Besides dealing with the occasional flood, living in the Red River Valley has its perks. For starters, the fertile waters of the north-bound river are teeming with life; giant channel catfish, in particular.
Fishermen looking for a drag-peeling tussle need look no further than these whiskered behemoths, which average in the mid-teens and have been known to push 30 pounds.
If you've never tried your hand at catfishing, here's some advice: don't over think it. Catching channels isn't rocket science. If you're used to watching TV fishing hosts talk about barometric pressure, moon phases and thermocline, forget about it. The Red's apex predator is a biological vacuum, and proper presentation with appropriate bait will catch them day-in, and day-out with varying frequency.
In saying that, there are numerous rigs perfectly capable of hooking Mr. Whiskers, but the No. 1 producer and, quite possibly, the simplest setup for the Red River may seem elementary to some: cutbait (sucker or goldeye), hook, leader, swivel and sinker. That's it. No acrid stink bait, no cumbersome three-way rigs, and nothing with "Secret Formula" in the title.
Don't make the mistake I did the first time out, however, and buy four sinkers and a package of hooks thinking they'll last you all season - they won't. Most rivers, and the Red in particular, are snag factories. Be ready to sacrifice a fair share of lead to the Fishing Gods.
Though the setup may be simple, it can get downright expensive if you're in a snag-infested stretch of water. Appropriate-sized sinkers between 3 and 5 oz. can range from $1-$1.25. Add in the other rig equipment, and losing upwards of $20 in gear per outing is possible.
To help stave expenses, especially in this tough economic time, making your own sinkers is both cheap and easy. What follows is a step-by-step tutorial in pouring sinkers, though it can be applied to any do-it-yourself lead molding system.
Step 1: Find
Finding lead for pouring seems simple enough, but depending on where you live it can be frustratingly difficult. Most do-it-yourselfers who require lead call up various auto shops looking for wheel weights. That said, may shops already have someone grabbing their extras.
Try placing an ad in the classified section of the newspaper, or go to online sites such as Craigslist and eBay. Just keep your eyes peeled. For instance, my first batch of sinkers came from a bunch of old waterfowl decoy weights a friend didn't want anymore.
Perseverance can be rewarded: don't give up.
Step 2: Melt
Once you've acquired an amount of scrap lead, it is necessary to melt it down to both prepare it for pouring and separate out any impurities.
Safety alert: you're working with molten metal here, which is roughly 600 degrees Fahrenheit, so be careful. Appropriate clothing (i.e. long sleeves, long pants) is imperative, as is safety goggles, a mask, and some form of hand protection, be it oven mitts or welding gloves.
There are a couple different ways to melt lead. If you're planning on casting many different weights or lures for years to come, an electronic melting pot would be a good choice. Lower-end models range from $25-$40, while more expensive units can go upward of $80.
If you're like me and want to make sinkers on the cheap, a simple two-burner propane stove will get the job done. Also, a small, cast-iron frying pan for holding the lead can be purchased from most home stores.
Once the lead is melted down, watch the heat. If it gets too hot, lead becomes vaporous and can be poisonous. Word to the wise: don't do this around small children or pregnant women.
With the lead in a liquid state, scrape off any impurities that float up to the top with a spoon and discard.
Step 3: Pour
There are several companies that make molds that range from jigs, to sinkers, to spinner baits. The most popular and easiest to find is the Do-It Mold Company. The particular model I use was about $45 and makes no-roll sinkers, which are flat and work well in high current.
It is necessary to heat your mold prior to pouring. This is where the double-burner stove comes in handy. While melting lead over one burner, turn the other burner on low and rest the mold over it. This should adequately heat the mold, so the lead pours fluidly through the opening. If your mold isn't warm enough, lead will cool early resulting in a bad pour.
Some sinkers styles are simple enough where all that is necessary is to pour, remove and repeat. With sinkers such as no-rolls, however, small wires must be inserted to leave a hole for the line to pass through when fishing. Briefly soak a rag in motor oil and pass the wires through the rag. Lubrication will help expedite removal of the wire.
With wires in place and your hands protected from the heat, gingerly grasp the skillet handle and gradually pour the lead. When the mold is full, a bit of lead will bubble out on top. This is where being slow is critical, otherwise you end up with lead splattered on the floor as it comes gushing over the side.
Step 4: Repeat
With vise-grip pliers, remove the wire inserts before opening the mold. Remember, everything is very hot, so take great care when handling all objects involved in the pour.
The sinker is nearly complete. All that remains is removal of the small excess lead formed from the entrance hole of the pour. A side wire cutter is best.
And there you have it; in no time you can pour dozens of sinkers and be ready for the water - with a little more bait money in your pocket, to boot.