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 you have the next hot dipbait recipe on your hands.
Scratch that. Keep it off your hands; just on your hook.
The ironic thing about dipbait for catfish is that no matter its aromatic intensity, these tubs of vile goo are among the least messy baits you can fish. Done right, dipbaiting keeps your fingers clean enough to scoop peanut butter straight from the jar. Of course, despite the approximate 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, say, something like Junnie’s Sewer Bait. Even our comparatively 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, whose olfactory abilities outweigh a bloodhound and a bear combined, can apparently even discriminate between oozing Limburger and Muenster cheeses. And whether flavorings like garlic, liver or blood salivate a catfish’s barbels best— compared to a serving of always appealing cutbait— there’s no doubt that a good cheese-based dipbait will induce bites in practically every environment.
Consider comparing dipbait to pro catfish angler John Jamison’s snack stash of Vienna sausages. In the dark recessed corners of his Lund boat lurks a major supply of these perpetually preserved little doggies. And while many would consider consuming a can of these salty snacks only under the heaviest of hunger pains, Jamison sniffs them out at every opportunity. The point? A tub of dipbait, like a can of Viennas, is always ready to please palates, especially handy when the boat runs dry of more tasty treats, such as anything not soaking in a tin of lukewarm mystery juice. Run out of cutbait, or forget to stop at the baitshop for crawlers? No problem. Just break out the dip.
In recent years, news has travelled north and south that dips can be among the most alluring offerings for 1- to 5-pound channel and blue cats, perhaps the best bait of all time for catching a serious pile of catfish. Gradually, old-school dips such as Sonny’s Super Sticky have begun to give way to several gnarly new concoctions. Bootleg #131, a particularly potent blend brewed by Rippin Lips, has rapidly risen to the top among modern dipbait practitioners.
Jamison, who’s used dips to tackle big blue catfish in tournaments, and to catch serious strings of eater-sized cats, recently switched from Super Sticky to Bootleg, having experienced exceptional results. “I can’t tell you exactly what’s in it,” he claims, “because, well, the brewmasters won’t tell me. And truthfully, it’s probably better that we don’t have the ingredient list. All I know is, the stuff is nearly intoxicating, and catfish seem to gobble up jars of it, no matter where I fish.
“There’s no doubt that for whale-size catfish, baits such as fresh skipjack or shad are hard to beat,” he affirms. “But if you want nonstop action catching 1- to 5-pounders, or you’re hot on the trail of a mega fish fry, Bootleg is tough to beat.”
That said, Jamison has often used dipbait in tournaments to boat big finicky blue cats turned off by cold fronts and changing water conditions. His colleague and fellow tournament champion Phil King also uses dips to finesse jumbo channel and blue catfish just after spawntime, when they’re otherwise extremely tough to tempt with cut baitfish.
When to Cut the Cheese
The truth is, dipbait produces catfish nearly all year long. Although many anglers wield cheese-based dips during the traditional warm summer months, both Jamison and King have had success in water as cold as 37 degrees and as deep as 50 feet.
When the water is colder, Jamison says he likes to add a bit of vegetable oil to the dipbait jar, which softens it and keeps it malleable on the hook, so the bait continues releasing strong scent and flavor into the water. “Bootleg comes with a black lid, so we’ll often place jars in direct sunlight, which keeps the bait warm.” In extreme cold, Jamison scoops the bait into an aluminum coffee can, and heats it up with a propane Mr. Heater to keep it soft.
Conversely, on the warmest summer days, he’ll place dipbait jars into a cooler, so they don’t become excessively runny. In cold water, Jamison usually opts for blood-flavored dips, while in warmer water, he often prefers sweeter dips such as Bootleg Batch #17. In all cases, it’s best to occasionally stir the bait to maintain a nice pliable consistency.
“Rigging up to fish a dipbait couldn’t be easier,” he notes. “Although you can fish a dip below a bobber, we usually rig with a standard slip-sinker set up, with a bell or egg sinker placed about a foot above the hook.” While numerous specialized dipbait hooks, sponges and “dipworms” are available at the bait shop, Jamison opts for an alternative.
“An old timer showed me the best dipbait holder I’ve ever used.” Starting with a #1 or 1/0 Eagle Claw 84 or Rippin Lips Circle Hook, Jamison then finds a hunk of dense yet soft foam, such as the stuff used in old car seats. He cuts the foam into strips 1 inch wide by 3 or 4 inches long. The strip is impaled on the hook at one end, twisted and then re-hooked several times, until the foam is nicely ‘balled up’ on the hook. “Someone needs to make a dip sponge like this,” he says, “because it holds bait on the hook better than anything currently on the market.”
To bait up, Jamison first makes sure the foam is dry before dropping the hook into his jar of Bootleg. He punches it into the bait with a small stick, building up a nice morsel of goo about the size of a marble. “Don’t overload your hook with bait. You’ll want to re-dip every 5 to 10 minutes, and all it takes is a nice coating of bait around the sponge to attract catfish.”
Carefully removing the hook from the jar, Jamison then gives it a quick dip in the water to lock the bait onto the hook. He notes that dips such as Bootleg also contain special waterproofing agents that help keep it affixed to the hook and foam.
If he’s fishing a river, Jamison likes to cast his baits along current seams. Baits should soak near but out of the faster flow, where the dip’s scent wafts over the sensitive barbels of catfish. In lakes and reservoirs, he chooses 2- to 10-foot windblown flats and points for the very same reason.
Another trick Jamison employs in new spots is to spread a scent trail before fishing. “We’ll make 4 to 5 casts, retrieving quickly through the area with freshly dipped hooks. It’s like setting the table—putting out a breadcrumb trail of scent and flavor. By the time we set our baits back onto the spot, cats are usually fired up and we start catching fish right away.
“Often, the fishing’s so fast I don’t even get a chance to stop and snack on a tin of Viennas. It’s terrible.”
Images courtesy Rippin Lips