hates catfish,” Kyle says with a smile – but that didn’t stop the boys and their cousin, Rylan, from fishing the Red and Red Lake rivers whenever they could.

“These guys take me fishing,” Rylan said.

“I don’t know, it’s something to do,” Luke says.

The first summer they lived in East Grand Forks, Evangeline Hamlin says she and her husband didn’t let the boys go down to the river by themselves. The next year, the boys had two or three spots they were allowed to go with their tackle and their bikes.

“They’ve always been very responsible and have never fallen in,” she said. “But usually after ice-out, until the water warms up, we have them take a break – especially with the water being so high this year.”

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Still, Evangeline says, the river is their friend.

“That’s why the Grand Cities are here,” she said. “But it can also be quite wild and unpredictable so we have been very careful with them – some might say too careful.”

The action begins

The teenage anglers had stocked up on crawlers and frogs they caught from a local pond before Monday night’s sweltering fishing excursion, but Kyle and Rylan decide to start the evening by trying to catch a couple of goldeyes below the Point Dam rapids to chunk up for catfish bait.

The goldeyes didn’t cooperate in the heat, though, and Kyle and Rylan were back at the shore spot above the dam a few minutes later.

Despite the oppressive heat – midday would have been absolutely unbearable – the catfish are cooperating, and they haven’t been fishing very long when Rylan gets a bite. A short battle ensues before he expertly swings the catfish up on the muddy riverbank.

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Kyle Hamlin, left, and Rylan Hanson work to remove a hook from a catfish along the banks of the Red Lake River in East Grand Forks recently.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

If someone wanted catfish for dinner, this fish would definitely be a keeper.

Kyle brings a needle-nose pliers to help his cousin unhook the catfish before they release it. Kyle would really like to be a fishing guide someday, his mom, Evangeline, says.

“He has friends that go to him and his cousin (Rylan) for advice with tackle and fishing tips,” she said.

Barely 15 minutes later, Kyle gets a bite. He picks up the rod and sets the hook into a fish that gives him quite a battle.

“You might want to get the net – it’s hard to get him up,” Kyle says, watching as the fish breaks the surface of the water a few feet downstream. “Whoa, look at those boils.”

Rylan navigates the muddy riverbank with the net to help his cousin land the catfish, but the fish has other ideas.

“He’s not done yet,” Kyle says, offering advice to his cousin. The catfish makes another three or four runs before Rylan lands it.

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Rylan Hanson nets a big catfish for his cousin Kyle Hamlin, center, as Luke Hamlin looks on.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

They don’t weigh the catfish, but it’s probably close to 10 pounds, possibly topping Kyle’s largest fish to date, a “7- or 8-pound” northern he caught this spring at Maple Lake.

After a few photos and an unexpected slide down the muddy river bank – his shoes would need some serious cleaning after this night along the river – Kyle releases perhaps the largest catfish he’s ever landed.

Not bad for a sweltering hot July evening.

Despite the heat, the wait between bites isn’t long. Fishing is better than expected, but they usually catch something, Luke says.

“We either catch a catfish, a walleye – anything, I guess,” he said. “It can be a big catfish or a little one, too.”

Big one gets away

They’ve been fishing for just over an hour when Luke hooks into a decent catfish. He gets the fish right up to shore, but it breaks the line as younger brother Kyle tries to land it on the steep, muddy riverbank.

No worries. They saw the catfish, and it gave him a good battle.

Sometimes, that’s good enough. Especially for a trio that fishes as much as these boys.

“There have been many times they have come back with no bites, but it really has been amazing to watch how the three of them – and even Rylan’s little brother, Westyn – master the fish,” Evangeline Hamlin said. “The three of them have lots of other cousins, but they really have enjoyed the camaraderie of catching fish.”

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From left; Rylan Hanson and his cousins Kyle Hamlin, center, and Luke Hamlin pose with a catfish that Kyle caught during a recent evening on the Red Lake River in East Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

The fish come in regular intervals throughout the evening – catfish of varying sizes, mostly – and the boys miss their share of bites, as well. Mercifully, the temperature becomes more bearable as the sun dips behind the trees. A southerly breeze blowing across the Greenway makes the evening feel downright pleasant as the boys wind down an evening on the river.

They land at least a dozen catfish, including three dandies, and go through nearly 50 frogs before calling it a day shortly after 9:30 p.m.

“Usually, we catch one catfish that big in a span of three weeks,” Rylan says later. “We got really lucky.”

By any measure, it’s been a good night on the 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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