Bumping for River Catfish

The latest and hottest tactic for catching trophy catfish from flowing waters like the Mississippi River is called “bumping”.

Fishing a place with strong current for catfish? There’s no better tactic than bumping to put fish in the boat

Tactics for catching catfish have taken a long and varied path from the days of just casting out lines and waiting for Ol’ Whiskerface to come strolling along. From trolling to casting, even getting in the water and noodling, catfish are becoming a more-popular target.

One of the fastest-growing tactics for targeting catfish in moving water is called “bumping.” The tactic has also been referred to as slipping, dragging and back-trolling. Two of the kings of bumping are Nick Dimino and Adam Long of Starkville. In 2013, the duo won the Big Cat Quest National Championship on the Mississippi River with a two-day total of 10 catfish that weighed 239.60 pounds. What tactic did they use? Bumping.

Bumping is most effective in rivers or other areas with heavy current, i.e., prime catfish waters. Large rivers and waterways are the top spots, but tailraces or canals coming out of reservoirs, especially when releasing current, are another option.

Dimino, who fishes both local and national catfish tournaments, describes what makes the tactic so effective.

“Bumping is a really natural presentation. It mimics food washing downcurrent where catfish will lay facing upstream, waiting for something to come by,” he said. “To imitate this, what you do is nose your boat into the current and let the current drift you back, then using the trolling motor; you troll into the current, enough to cut your drift speed in half. The boat is going slower than the current, so the bait is also going slower downriver.”

The key to bumping for catfish is getting the rig far enough behind the boat so that the bait scoots naturally across the bottom of the river.

At first blush, bumping might seem to be a vertical presentation, but this is not the case. Bumping is very similar to trolling the bottom, only in reverse. To get the right presentation angle, the angler lets out more and more line until the bait is nearly sliding across the bottom with the current at a much slower speed than trolling with the current.

“You want to disengage the reel to be in free spool, and you just keep letting line out until you get the rig back behind the boat,” Dimino said. “You can tell by the feel of the rod that you are in a comfortable spot, because it will feel like the weight is only bouncing a foot or so at a time.

“Bumping is not a multiple-rod tactic,” he said. “With my partner Adam and I in the boat, we fish one rod each, but it will definitely put some big catfish in the boat.”

Obviously, it takes developing a “feel” for the tactic to be effective.

“When you hit that sweet spot, that’s where you want to be,” he said. “You drop the rig to the bottom and you pick it up, as soon as you set it down, you hit the bottom. You only want to lift the weight up about 3 or 4 inches — just enough to get off the bottom and let the current sweep it along and then set it back down. That sort of scoots the bait along the bottom in a very natural manner,”

Nick Dimino catches plenty of big blues and flatheads bumping baits across the bottom.

Getting the hang of bumping is a challenge, but it’s only half of the equation. At some point, a catfish — hopefully a big one — will fall for the bait and eat it. When that happens, the angler needs to be able to distinguish the bite from the bottom and take quick action.

“What most anglers don’t realize is that when the fish bites, the boat is still moving downriver, and the fish that just grabbed your bait is sitting still,” Dimino said. “You need to start taking up slack, quickly. If you’re not taking up slack, you’re making a big loop in the line between you and the fish, and you’re going to miss your fish if you don’t start getting that line tight.”

Dimino stressed that the more horizontal you can get with the presentation, the more effective you will become and the more natural the presentation will look. He discourages anglers from trying to stay vertical, which may seem easier but is not as effective.

“The further I can get the rig back away from the boat, the more bites I get, and the further I can get away from the boat, the better the bites are,” he said. “If the bait is not far enough back, when I’m picking the bait up, it suddenly flies several feet down the river, right on top of a fish or something.”

His final thought on perfecting the tactic is to realize that the riverbed is not uniformly flat beneath the boat. Valleys and hills, holes and debris are all attractive to catfish, but they make it tougher on the angler.

“It takes a lot of practice to distinguish the difference between different bites when you’re bumping and bottom structure and cover, because you’ve got contours on the bottom,” he said.  “You’re going up hills; you’re falling down into holes. You’re also bumping over logs and who knows what sitting on the bottom.

Tackles manufacturers have acknowledged the popularity of the bumping tactic by designing rods, reels, and other tackle to fit the tactic. (Phillip Gentry)

“With practice, you learn when to take it out of free spool and pick up some line and when to let more line out in order to keep the bait bumping along naturally.”

Dimino’s rod of choice is a model made by B’n’M, a specific bumping rod with a split-cork handle and a combination of high-density carbon and fiberglass that is light enough to work all day but strong to horse a good fish out of deep water.

Dimino’s reels and line are also important. Together, they form the strong and sensitive tool needed to pull big catfish from the depths.

“I use 50-pound main-line braid,” he said. “The reason I use 50-pound braid is it’s more sensitive. I’m also using a low-profile Quantum PT reel. It’s a 300 class reel, so it will hold a pretty good bit of line. You’ve got to have that paired with a rod you can feel with and still have the backbone it needs.”

Finally, it’s what’s on the front of Dimino’s catfish boat that is so critical to success when executing a bumping run on the mighty Mississippi. A 36-volt, high-output trolling motor is mandatory for keeping pace with the river and adjusting boat speed.

Top bumping baits are cut skipjack herring or any other bait that can be found in the river you’re fishing.

“You need a good trolling motor; that’s for sure,” Dimino said. “I run a 36-volt Minn Kota trolling motor. The 36 volts are what most all of the tournament guys are running now — one with a remote control or remote steering system. Bumping is also hard on a set of batteries, too, because you’re fighting the current all day long. I’ll run a bank of batteries down by 1 or 2 o’clock every day before the tournament is over.”

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Phillip Gentry
About Phillip Gentry 378 Articles
Phillip Gentry is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer who says that if it swims, walks, hops, flies or crawls he’s usually not too far behind.