Instream habitat degradation and loss are major threats to freshwater fishes and critical conservation issues among nongame species, due to a lack of research and knowledge concerning their habitat requirements. Instream physical cover is an important component of fish habitat, especially for benthic species that require cover for reproduction and shelter from predators. One such species is the Carolina Madtom Noturus furiosus, a small, imperiled, nongame catfish endemic to the Neuse and Tar river basins of North Carolina. To enhance understanding of instream cover dynamics, we constructed artificial cover units from terra cotta materials and deployed them in rivers to (1) evaluate if they could be an effective passive sampling technique to estimate detection and occupancy of the Carolina Madtom, and (2) determine their potential to enhance habitat in systems where instream cover has been lost. Artificial cover units were deployed at 8 sites in the Neuse and Tar river basins, and collected 30 Carolina Madtoms at 2 sites in the Tar River basin. Occupancy modeling estimated Carolina Madtom detection probability using artificial cover units at 0.92. Compared to other standardized sampling methods, artificial cover units were an efficient, passive sampling technique for detecting Carolina Madtoms. Observations also revealed that artificial cover units were occupied by Carolina Madtoms for reproduction. These findings provide natural resource managers an additional means to assess the status of this imperiled species using an inexpensive, passive sampling device that can provide spawning habitat, protection from predators, and help mitigate effects of instream habitat degradation.