The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines riprap as “a foundation or sustaining wall of stones or chunks of concrete thrown together without order.”
It’s a bunch of rocks; how difficult can it be?
Fishing riprap is not necessarily difficult, but there’s a lot more to consider about these stacked chunks than meets the eye.
At first blush, it may all look the same, but upon closer inspection, the randomness of the rocks creates certain aspects of the actual stone, as well as adjacent features that merit targeting.
You might catch a few fish by blind casting down a line of rocks, but consistency rewards mental diligence, so pay attention to the details.
Moreover, the dynamics of a day can impact this game. The key to enjoying riprap success is to stay alert to the fact that fish could be anywhere, but realize that certain scenarios hold the greatest potential.
For starters, bass largely favor riprap for the feeding benefits. This large wall of immovable structure serves as a boundary along which they can pin their prey like a defender running a ball carrier into the sideline.
As Bassmaster Elite Series pro Keith Combs notes, shad commonly cluster around riprap to munch on the algae growing on the rocky surface. This alone makes riprap — particularly bridge riprap — always worth a stop.
As far as creature comfort, sunrise often finds fish lingering along riprap after spending the dark hours near rocks that held the previous day’s heat through the overnight coolness. On either side of midday, the sun’s angle means that somewhere a riprap bank is keeping bass shaded, offering another rocky opportunity.
“I usually associate riprap with some kind of funnel area,” said Elite pro Jason Christie. “So during the day, once the wind gets to blowing, you’re drawing bait through those funnel areas, so there can be a good afternoon bite, as well.”
Finding sweet spots
When targeting bridges, Combs pays particular attention to corners. One occurs where the actual riprap shoreline comes to a point and turns toward the bridge pilings. The other exists where the riprap meets the natural bottom. Both, he said, direct baitfish movement and attract opportunistic bass.
FLW Tour pro Pete Ponds also seeks such turns and points along residential and marina riprap banks. Anywhere fish can set up and intercept bait following a well-defined contour change presents a can’t-miss opportunity. But getting back to the bridge scenario, Ponds points to an unseen riprap opportunity that can deliver tremendous potential.
“When a dam is built, the engineers will build a road that allows them to haul in the dirt,” he said. “Those road beds attract fish as they move along the riprap.
“The way I find those is I’ll get my boat about 30 feet out from the dam and slowly run along the riprap and watch my electronics to see when the road bed comes up and goes down on my topography map. Most of the time, somewhere up and down that road bed is going to produce bass.”
And don’t overlook the influence of secondary cover.
“Crappie anglers will put out brush piles that they can reach from the riprap bank,” Ponds said. “Those same brush tops hold bass.”
All things being equal, you’ll almost always do best by fishing windward riprap, as the wave action oxygenates the shallows and loosens chunks of algae, both favorable scenarios for baitfish.
Crankbaits are probably the most popular riprap bait, as they allow you to cover water and make contact with the rocks without significant snagging risks. Ponds said he can cover the majority of riprap scenarios he faces with Bandit 200 and 300 crankbaits.
Combs does likewise with a Strike King 6XD or a KVD 2.5 squarebill for his tight work.
Ponds also likes to take a peek at a topwater bite.
“Early in the morning and late in the evening, I’ll throw a One Knocker Zara Spook on that riprap to catch bigger fish,” Ponds said. “A larger or smaller topwater can make a difference (depending on the fish’s mood), but that’s something you determine by trial and error.”
Christie also likes the topside game, but he’ll raise the racket level with a sputtering buzzbait. This is especially effective in off-colored water where fish tend to react more to sound and commotion. Christie balances the buzz with a spinnerbait and a square bill crankbait.
Also keep a jig handy for pitching to particular rocks like a noticeable point or a few tumblers that form a little ambush spot. Riprap is an unkind neighborhood for blind pitching, but targeted presentations can deliver big results.
You can arm yourself with quality tackle, select effective baits and even wear a cool hat, yet still end up empty handed. Ponds offers suggestions on how to avoid blowing the game.
Slow down: Noting that riprap banks are usually highly pressures spots, Ponds warns against going through the area too quickly. Moreover, intentional casts trump random ones any day. “Every time you cast you want to have a target,” Ponds said. “It might be a rock that sticks out from the rest, it might be a rock that’s more round than the others; you just want something different.”
Wrong angle: Ponds says 90 percent of his riprap presentations follow a parallel track, because this keeps the bait in productive water longer. No one’s suggesting you can’t catch a fish on a perpendicular cast; but because fish tend to hold in a consistent depth, those 90-degree casts give you a much shorter window of opportunity. “If I have someone with me, I’ll bring them up on the bow with me, we’ll stand shoulder-to-shoulder and cast parallel,” Ponds said. “Even if you’re fishing deeper, it’s still a more productive deal. You can just move your boat out from the bank a little. If you’re not going to fish parallel to the bank, the guy on the front needs to be throwing ahead of the boat. The common mistake people make is throwing straight out from the side of the boat and by the time they move forward, they’re fishing behind the boat.”
Fishing lazy: A classic scenario finds an angler cranking riprap and fishing right past a laydown without taking time to work this potential fish magnet with slower presentations. Try a topwater around the perimeter, and probe the branches with a Texas-rigged bait; just don’t leave such gold mines unexplored. The same goes for those tufts of grass sprouting amid the rocks. Ever wonder why an entire line of riprap either has grass or it does not? “Anytime you have a bunch of grass growing on the riprap, there’s a different contour on the bottom,” Ponds said. “When I’m cranking down a riprap bank, I’m always looking for something different. It might be a bush that’s laying over the riprap, grass growing into the riprap or grass growing into the riprap. All this indicates a bottom change that might attract fish.”
Indeed, catching fish on riprap requires a lot more than bumping rocks. There’s usually plenty of fish to catch; but you’ll have to stay alert, mobile and adaptive to do so.