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Rippin And Rappin Catfish Rigs

Rippin And Rappin Catfish Rigs

Slipbobbers and Doodle-sockers

For decades, anglers at Grand Lake, Oklahoma, have plied riprap areas, where they have caught significant numbers of channel catfish. In early May, large congregations of longnose gar spawn along the riprap of causeways, and the channel catfish are there, too. The channel cats are positioned directly under the spawning gar, consuming the gar's fertilized eggs as they descend towards the rocks on which they're designed to adhere.

To catch these cats, anglers traditionally employ a small slipbobber set about 5 feet above a shiner minnow. The rig is cast at the spawning gar, and slowly retrieved. Some anglers opt for gar eggs, wrapping them inside a square of gauze and using a treble hook.

When the gar spawn diminishes, a large percentage of Grand Lake's channel cats leave the riprap. A nightcrawler or an earthworm, rather than a shiner, is fished to entice cats that remain. The bobber-and-worm combination is set at 5 feet and retrieved slowly, allowing the worm to slide into and out of crevices between the rocks.


Toward the end of May, Grand Lake's channel cats return to spawn in the cavities and crevices of the riprap along causeways. After a male cat selects and prepares the mating site, he coaxes a female to deposit her mass of eggs on the floor of the nesting chamber, fertilizes them, and then stays with the eggs to protect them from predators, funguses, and oxygen depletion.


During the spawning season, Grand Lake anglers switch from bobber rigs to 9- to 12-foot rods spooled with 40-pound-test Spiderwire, using a 3/4-ounce bullet weight as a slipsinker and a 3/0 Gamakatsu Octopus nickel hook. Some old-timers call this setup a "doodle-socking rig," and others call it a "dabbling pole." Shrimp is the favorite bait of Grand Lake's doodle-sockers. They bury the entire hook inside the shrimp, using the tail to protect the point of the hook. Besides being an effective piece of bait, the shrimp acts as an efficient weedguard, keeping the hook from snagging weeds between the rocks.

Because the bulk of nests are in 3 to 6 feet of water, ­doodle-sockers seldom extend more than 7 feet of line from their rod tips, which they hold just a few inches above the water's surface. Some anglers prefer not to use braided line, but a growing number contend that braids like Spiderwire allow the bait to sink into the spawning cavities more quickly than monofilament. This faster fall allows anglers to probe a larger area in less time, which translates into more catfish hauled across the gunnels.

And Spiderwire's sensitivity quickly transmits to the angler's hands the location of sinker, hook, and bait, important when trying to locate the entry to a channel cat's den. Braids also resist abrasion, an asset when tugging a belligerent catfish from its spawning-hole between sharp-edged boulders.

Once a large crevice in the riprap is detected, the sinker and bait are allowed to plummet into the hole. The intensity of the strike can sometimes be bone-jarring — at other times, merely a nibble.


Sometimes channel catfish shun shrimp, preferring a wad of nightcrawlers, which seasoned doodle-sockers embed on a 2/0 hook. But nightcrawlers don't do a good job of keeping the hook from lodging in the crevices.

Most channel catfish caught near riprap weigh from 2 to 5 pounds, but now and then a 10- to 15-pounder or an occasional flathead is extracted, rarely weighing more than 15 pounds and usually less than 5.

Split-shotting the Stone


A split-shot rig with a nightcrawler is also an effective device for exploring riprap during the channel cats' prespawn and spawning periods. The most effective outfit for a split-shot rig is a medium-light-action spinning rod at least 7 feet long, fitted with a spinning reel and a ­large-diameter spool filled with 10-pound-test Berkley Trilene Big Game. A 3/0 split shot is placed 8 to 12 inches above a #2 Eagle Claw Kahle (L141) hook to complete the setup.

Despite the buoyancy of thick mono, there will be times when the 3/0 split shot with a #2 hook repeatedly snags in the crevices, so anglers should also try a BB-sized split shot with a #4 hook. Injecting a little air into the nightcrawler adds just enough flotation to keep the split-shot rig snag-free. A piece of shrimp or a shell-less crayfish can thwart snagging.

If the bulk of fish are in 5 feet of water, savvy anglers situate their boats at the same depth, then execute 40-foot casts parallel to the riprap. After the rig reaches bottom, the rod is dropped with the tip pointed at the split shot for the duration of the slow retrieve. When a bite is detected, set the hook.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, when Grand Lake anglers began pioneering their methods for catching catfish, they just probed the riprap while cautiously walking along the shoreline. Today, trolling motors are used to maintain correct depth position and boat speed.

Some riprap sections are more than a mile long, but only certain locales on these large tracts of rocks will hold substantial numbers of catfish. To locate these, explore a lot of water methodicallyand with thoroughness. A trolling motor is a big help to plumb a large area efficiently. Split-shot and bobber rigs are good for locating fish along extensive sections of riprap. After pinpointing where the fish are, doodle-sock to your heart's content.

In the 1990s, anglers began trolling crankbaits on long stretches of reservoir riprap, probing various depths in search of giant flatheads. Though some beefy specimens were caught, such catches were too sporadic to make trolling a consistent method for catching big flatheads. Anglers concluded the flatheads were just too large to spawn and live in the riprap's crevices. Most reservoir flatheads caught on riprap are in fact accidentally caught by channel-cat fishermen using split-shot catfish rigs and nightcrawlers. The quest to catch big flathead on riprap was one of those important lessons in futility that make us, in the end, better and wiser anglers.

River Riprap Rewards

The Missouri River contains more miles of riprap than any other freshwater waterway in the world. Critics say the riprap — still placed there by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — has altered the ecological balance of the river, but catfish use the riprap for feeding, refuge, and spawning. Wise anglers follow where the fish lead, and that's into the riprap. They've also devised unique ways to catch catfish along river riprap.

Seventeen years ago LeRoy Kadel, an ardent walleye angler, wrote to In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange explaining his new passion for catching flatheads in riprap along 30 miles of the Missouri River between Council Bluffs and Missouri Valley, Iowa. Kadel wrote that he never fishes around wing dams any more, nor probes other traditional catfish hideaways. He now fishes riprap on the outside bends of the river, in currents of 10 mph and water depths from 50 to 75 feet.

To fish these deep, fast stretches, Kadel ties his boat to a piling near the head of the bend and wields a 9-foot rod with a heavy-duty reel and 20-pound-test line. To this he attaches a three-way swivel with a 2-foot leader of 17-pound-test line fixed to one eye of the swivel. On the other eye, he ties an 8-inch piece of 8-pound-test mono sporting a hefty bell sinker. For bait, a 4- to 6-inch chub placed on a 3/0 Mustad 92671 hook is key.

Kadel makes long casts aimed at the mainstream of the river. After the bait hits the water, the swift current is allowed to carry it to the riprap, where it bobs among the rocks. He catches flatheads weighing 4 to 8 pounds with regularity, but once in a while he catches a 20-pounder.

Half a state away, many miles downstream from Kadel's honey holes, are John Jamison's favorite riprap lairs. He's spent more than a decade exploring the ways of Missouri River catfish, from St. Joseph to Jefferson City. Along the way and at specific times during the year, he's found blues and flatheads milling around riprap.

In late March or early April, when the water temperature reaches 55°F, Jamison finds blue catfish haunting the riprap along the outside bends of the Missouri. Near the end of May, when the water temperature climbs into the upper 60°F range, he locates blues searching for spawning sites in the same riprap. But once they start spawning in June, it's so difficult to catch these blues that he switches his attention to small flatheads, instead, most weighing 1 to 3 pounds. He plumbs riprap along riverbends, using lightweight tackle baited with fillets of fresh shad, which in June they can prefer over livebait.

From early July through the end of November, Jamison moves away from the riprap for the big blue cats, and instead fishes the flats between wing dams. But some of his fellow fishermen focus on riprap along outside riverbends in fall. After an autumn cold front the riprap periodically yields a cat or two.

Despite the quantum leaps fishermen have made in deciphering the ways of the Missouri River cats these past 15 years, Jamison contends that what's known about the habits and whereabouts of these catfish is still rudimentary. But if the revelations keep unfolding, he suspects that anglers in 2020 will know a lot more than we know today about how catfish relate to riprap in rivers and reservoirs.

River Riprap Rigging for Flatheads

To rig a chub or bluegill, run the hook through the body 1 inch ahead of the tail and pull line through. Run hook through ahead of the dorsal fin and pull line through. Pass hook through gill and mouth about 1 inch. Pull line tight, pull loop over tail, and pull loop tight.

The Ozark's Weightless Chicken-liver Rigs

There is not a lot of riprap at Lake of the Ozarks for cat fishermen to exploit, but along many of the lakeʼs bluffs are small pockets that

contain concentrations of boulders and big rocks. Some folks call them rock slides, and others call them "Natureʼs riprap." During early June, channel cats spawn in the larger cavities between these rocks and boulders.

For plying rock slides, many Ozark anglers use spinning outfits spooled with 8-pound-test monofilament. A palomar knot secures a #2 interlock snap to the line. Push the eye of a #6 treble hook through a chicken liver folded

in half, then affix hook and liver to the snap. Pitch the liver into the water carefully and allow it to descend slowly, following the contour of the rock slide. Because itʼs weightless, it seldom snags in crevices. After the channel cat spawn ends, they leave the rock slides, but now the flathead arrive at the same rock slides to procreate.

*In-Fisherman Field Editor Ned Kehde, Lawrence, Kansas, a longtime contributor to In-Fisherman publications.

Adjustable Three-Way Rig

The three-way rig is an option so versatile that it should at least be considered in most catfishing situations. It's an effective rig for presenting static baits in the heavy current of a tailrace or the still waters of a lake or pond. But it's unparalleled for slipdrifting on big rivers like the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio, and for drifting windblown flats in big reservoirs like Santee-Cooper.

The three-way rig consists of a dropper line 6 to 24 inches long, anchored by a bell sinker of sufficient weight to keep the bait near bottom. A half-ounce sinker might be sufficient in still water, but 3 to 8 ounces are needed to drift around the tips of wing dams for blue and channel cats. The leader should be slightly longer than the dropper line - usually 2 to 3 feet, depending on current velocity.

Three-way rigs also excel at extracting fish from areas where other rigs can't hold or return from. Say you're fishing for channel cats over a broken-rock bottom below a lowhead dam. Use a three-way rig with a 20-pound mainline and a 17-pound leader. Secure a 2- to 4-ounce bell sinker to the remaining rung of a three-way swivel with 6-pound line. When cast into place, the sinker hangs, anchoring the rig until a fish strikes. Big cats sometimes grab a bait hard enough to hook themselves and break the light dropper line. When a smaller fish strikes, a sharp snap of the rod tip breaks off the sinker and sets the hook.

Another versatile rig is an (pictured here) that doesn't require a three-way swivel. Instead, tie on a standard barrel swivel between your mainline and leader. Next, thread a long dropper line through one of the swivel rungs and clamp a lead shot somewhere on the dropper opposite the sinker and swivel.

The lead shot functions like a bobber stop. Where you set it determines the distance the swivel rides above bottom, and thus the depth the bait runs. To adjust the distance from bottom, simply slide the shot up or down the dropper. Should you snag, a firm pull slides the shot off your dropper line, once again losing only the sinker and saving the rest of the rigging.

Sliprig

Pictured: Basic Sliprig

Many catfishing situations call for a livebait or piece of cutbait to be stillfished on the bottom. The most popular bottom rig for all catfish species is the simple sliprig. This rig consists of an egg sinker sliding on the mainline, held in place above the hook by a lead shot. The objective is to anchor the bait near the bottom, and then allow a catfish to swim off with the bait without feeling too much tension. The idea is sound, but this rig doesn't accomplish either objective well.

The success of trotlines and limblines illustrates that catfish - particularly big cats - aren't timid feeders. Let a trout or walleye run with the bait before you set the hook, but don't wait for cats. When a decent-size cat picks up the bait, he has it. Most of the time, you could set immediately without giving any line. But your chances of a solid hookset increase if you let the fish turn first. When you feel the thump of a fish grabbing the bait, follow him with your rod tip for a foot or two, then set.

Another problem is the egg sinker. These sinkers work well when pitched directly behind a boat anchored in current. When cast across current, though, they tend to roll along the bottom and snag more often than other sinker designs like bell, bank, or flat sinkers. Slip your mainline through the top of a slipsinker and replace the split shot with a swivel to improve the effectiveness of this popular rig.

Leader length is another concern, especially for novice anglers. Don't use a longer leader just because it separates the bait from the sinker. Rather, adjust the length of the leader to vary the amount of action and movement imparted to the bait. A piece of cutbait tethered on a 12-inch leader may lie motionless on the bottom of a lake or pond, but would flail about wildly in heavy current.

Use just enough leader for your bait to attract fish without hanging up. That might mean a 3- or 4-foot leader for drifting cutbait across the clean bottom of a reservoir for blue cats; a 6-inch leader for holding big livebaits in front of a snag for flatheads; or no leader at all for probing the broken bottom of a tailrace for channel cats.

Double Barreled Float Rig

As much as floats aid strike indication, their true worth lies in the unique ways they present baits to catfish. Given that catfishing remains a game of delivering the right bait the right way, float rigs ought to play a major role in every angler's lineup. This is increasingly true as we discover how well cats respond to drifting, as well as to off-bottom presentations. A float is simply a bait-delivery tool similar to a sinker, and catfishermen ought to consider it just as important.

Regardless of which catfish species you're fishing for, the basic slipfloat rig is constructed in the same way. Before tying on a hook, cinch on a pre-made stop-knot, or tie a five-turn uni-knot around your mainline with the same or slightly heavier line to serve as an adjustable float stop. Sliding the stop-knot up the line makes the bait run deeper, while sliding it down allows for a shallower drift. Next, slip on a 5-mm bead followed by the slipfloat. Anchor cutbait and smaller livebait rigs with a few lead shot about a foot above a hook, ranging from a #2 for small baits to a 3/0 for bigger baits. To anchor larger livebaits for flatheads, add a swivel about 20 inches above a 3/0 to 7/0 hook. Slide a 1- to 2-ounce egg sinker on the line above the swivel to balance the float.

Double-Barreled Sliprigs

Pictured: Double Barreled Rig

These rigs are a combination of a sliprig and a three-way rig. They're worth the extra time they take to construct - particularly for presenting livebaits to flatheads. The low-frequency vibrations emitted by a struggling baitfish attract catfish by stimulating their sensitive lateral lines. Baitfish of all sizes must first be wild and super lively, and second be presented in a way that allows them to advertise these seductive qualities. Keep a wild bait suspended over cover and it feels exposed, vulnerable, and will panic.

Begin with a terminal leader as you would for a sliprig: A 12-inch section of monofilament or braided line with a hook on one end and a barrel swivel on the other. Before tying the swivel to your mainline, add a sinker dropper consisting of a lighter piece of monofilament with a bell sinker on one end and a swivel on the other. Thread the dropper swivel on the mainline so it slides above the leader swivel. The length of the bottom dropper determines how high the bait is held above the bottom.

This rigging is most effective when you maintain a 30- to 90-degree angle on your line, from rod tip to sinker. Fishing the head of a hole from a boat anchored slightly upstream, or fishing the edge of a flat from the sandbar on an inside river bend, or fishing the scour hole behind a bridge abutment from the top of the bridge are all top situations for double-barreled sliprigs.

Drifting Rigs - Bottom Bouncer Rig

Fixed sinker rigs usually are favored for steady drift speeds or heavy current, since active cats tend to hit moving baits fast and hard. Fish often are hooked on the strike, but always set anyway to ensure a good hookup - unless you're using a circle hook. Another advantage of fixed-sinker rigs is that the leader slackens and tightens as the weight pivots along the bottom. When pulled behind a boat moving at a steady speed, the bait slows then darts forward, often triggering a neutral fish to strike.

Slinky Rig

Slipsinker rigs usually are a better choice for slower drift speeds and lighter current. Standard slipsinkers like the walking sinker are fine over a relatively clean bottom, but more snag- resistant designs like the Lindy No-Snagg or Slinky sinkers are better in heavy cover. No sinker design is completely snag-free, but these designs glide through tangles that would devour egg and bell sinkers. Adding a panfish-size float to the leader and using weedless hooks make the rest of the rig more snag-resistant, too.

Pop Up Paternoster Rig

The paternoster is a wonderful rig in areas of relatively consistent depth. The problem is, as depth changes with cast placement, you need to adjust stop-knot position to keep the rig running properly. To some extent, the float acts like a sail, too, catching wind and riding current at speeds exceeding that of water moving below the surface. In significant current or wind, the float may drag the top of the rig into trouble spots or, occasionally, dislodge the entire rig from its position.

Again, we need to change the way we regard floats on a fundamental level. Floats aren't only bite indicators, just as they don't necessarily have to remain on the surface. Consider the pop-up paternoster rig. Rather than presenting the float above the rig on the surface, slide the float onto the dropper line between the swivel and weight, typically a 1- to 5-ounce bell sinker. Streamlined floats, such as Betts - Billy Boy or Little Joe's Pole Float, catch less current, reducing downstream drag. By submerging the float, you've eliminated worries about adjusting stop knots to changing depths. At rest, the float pops up the dropper line, holding the rig erect above bottom. The depth is a function of dropper length. Finally, by running back-to-back barrel swivels rather than a single three-way swivel, striking catfish run free with the line, similar to the action of a slipsinker rig.

Slip Float Rigging

Pictured: Slip Float Rigging

Splitshotting

If the weight of the bait alone isn't enough to keep it near bottom - either because the bait is moving too fast or the water is too deep - a lead shot or two pinched on the line may be the best solution. This is especially true in lakes and reservoirs, where tentative cats often reject a bait when too much pressure is on the line from a heavy sinker. A single 3/0 or #7 shot usually is enough to keep the bait in the strike zone, but not so heavy that a cat rejects the added weight.

This rig also is a top choice for river fishing situations that usually would call for a slipfloat rig. Pinching lead shot on the mainline about 6 to 12 inches above the hook results in a rig that can be drifted through riffles, shallow holes, and even around the edge of visible cover like snags and boulders. Round shot, as opposed to the removable type with ears, tends to drift better in current and doesn't twist as much while drifting in still water. Soft lead shot also is less damaging to lines than lead substitutes like tin or shot poured from hard lead alloys.

Standard Three-Way Rig

The three-way rig is another option so versatile that it should at least be considered in most catfishing situations. It's an effective rig for presenting static baits in the heavy current of a tailrace or the still waters of a lake or pond. But it's unparalleled for slipdrifting on big rivers like the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio, and for drifting windblown flats in big reservoirs like Santee-Cooper.

The three-way rig consists of a dropper line 6 to 24 inches long, anchored by a bell sinker of sufficient weight to keep the bait near bottom. A half-ounce sinker might be sufficient in still water, but 3 to 8 ounces are needed to drift around the tips of wing dams for blue and channel cats. The leader should be slightly longer than the dropper line - usually 2 to 3 feet, depending on current velocity.

Three-way rigs also excel at extracting fish from areas where other rigs can't hold or return from. Say you're fishing for channel cats over a broken-rock bottom below a lowhead dam. Use a three-way rig with a 20-pound mainline and a 17-pound leader. Secure a 2- to 4-ounce bell sinker to the remaining rung of a three-way swivel with 6-pound line. When cast into place, the sinker hangs, anchoring the rig until a fish strikes. Big cats sometimes grab a bait hard enough to hook themselves and break the light dropper line. When a smaller fish strikes, a sharp snap of the rod tip breaks off the sinker and sets the hook.

Another versatile rig is an adjustable three-way that doesn't require a three-way swivel. Instead, tie on a standard barrel swivel between your mainline and leader. Next, thread a long dropper line through one of the swivel rungs and clamp a lead shot somewhere on the dropper opposite the sinker and swivel.

The lead shot functions like a bobber stop. Where you set it determines the distance the swivel rides above bottom, and thus the depth the bait runs. To adjust the distance from bottom, simply slide the shot up or down the dropper. Should you snag, a firm pull slides the shot off your dropper line, once again losing only the sinker and saving the rest of the rigging.

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