River fishing can be daunting for a catfish angler. Anchoring and setting baits in heavy current is tricky, and posting up in just one or two spots throughout the day may not put you in the prime holes. Enter catfish “bumping.” While not a new concept, this method of trolling a river with chunk baits is making a big comeback. It definitely takes some practice, but the payoff is huge. B’n’M Poles pro staffer Jason Aycock is a true master of the bump, and his catfishing tips will get you on more big blue cats than you ever thought possible.
1. Heavy Kit
Aycock stresses the need for a light, sensitive rod with a fast tip and lots of backbone. A lighter rod will be less taxing to hold all day as you probe the bottom. Bass swimbait rods and muskie rods are perfectly suited for this application, he says.
Likewise, Aycock makes sure his reels aren’t too heavy but have plenty of line capacity. His go-to is the Okuma 350 Cold Water Line Counter, spooled with 65-pound PowerPro. The zero stretch and strength of this braid is essential to feel the bottom, maintain control of your bait, and land big fish.
2. Big Rig
The rig begins with a heavy-duty 1/0 three-way swivel. One ring attaches to the main line. Another goes to a 2-foot dropper line of 20-pound mono ending with a 3- to 6-ounce bank sinker. Don’t use more than 20-pound line for this sinker dropper, as you want it to break off easily if you snag so you don’t lose the whole rig. The last ring of the three-way swivel attaches to the heavier end of the main leader, which Aycock constructs by tying 18 inches of 80-pound mono to a big barrel swivel and the same length of 50-pound mono to the other side. The mid-leader swivel prevents line twist and makes the presentation look more natural.
Finally Aycock finishes the 50-pound leader with a 7/0 Daiichi Circle Chunk hook. As for bait, Aycock likes chunked skipjack herring, but gizzard shad is a close second.
3. Break the Current
While there are countless areas to target cats on any given river, Aycock mainly focuses on big bends in the channel. From the bend and immediately downstream, the current will be slower. In the perfect scenario, Aycock prefers the current to be running 2.5 to 3 mph; catfish will hold in the slower water, and the brushpiles and logjams that accumulate there provide excellent cover for big cats to use as ambush locations and resting spots out of the flow. Wherever there is wood, he says, there will be blue cats. The most important piece of equipment for catfish bumping is a quality trolling motor. Aycock goes by the half rule, which means pointing the trolling motor straight into the current to slow down his boat by half the current speed. After a test drift, he’ll power the motor to slow the boat to 1.5 mph in a 3-mph current. If it’s 4 mph, he fishes at 2 mph, and so on.
While drifting his rig, Aycock constantly bounces it up and down with a long, steady jigging motion. If you drag the weight across the bottom, you’re just going to get hung up. Watch your line, as the catfish often make it go slack as they push up off the bottom to attack the bait from below. When that happens, it can be very tricky to take up your slack and nail a solid hook-set, Aycock says, but most of the time, the cats just try to rip the rod out of your hands. With that in mind, bumping for cats requires constant attention. Slack off for a second, and you could lose your entire outfit.
Photograph by Bill Lindner