Catfish Dipworm Decisions
April 28, 2014
WhatÊ¼s the best style, size, and color of a catfish dipworm to use with dipbait? According to dipbait manufacturers and veteran anglers who use dipbait, the answer is: never more than 1 inch in length, but never less than 4 inches. The ribs on a dipworm should always be deep, except when theyÊ¼re shallow. The color of a dipworm makes absolutely no difference, unless it makes a difference.
Confused? Don't feel bad. Finding the best delivery system for the latest generation of dipbaits depends on a variety of factors and angler preferences. Here are some of the variables to consider.
Ribbed vs. Surgical
Tubing vs. Sponge
"A dipbait worm needs to match the viscosity of the dipbait you're using," says John Prochnow, product innovation manager for Berkley. "If you have a thin, runny dipbait that dissolves easily in water, you need either a sponge worm or a tube worm. If the dipbait is thicker and more sticky, you need a ribbed worm that will shed the bait easily."
Depth of ribs on ribbed dipworms isn't as significant as the type and condition of "rubber" that the worms are made of. Ribbed dipworms actually are made of PVC plastic, with plasticizers added to keep the worms supple and rubbery. Tube-type dipworms are made of a different type of plastic, but both types of worms often have shiny oily-appearing surfaces.
Those shiny chemicals on the surface of a worm can make it difficult for dipbait to adhere. Prochnow recommends washing "shiny" dipworms in a bath of warm water and a little dish soap. Rinse them in clean water to remove any traces of soap. In the field, he suggests blotting worms dry with a paper towel or cloth to remove any water and improve dipbait adhesion when dipworms are poked into bait tubs.
Many dipbait manufacturers dislike foam dipworms because the sponge rubber tends to soak up water and releases dipbait too rapidly. Wayne Scheffsky, owner of W-D-3 Baits in Geneseo, Illinois, agrees that foam dipbait worms must be selected carefully.
"I make my dipworms from a special type of rubberized silicone sponge with fibers embedded in it," Scheffsky says. "I prefer that sponge material because it lets my dipworms float even after they've been loaded with dipbait. I want my bait floating right at eye level when catfish come cruising by, looking for the source of the scent and flavor particles released by the bait."
Length of dipworms is another source of discussion for dipbait manufacturers and users. "Some guys cut my worms in half because they want short worms, and others string two worms together because they want the longest worm possible," says Bob Hosch, owner of Doc's Catfish Baits (319/346-2184).
Everybody agrees that longer worms hold more dipbait, which puts more flavor in the water per cast. And everybody agrees that more flavor attracts more catfish. The argument comes from the way catfish bite dipworms of various lengths. Buddy and Eileen Holub, owners of Catfish Charlie Bait Company ((641) 673-7229), prefer a 11â„2- to 13â„4-inch dipworm so a catfish can swallow it in one gulp. "If the worm is too big, cats will pick it up by one end and carry it before they swallow it," Eileen says. "They seem to pick up and gulp shorter worms in one bite, so they're easier to hook."
Rick Gebhardt of Glasgow, Missouri, chases catfish for up to 100 days each year on the Missouri River. He agrees that length of dipworms affects how catfish bite, but he swears that longer worms yield better hookups. "Cats tend to take dipworms in a big gulp," he says. "That means a longer worm puts the hook farther into their mouth when they take it. I've noticed that the longer the worm, the deeper in the throat they tend to be hooked."
Color Catches Catfish
Gebhardt also swears that the color of a dipworm makes a difference. He began using dipworms 30 years ago, when Devil Worms first hit the market. "Every package had two colors of worms, red and black," he recalled. "The black worms always outfished the red worms nine to one. It got to the point that when we got a package of those worms, we'd throw the red worms away."
Gebhardt still favors dark dipworms in most situations, but notes that comparatively clear water conditions in the Missouri River last summer allowed white dipworms to outfish darker colors. "The fish were feeding on shad, and I think when the water is clear the fish learn to associate the color white with shad," he says. "I've also done well with chartreuse, and I've noticed in catfish tournaments that orange dipworms work better on cloudy days, for some reason I haven't figured out yet."
Mark Mikalakis, President of Cat Tracker Bait Company, isn't picky about what color dipworm he uses when he catfishes (and he catfishes frequently under the guise of "researching" new baits), but offers dipworms to customers in a variety of colors because anglers like Gebhardt believe that color counts.
"If a dipbait is working like it should, about 20 percent of the bait washes off the dipworm before it reaches the bottom," Mikalakis says. "That's good, because it means that a lot of flavor is dissolved into the water to attract fish. But it also means that some of the dipworm is exposed, so color could become a factor."
Short versus long. Ribbed versus sponge. Dark versus light. It seems like modern dipbaits catch catfish no matter what configuration, color, or delivery system is used. The difference is what each angler believes works best — confidence remains a key factor for consistent fishing.
Berkley Gulp! Catfish Shad Guts
Sporting random intestinal shapes, realistic bloody colorations, and patented Gulp! fish-attracting scent, these fake guts put an end to scooping the innards out of hapless shad to sucker hungry cats. Just glom a gob around a 1/0 to 4/0 treble or baitholder, secure it on the barbs, and you're set. Available in 1.2-ounce, re-sealable packs. Click Here to View Product!
Berkley PowerBait Catfish Chunks
Studies in simplicity, these cubes are easy to fish. But more importantly, they're formulated by Berkley's scientists to tempt catfish three times faster than standard doughballs. Available in liver, blood, and fish flavors, in 6-ounce packages. Click Here to View Product!
Bowker's Catfish Bait
A staple of diehard catmen for decades, Bowker's dip excels on dip worms, tubes, and sponge strips, which the company also carries. You can also coat natural baits such as shrimp with it for extra flavor. It's available in original, blood-, shrimp-, and shad-added versions, which let you tailor taste to season and conditions. The blood bait, for example, is deadly on dog-days channels, while the shad scent shines in cool water after ice-out. Click Here to View Product!
Catfish Charlie's Dip Bait
An extra-sticky dip, Charlie's molds on and sticks to hooks, tubes, worms and other baitholders with ease. Available in 12- and 36-ounce tubs, in cheese, blood, and shad variations. As with other dip baits, Charlie's shad flavor is particularly productive in cool water. 641/673-7229
Doc's Catfish Bait
On the cat scene since 1927, Doc's knows a thing or two about stinkbait. Which explains why the company offers three temperature-driven dips — an extra-stiff blend for hot weather, an original mix for temps of 70 to 90 degrees, and a cool-weather concoction for temperatures below 70. All are available in 12-ounce, 40-ounce, and gallon-sized containers, in cheese and blood flavors, while liver is an option with the original, in 12-ounce cans only. Click Here to View Product!
Magic Bait Hog Wild Catfish Dip Bait
Cat fans seeking traditional thin, fast-oozing stinkbait will appreciate Hog Wild's ability to quickly infiltrate the water column with cheese, blood, and shad-based aromas. Available in pint-sized jars, it's a natural for tubes, sponges, netting, and similar delivery systems, but also shines for giving dough baits an upgraded coating. Click Here to View Product!
Rippin Lips Leakin' Livers
Pinch one of these all-natural chunks to activate its scent-dispersal system, and it oozes a fine flavor trail for about an hour. Easily skewered on a 1/0 treble or single baitholder, Leakin' Livers are available in original chicken liver, blood, garlic, and fish oil options, all sold in re-sealable, 15-bait packs. Click Here to View Product!
Strike King Catfish Dynamite
Better known for bass baits, Strike King also whips up this dandy kitty dip. Available in 12-ounce tubs, in cheese and blood flavors, it works well with a number of cat baits, including the company's ribbed Dipping Worms. strikeking.com
Team Catfish Secret-7 Dip
Nearly 20 years of tinkering went into the recipe for this sticky, cat-calling dip, which the company purchased from a retired chemist. Rich in fish attractants, the bait bonds with a variety of cat lures, but Team Catfish says it's especially deadly on its Furry THaNG dip holder. Available in 12 to 64-ounce jars and buckets. Click Here to View Product!
Uncle Josh Little Stinker Dip Bait
Famous for pork rinds, Uncle Josh also offers the Little Stinker line of prepared catfish baits, plus rigs for presenting them. Available in blood, chicken, and rotten shad formulations in 16-ounce allotments, the dip is a doozy for delivering a scent trail in flowing water situations, particularly when paired with the company's Sticky Worm. unclejosh.com Click Here to View Product!
The Kermit Factor
The unwary mouse that falls from a vine over a catfish hole has made its last mistake. We sometimes find rodents and snakes, as well as water-dwelling amphibians like frogs and salamanders, in the guts of catfish.
Frogs are locally popular and usually productive baits. They can be hooked through the nose or through one leg. Some anglers cut off the lower legs to make a more compact bait. Dead frogs usually work as well as live ones. As with fish and crayfish, cutting or crushing them allows the attractive amino acids to flow toward the catfish's sensitive olfactory and taste organs. Forget tadpoles, though. They apparently secrete a substance or aroma that's noxious.
The leopard frog is one of the most widely distributed frog species and the one most commonly used for bait. Leopard frogs mate in early spring, leaving clutches of eggs clinging to submerged vegetation in ponds and river backwaters, before moving to adjacent meadows and other grassy areas for the summer. With the exception of occasional visits to lakes and rivers, catfish rarely encounter leopard frogs during summer.
As the days become shorter and air temperatures cool in early fall, leopard frogs begin to congregate and prepare for winter. They gather in staging areas adjacent to water, particularly during periods of cool, rainy weather. One clue that this fall migration is underway is increased numbers of road-killed frogs. Once nighttime temperatures approach the 50ËšF range, frogs begin moving toward lakes and rivers where they'll spend the winter.
Such an abundant food source rarely goes unnoticed, and catfish often cruise shallow flats where leopard frogs make brief forays into the water during the first few hours of darkness. As the water continues to cool, frogs gradually spend more time in the water than on land, providing increasingly better feeding opportunities for prowling cats. Fish continue to consume other live or dead prey when the opportunity arises, but using frogs makes sense when they're so abundant.
Catfish take advantage of any food seasonally available, though there's no denying the appeal of human food like hot dogs. Still, wild-grown baits natural to the system and familiar to the fish, or commercial baits that duplicate them, work best most of the time.
Flathead catfish share with bass an innate love of crayfish. Often just rubbing a cat's belly reveals their lumpy remains. Tail-hook live craws and bottom rig them. But as flatheads grow, they're less likely to take these smaller baits, or maybe they have a harder time beating their 5- to 10-pound kin to the forage.
Crayfish are easy to catch, and the best time to collect them may coincide with the best catfishing. Crayfish usually hold under rocks or other cover during the day, then emerge to consume whatever living or dead prey they can find after dark. Chub creeks and bullhead ponds usually hold good numbers of craws, which are easily located and captured with the aid of a headlamp and long-handled dipnet. Wire minnow traps baited with a piece of dead fish are excellent craw catchers on any water with a decent crayfish population.
For channel cats, craw tails make a fine bait for bottom drifting or float-fishing in summer. When using a whole craw, try crushing the head a bit to release those tasty brain morsels that Cajun crawdad fans can't resist.
Catfish eat clams — freshwater mussels, Asiatic clams, snails of various sorts, even zebra mussels. Blue cats are notorious for foraging on mussel beds. Shake their bellies and you can almost hear the shells rattling. Food habits studies suggest that blue catfish feed on mussels more readily from spring through fall, especially in more southerly reservoirs, with blues turning almost exclusively to shad when they become more lethargic and vulnerable in cold water.
Across North America, white suckers are a can't-fail bait, as this most common species is suitable in size for yearling channel cats and up to 40-pound flatties. Slice 'em and dice 'em for float or bottom rigging for blues and channel cats, or tail-hook a 2-pounder to lure a mother flathead from her lair.
Note the difference, though, between pond-raised bait suckers and wild ones. Cultured baits don't flee, a movement that often triggers a lethal attack from a predator. Seine baits or catch suckers on live worms, instead. We've found that keeping pond-raised suckers in a tank with a big flathead quickly trains the suckers in survival, making them better baits.
Smaller members of the catfish clan — stonecats, madtoms, and bullheads — make excellent baits. Indeed, studies of catfish show these species can be cannibalistic. In some waters where flatheads have been introduced, bullhead populations have plummeted.
Young carp, for example, are gourmet fare for big flatheads, who may follow them onto flooded pastures at night.
The closely related exotic goldfish also makes a fine bait on setlines or rod and reel. Surprisingly, cut carp doesn't rank nearly as high for channel, white, or blue cats. As a caution, be sure to check state regulations on which baits are legal and how they may be obtained. Rules vary.
Wherever gizzard and threadfin shad abound, catfish prey on these aromatic, abundant species. Catfish guides on Santee-Cooper and many other southern reservoirs use cast nets to gather a tank full of livebait to start the day. Skewering several 4-inch threadfins through the eye socket provides a tasty bait for channel cats, blues, and flatheads. Cutting larger gizzard shad in half and rigging them on the bottom also brings action.
In early spring and fall, 3-inch shiners and redtail chubs from bait shops make fine baits for channel cats. These selections follow the general rule: Smaller baits in colder water, big stuff for summer nights.
Sunfish make great baits, remaining lively on the hook and attractive when cut. Toughest and liveliest of all is the green sunfish, a prime flathead bait on line or rod and reel. Bluegills, pumpkinseeds, redears, and the rest of their clan are appetizing, too.
Nightcrawlers remain a great bait for all cats, sometimes unequaled for channel cats. Even the biggest cats can't resist worms. Drift 'em, float 'em, or bottom rig 'em. A ball of about six crawlers on a 3/0 hook is a fine bait for flatheads early in the season. The aroma and wriggling action seem to attract the big cats. In Kansas reservoirs, catmen dabble treble hooks adorned with several juicy crawlers for spawning flatheads, targeting undercuts and rock crevices along riprap walls where cats have holed up.
Catalpa worms are a highly regarded bait in parts of the South, where they're common. These meaty green worms apparently become a focus for many fish species, where they feed on lakeside trees and tumble into the water. Freeze them for future use. The worm's flavor is said to be so irresistible that the essence of catalpa or crushed worms is added to some commercial pastebaits.