- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
“I would rather fish riprap than anything,” proclaims Arkansan Scott Rook, who has demonstrated an uncanny knack for catching bass wherever he competes in professional tournaments. Rook’s fishing skills have netted him well over $300,000 in winnings and a host of sponsors.
“I feel almost indebted to the engineers and construction workers who dump boulders along the banks of our lakes and rivers,” Rook says. “Without that riprap, I’d have a lot more trouble finding bass.”
Riprap really shines in spring and fall, but bass will use the structure year round.
Riprap is man-made structure comprised of natural rock mined from quarries or discarded chunks of concrete salvaged from demolition projects. While riprap is intended to prevent waves from eroding banks and to maintain channel depths in navigable rivers, savvy anglers like Rook know these jagged rocks also produce reliable bass fishing.
Whenever he's fishing a body of water for the first time, Rook never passes a stretch of riprap without fishing it. Riprap bass add pounds to his catch in almost every tournament. In some events, he fishes nothing but riprap, as was the case during a BASSMASTER Invitational on Mississippi’s Ross Barnett. It was April and the muddy water was in the low 50s. As the midday sun warmed the riprap along a bridge causeway, bass pulled up on the rocks to feed. Rook worked over a 200-yard stretch of riprap with a spinnerbait for three consecutive days and sacked enough bass to finish third.
“Even though I caught my bass shallow at Ross Barnett, which is common, there was deep water nearby,” Rook says. “Riprap is normally on a steep bank close to deep water or associated with some type of current. Both of these conditions attract bass.”
Riprap Through The Seasons
Big crankbaits are Scott Rook's go-to riprap baits. He employs a quick retrieve no matter the season.
Though riprap produces especially good bass fishing in spring and fall, it is likely to hold bass anytime. The rocks are a haven for shad and crayfish, the primary forage base in many bass waters. In fall, shad that have been residing in deep water during the hot months move shallow and feed on algae that has grown on riprap over the summer. This includes large gizzard shad that offer a substantial meal to bass. Bass follow their forage to the rocks, where they are susceptible to a variety of lures.
Rook’s Riprap Baits
Some lakes and rivers feature miles of riprap banks. This puts a premium on lures that cover water quickly and locate key holding areas, which are relatively small. Big hitters in Rook’s riprap arsenal include large crankbaits like Berkley’s 3/8-ounce shallow and medium Frenzy Divers. He goes with chartreuse color patterns in muddy water and shad colors in clear water.
“I use a pretty fast retrieve regardless of the season,” says Rook. “I want my crankbaits banging on the rocks. That gets reaction strikes.”
If Rook believes the bass want a slower retrieve, he switches to a chartreuse and white 3/8-ounce War Eagle spinnerbait with a small Colorado blade ahead of a No. 4 1/2 willow leaf. He works the spinnerbait deep enough to clip the rocks. In clear water, Rook sparks top-water strikes by casting buzzbaits to riprap.
For working crankbaits, spinnerbaits and buzzbaits along riprap, Rook gives the nod to 6-foot, 8-inch medium-action rods and high-speed reels. He fills a 6:3-to-1 gear ratio reel with 14-pound test, claiming that anything lighter than 14 won’t stand up to abrasive riprap.
To keep the bait in the strike zone, get parallel to the riprap. Rook stays as close to the rocks as possible.
“I move my boat tight to the rocks and parallel cast whenever I can,” Rook says. “The muddier the water, to closer I get to the riprap. I want to keep my baits working in front of the bass as long as possible.”
The exception is when Rook casts a 4-inch worm to riprap with a spinning outfit and 6-pound line. He rigs the worm on a 1/16-ounce jig head and lets it slowly glide down the face of the rocks.
“That little jig worm catches bass when nothing else will,” says Rook. “I caught them real good at Kentucky Lake once while practicing for a fall tournament. The bass were wadded up on a little stretch of riprap that protected a marina. I couldn’t get them to bite a crankbait or spinnerbait. Then I tried the jig worm and caught 30 keepers.”
Ken Cook’s Riprap Picks
Former BASSMASTER Classic Champion Ken Cook also dotes on riprap, but he favors a somewhat different lure selection. Like Rook, crankbaits are a high priority for Cook because they seine riprap quickly. But Cook favors a wide-bodied bait more often than not.
“I’m a Wiggle Wart freak,” he says. “It gets down 8 to 10 feet and has a real wide wobble. It bounces off rocks extremely well and is one of the best crankbaits ever invented for riprap. I like shad patterns in the summer and fall, and crawfish patterns in the spring.”
For cranking the 8 to 10-foot zone, Ken Cook loves fat-bodied baits because of the wide wobble, but he too switches to heavy spinnerbaits for deeper fish.
When riprap bass hold deeper than a Wiggle Wart dives, Cook often switches to a 3/4-ounce spinnerbait sporting No. 4 and No. 6 willow leaf blades. The spinnerbait performs best in the summer and fall wherever shad swarm riprap. A blue and silver metal flake color combination nicely matches the baitfish. Cook embellishes the spinnerbait with a 4-inch Berkley Power Bait Bungee™ Twin Tail Grub.
"I let the heavy spinnerbait sink to the bottom before starting my retrieve, then I fish it with a hop-and-stop retrieve that tags the rocks," says Cook, whose heaviest one-day catch (27 pounds, 11 ounces) came by running a heavy spinnerbait over a riprap ledge 15 to 18 feet deep at Lake Eufaula, Ala. Because riprap is so abrasive, he throws the spinnerbait on 20-pound line spooled to a high-speed reel on a 7-foot medium-action rod.
When Cook locates a concentration of bass in a key location, such as a riprap corner or a culvert, he switches to a 7-foot spinning outfit matched with 10- or 12-pound monofilament and a 1/4-ounce jig head. He dresses the jig with Berkley’s new 3-inch Power Bait minnow grub and fishes the spot from all angles to milk as many bass as possible from the rocks.
Riprap Bass Locations
As attractive as riprap is to bass, only a small percentage of the rocks hold appreciable numbers of fish. The key to fishing riprap is to find those limited areas that draw numbers of bass. In many instances, a hot stretch of riprap has some type of irregularity or a prominent feature. It could be a corner, a point, or a section adjacent to a creek channel bend. A prominent feature could be a large boulder, a snag, perhaps an old roadbed beneath the surface.
The first priority for Cook is to determine the depth at which bass are feeding. He does so by checking with a depth finder to determine how deep baitfish and larger fish are generally holding, and fishing riprap with lures that cover a wide variety of depths.
“First thing in the morning, I might start out with a Storm Chug Bug to take advantage of an early top-water bite,” says Cook. “But after that, I’m going to be searching with crankbaits and heavy spinnerbaits. I cast parallel to the riprap so I cover the water efficiently.”
Minnow grubs, like the 3-inch PowerBait Bubble Up grub, work well when concentrations of fish are found at key spots on a riprap bank.
An especially productive location for Cook is the subsurface edge of the riprap where the rocks end and the normal bottom begins. This juncture is typically 6 to 12 feet deep on many bass waters, though it may be much deeper. Whatever the depth, bass often relate to the edge, and it is a prime bass-holding feature many anglers overlook.
Bass hold on similar riprap edges and irregularities in river systems. But on moving waters, the current frequently influences where bass station themselves. Because Rook grew up fishing the Arkansas River, he has little trouble locating riprap current breaks that hold bass.
“I’ve spend a lot of time analyzing river currents,” says Rook. “Look for places along riprap where the current hits the rocks and makes a small eddy. The hot spot may be where the current swings into the riprap, or where it breaks back out into the main flow.”
During minimal current flows, Rook concentrates on riprap points and corners close to the main river channel. High current flows push bass farther from the main flow. Never overlook an opening in riprap where current rushes through from one side to the other.
A standard tactic on many navigable rivers is to position the boat at the end of a wing dam and run a diving crankbait along the upriver side of the rocks. The current may appear too strong for bass to hold here, but they position themselves just beneath the main thrust of the flow where they nab baitfish and other tidbits washing past.
Over the course of their careers, both Cook and Rook have taken sizeable numbers of fish from miles and miles of riprap. Each has established reliable patterns for the cool-water periods of spring and fall, when riprap draws food and bass to its warmer environs. To many anglers, all riprap looks the same. But once they know how to dissect the seemingly featureless structure, anglers can mine the right rocks for striking gold.