If your mind is quirky enough to conjure a catfish concoction more putrid than moldering cheese, festering shad, fetid sour cream, and liquescent pig brains all muddled together, you might want to keep it a secret. Could be that you have the next hot catfish dip bait recipe on your hands. Scratch that. Keep it off your hands and on your hook.
The ironic thing about catfish dip bait is that no matter its aromatic intensity, these tubs of vile goo are probably among the least messy baits you can fish. Done right, catfish dip baiting keeps your fingers clean enough to scoop peanut butter straight from the jar. Of course, despite the similar dimensions of their containers, as well as the relative creaminess of their contents, it’s safe to say you’ll never mistake a jar of Jif for a jar of Junnie’s Wicked Sticky Sewer Bait. Even weak sniffers are capable of distinguishing these two unique aromatic bouquets—one nutty, sweet, and rich, the other, well, certainly rich.
Catfish, on the other hand, with olfactory abilities that outdo a bloodhound and a bear combined, can apparently discriminate between oozing Limburger and Muenster cheeses. And whether flavorings like garlic, liver, or shrimp stimulate a catfish’s barbels best, compared especially to a serving of universally appealing cutbait, there’s no doubt that a good cheese-based dipbait induces bites in practically every environment.
It’s like my friend John Jamison’s stash of Vienna sausages. His boat holds a supply of these little doggies. While I would consider consuming a can only under the direst of circumstances, he sniffs them out at every opportunity. My point? A tub of dipbait is like a can of John’s Viennas. Always at the ready, especially handy when the boat runs dry of more palatable options, such as anything not soaking in a tin of lukewarm mystery juice. Run out of shad or chubs for cutbait, or forget to stop at the baitshop for suckers—no problem. Break out the dip.
Of all the commercially available catfish baits on the market, the dipbait category, which also includes punchbaits, may be the most appealing to catfish. In recent years, news has travelled south and north that these are among the most alluring offerings for 1- to 5-pound channel cats and blues. The epicenter of dipbait brewing may be Farmington, Iowa, home of Sonny Hootman’s Super Sticky. It’s doubtful anyone else has brewed or sold more dip than Hootman. His famously plain-labeled jars have been in circulation a long time, and every year his product outsells all other brands.
Modern Stinker Systems
The popularity and cat-catching potency of Super Sticky has inspired more dips, and some awfully gnarly ones, new blends as enticing to catfish as they are foul-smelling to us. Even some of the industry’s bigger players, such as Strike King, have entered the dipbait arena. Famed angler and cat fan Bill Dance has his own variation, Bill Dance Advantage Dip Bait. And then there’s Team Catfish, headed by former guide and tournament angler, Jeff Williams.
Williams, a northern Oklahoma native, spent years guiding on Grand Lake before moving to Warsaw, Missouri, where he annually logged 220-plus days guiding clients to blue catfish on Truman Lake and Lake of the Ozarks. After years of attempting to convince industry bigs that the nation’s nearly 8 million catfish anglers needed their own line of high-quality tackle, he conceived Team Catfish. “I felt like it was time to build a brand for serious catfish anglers,” he says, “not another company with a cartoon character on the label.”
With cooperation from TTI Blakemore, Williams designed catfish hooks, sinkers, and other terminal tackle. But he also knew that his product line would need to include a quality dipbait. “One day my friend, Denny Halgren, who’s a guide on the Rock River in Illinois, told me he’d discovered a dipbait he considered heads and tails above anything else he’d used,” Williams says. “A retired chemist had been dabbling with cheesebait recipes for years and was selling this concoction to a little tackle shop in Dixon, Illinois. We struck a deal and renamed the bait Secret 7.”
Like most dipbait manufacturers, Williams won’t divulge the bait’s ingredients, although he says it contains special waterproofing agents to help it stay on the hook. His search for a superior dipbait tube led him back the same Illinois tackle shop where Halgren had come across Secret 7. “These baitholders, Dead Red Dip Tubes, are made of a different material than traditional tubes, which are usually made of slick surgical tubing. Our tubes use a sticky substance that holds bait extremely well. The tubes actually stick to each other in the package. Rather than ribs, they have holes that are punched in ideal positions to hold the maximum amount of dipbait.”
Williams also found a new type of baitholder he’d never seen before, which was developed by Daryl Elgin of Newkirk, Oklahoma. “We nicknamed him ‘Loopy’ after this looped string type baitholder he was making. We tested it and finally signed a licensing deal with Loopy allowing us to sell it under the Team Catfish brand. We named it the Furry Thang, and quickly realized that, unlike diptubes that work best in calmer water, this new fiber carrier excelled in swift water and held Secret 7 well. We switched to circle hooks and started catching a lot of catfish on it in 8 to 15 foot zones near heavy cover.”
To further refine his dipbait program, Williams started offering Furry Thang baitholders affixed to his 3/0 Double Action circle hooks and 4/0 Jackhammer J-hooks in addition to his standard #2 trebles. Often, catfish take dipbaited treble hooks deep, which can injure fish and render them unreleasable. Doug Stange, In-Fisherman Editor In Chief has recommend swapping out the treble hook on a dipworm for a circle hook for these reasons over a decade ago. Williams’ circle and J-hook dipbait holders became instantly popular among experienced anglers.
When to Cut the Cheese
Williams reports great success using Secret 7 in water as cold as 37°F, far cooler than when dipbaits are traditionally used—mid- to late summer. “When the water temperature is under 60°F, catfish become more picky about the size of the baits they hit,” he says. “We often downsize dip tubes. One good presentation is to cut a dip tube in half, then hook it onto a 1/0 or 3/0 circle hook just like a strip of cutbait. Dab the tube in a small amount of dipbait. This is effective in late fall and early spring, when catfish snub nearly all other baits.”
Although many anglers believe that dipbaits shine only in current or windblown reservoir situations, Williams knows otherwise. “I’ve fished several manufactured bait-only tournaments where we’ve caught plenty of fish deep, including an event on Lake Texoma where we boated a pile of decent-sized blue cats in 40 to 50 feet of water. You’ve got to take a different approach. Most folks want to get down fast with a heavy sinker. But I use a 1- to 2-ounce sinker to slow the fall and keep bait on the hook. I use what I call a sliding bumper rig, a modified slipsinker rig, for 90 percent of my fishing.”
During summer, when most prepared-bait anglers use dipbaits, Williams uses a product designed for extreme Oklahoma and Texas heat. Team Catfish Sudden Impact is what he calls a “fiber bait,” though others call it a punchbait. “We get days in the 90s and 100s when other dipbaits get too soft to keep on a hook. Sudden Impact uses the same recipe as Secret 7, but with extra waterproofing agents and a microfiber that thickens the bait while also preserving stickiness.
“With the fiber bait, all you need is a plain treble hook. I use a paint stick or paddle to push the hook into the bait. Then I swirl the hook with a paddle, forming a ball of bait around the hook. Pull it out gently and you should have a nice gob of bait with holding power.” He says it’s vital to check baits every 5 to 10 minutes, re-dipping often. To keep dipbait pliable and workable, stir it frequently, maintaining a creamy consistency. You don’t need to stir the whole tub of bait, just the top 2 to 3 inches.
“One of my favorite summer reservoir spots is a shallow 2- to 8-foot deep point that leads to a big windswept flat. Wind is key, because the current it creates helps disperse scent off the baits, calling in catfish into the area. Ideally, you want shallow cover that holds feeding catfish, such as flooded brush or trees in the vicinity. Cast rigs close to the cover and it shouldn’t be long before the action starts.”
When fishing near woodcover or vegetation, consider eliminating the leader, and use a 3/8- or 1/2-ounce bullet sinker that slides down to the dipworm or punchbait hook. Swapping a treble for a 1/0 to 3/0 circle hook makes the rig more weedless.
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Once catfish begin spawning, Williams says several Texas catfish guides pack a dab of Sudden Impact onto a #6 treble hook, and present it below a lighted slipbobber. At night, when channel cats are spawning on riprap banks, the anglers score respectable catches by drifting small bait packages just above the rocks. Legendary catfish guide and pro Phil King notes that just after the spawn, big blues and channels don’t want big baits. In tournaments, he’s often taken sizeable fish using a small dipbait offering.
Another presentation uses a slipfloat to drift dipbait over the tops of vegetation or along shallow riffles or current seams in rivers. Keep baits close to bottom or just over the top of cover. You can tick bottom with a bell or bank sinker, while suspending the bait above on a three-way rig. I’ve done well in both reservoirs and streams with a marble-sized piece of dense sponge (car-seat foam works well) on a #1 to 1/0 octopus hook dipped into Sonny’s Super Sticky or Junnie’s Wicked Sticky. The sponge floats the bait above the sinker, while the slipfloat wafts the rig across a windy or flowing surface, dispersing scent and flavor as it drifts.
Williams has seen tournament anglers use dipbait rigs to lay down scent trails. They anchor in shallow areas of reservoirs, and cast and drag baits through their fishing area. “They make 4 to 5 casts, retrieving quickly through the area with freshly dipped hooks,” he says. “They’re setting the table—putting out a spread of scent and flavor—before casting and letting baits set in the same location. By then, cats are fired up, and usually bite right away. It’s become a dynamite tactic.”
Williams says that used properly and creatively, dipbaits are capable of producing bigger fish, as well as incredible numbers of small and mid-size cats. He and other tournament anglers have caught plenty of 10-pound-plus channel cats on dips, and blues to 30 pounds. “People are realizing that dipbait isn’t just a last resort, or a second-rate alternative to cutbait. In summer, in terms of sheer catfish tonnage, a good dipbait angler often outfishes anyone using cutbait. We need to see more tournaments adopt the manufactured-bait only format. It’s the best way I can think of to take catfishing and catfish tournaments to the next level.”
The key to getting started with dipbait is simply to buy a few different brands and start fishing and experimenting, keeping an open mind while doing so. Dips are easy to use, affordable, and much more convenient than cut baitfish or other natural baits. Below are a string of tips that help speed the learning curve:
1) In hot weather or when water temperature is above 60°F, consider a thicker fiber bait, such as Team Catfish Sudden Impact or Doc’s Extra Stiff Blood Bait. Blood-enhanced dips seem to excel in hotter conditions. Anglers also use hardening agents such as flour or corn meal to stiffen melting dips. Or place dipbaits in coolers filled with ice to keep them from over-softening.
2) In cooler weather, or when water temperature is below 70°F, choose a traditional dipbait, such as Secret 7, Sonny’s Super Sticky, or Magic Bait Hog Wild. Place bait tubs in the sun to keep contents soft. Secret 7 has a black lid to absorb heat and keep it malleable in cooler weather. Anglers such as John Jamison also add vegetable oil to baits such as Super Sticky to slightly soften them.
3) While most anglers use plastic dipworms or dip tubes, others prefer homemade baitholders. Materials like tufts of polyester quilt batting, dense sponges, open-cell insulating foam, or steelhead-style spawn bags can be impaled on a hook to hold dipbait in place.
5) Some dipbaits require a light dunk in the water to lock the bait onto the hook.
6) Stir your dipbait often, to maintain the right creamy consistency that stays on the hook.
7) Dry your dipworm or tube before dipping, which helps the bait stick. Keep a towel on hand to pat dry your bait holder.
8) Experiment with different dip tube colors.
9) Most of the best dipbaits today are blends of primarily moldy cheese. Professional angler and guide Phil King, a former commercial fisherman, says cheese has been a longtime favorite among trotliners and hoop-netters.
10) When in doubt, reel in and re-dip, sometimes as often as once every few minutes.
In-Fisherman Field Editor Cory Schmidt lives in the Brainerd, Minnesota area.