Alabama Rig For Smallmouth Bass
January 02, 2013
When the Alabama Rig broke onto the scene in October 2012, angler reactions included shock and awe, while manufacturers saw a chance to make quick buck in the generally flat fishing tackle business. This summer's ICAST industry show revealed dozens of new products designed to fish more than one lure at a time.
Despite the explosion of products and press concerning multi-lure rigs commonly known as umbrella rigs or A-rigs, the concept is far from new. Various forms of umbrella rigs have been used to catch striped bass and bluefish along the Atlantic Coast for decades. Some deploy as many as 14 lures. With some weighing several pounds, extremely heavy tackle (at least 50-pound class) and monel wire line are typically used to troll them.
My first experience with umbrella rigs came on Lake Cumberland in Kentucky, as we trolled them on downriggers. The captain explained that once blueback herring replaced shad as the primary forage there, striped bass moved deep, forsaking the excellent topwater and casting action that had been available before the switch.
Fast forward to last fall as a group of us watched live as the Lake Guntersville FLW Tour event unfolded, starring Paul Elias and his Alabama Rig. This 5-arm rig, armed with swimbaits, was so effective that anglers not using them stood no chance of success in the event on this river-run impoundment. Anglers who'd never tried one made huge catches. But Elias, who'd practiced with it for some time, made the most of this revelation, collecting $100,000. Since then, manufacturers large and small have jumped into production.
Double Your Fun
Long before the Guntersville tournament, long before umbrella rigs were applied to freshwater, In-Fisherman Editor In Chief Doug Stange had used multi-rig setups on the Missouri River for walleye, tying a pair of hair jigs in tandem. Soon after, he applied the same rig to smallmouth fishing at Pipestone Lake in Ontario.
"What we did with Cap's Rock-A-Roo jigs was merely an extension of rigs used for crappies and in saltwater fisheries," Stange says. "The pair of lures not only show fish two baits, which may make them feel the lures are more vulnerable, but the way they're attached creates underwater action that's different from a single lure and often more enticing."
Stange explains that the spacing of lures on the line is important for the best action, as well as to avoid snarling. "I call it the rule of 2 X 1. Rig it by tying in a length of line to the mainline that's about 10 inches long with a Surgeon's Knot. Position it so it hangs 10 inches above the tag end of the mainline. The key is for one leader to be twice as long as the other. It works best with 10- or 12-pound fluorocarbon."
He's found that smallmouth bass can't resist a pair of 4-inch minnowbaits, such as Berkley's Power Minnow, rigged on 1/8-ounce jigheads. "There's something about fork-tail minnows and the length of line between them that creates an underwater walk-the-dog action, "he says. "Retrieve it while lifting and dropping the rod in a steady, rather brisk cadence. The lures crisscross back and forth, sashaying along like a pair of frisky minnows. Bass can't resist it. Given the competitive nature of smallmouth bass, when you hook one, a schoolmate often takes the second lure and you have a double."
Bassmaster Elite pro Mark Menendez of Kentucky likes to fish a pair of weightless soft jerkbaits, or at least he did before that tournament trail banned all multi-lure rigs following the A-rig development and subsequent controversy.
"Smallmouths are maniacs for competition," he says, "so a double rig works particularly well for them. After a lot of experimentation, I figured out that tying on a pair of leaders works best, both for creating enticing action with the lures and for eliminating problems with line twist. The length of the leaders is critical for this to work right.
"Using 15-pound Seaguar InvisX Fluorocarbon, I make a 12-inch and a 15-inch leader, each with a hook on one end and a barrel swivel on the other. Slide the barrel swivel of the longer leader onto your mainline, then tie the shorter leader to the tag end. The hook I use with 5-inch jerkbaits is a 5/0 Extra Wide Gap Sure Grip Hook from ohioprolures.com. It has a little wire at the eye that keeps baits threaded on straight and also keeps the bait from sliding down the hook, which often results in missed fish."
He fishes the rig on a 7-foot 2-inch Team Lew's baitcasting rod rated medium-fast. It has a fast tip to make long casts, and plenty of backbone to set the hook on the end of a long cast. "That's important as I use this rig to cover a lot of water," Menendez says. "The two lures cut back and forth, covering a wide swath of water. It works best in clear water. Smallmouths make a beeline for it."
Menendez points to its amazing allure for largemouth and smallmouth bass and credits it with helping him win a Bassmaster tournament on West Point Lake in Georgia. But ironically, he didn't catch any bass on it. "In that event, I used the double fluke rig during prefishing to lure bass out from under docks. They'd show themselves, but I'd pull it away before they could eat it. During the tournament I returned and caught them on a jig."
Sponsored by Strike King, Menendez has three options from their lineup. "I use the Caffeine Shad when I want to get the baits deeper, as they're plastisol heavily infused with salt. The Z-Too is ElaZtech, with a little salt, so it sinks slowly and has a beautiful hesitating move when you pause it. The Zulu floats, and it nearly keeps a 5/0 hook on the surface. Sometimes I mix and match two different baits, using, for example, the Zulu as a float, to buoy a Caffeine Shad."
He's found it deadly in the late Prespawn Period just before fish begin bedding, and also when they cruise shallow flats after the spawn is over. "You often double up on it. When you hook a smallie, his buddies come over to take the lure away, then see another bait and eat it immediately."
Logic Lures offers a Scented Tandem Rig, with a pair of their 4-inch Flutter Tails rigged on a leader with a 1/16-ounce tungsten weight and a 1/32-ounce tungsten clicker to enhance lure action and create sound.
Andy Poss' original Alabama Rig, since sold to Mann's Bait Company, opened the door to similar designs. Within days, crafters had fashioned their own rigs with parts from the hardware store. Many versatile and easy-to-use rigs have been developed.
Poss' rig includes a fish-like head from which five wire arms spread, each tipped with a heavy-duty snap swivel to attach a jighead and paddletail swimbait or other lure. Spreading the wires gives the baits freedom to move without hanging up.
Some of the earliest editions came from custom shops, including Bert Deener's Jigs & Things and Andy's Custom Bass Lures, operated by Andy Vollombroso. He introduced 3- and 5-arm editions, with options for willow blades, in standard and finesse versions and sizes from 4 to 10 inches. Deener built the Medusa and Mini Medusa, then the Flashy Medusa, a 1/4-ounce, 3-arm rig with willowleafs on separate swivels.
Berkley soon released the Schooling Rig, a 5-arm rig, as well as a kit with harness, five Split Belly Swimbaits, and five 1/8-ounce jigheads. Picasso Lures added a family of School E Rigs, four models from an 8-inch 7/16-ounce rig of .04-gauge wire for large baits down to a 5-inch Panfish version on .030 wire. Yum has an array of multi-lure rigs, beginning with the Yumbrella, made with heat-treated stainless steel to match their Money Minnows and Money Head Jigs. To fish a pair of baits, whether topwaters, frogs, or swimbaits, Double Up is a spreader to double your odds. Finally, the Yumbrella Ultralight Flash Mob is a 6-incher with five arms, each with a willowleaf blade.
Terminator brings 3 sizes (5-, 8-, and 10-inch) of their Super Stainless Rig, with five arms and lifelike head, and the Titanium Rig, a model made of patented SnapBack Titanium, adding flexibility, durability, and vibration to the rig. Moreover, it comes with a large split ring that slides over the arms for easy storage. Nichols, Lucky Craft, and Jewel Bait added their own versions as well. Tennessee guide and luremaker Jim Duckworth offers one designed for a pair of crankbaits, another for a buzzbait and a grub. Castaic came with the InvisiRig, fashioned from heavy-duty clear line instead of wire.
With many options to suit the mood of the fish and to satisfy state regulations, several companies offer rigs that can be customized. ABT's Multi-Rig System has up to six arms that can be removed by loosening the line tie on the rig's head. Wire lengths from 3½ to 10 inches are available. Eco Pro Tungsten offers the Roll Tide Rig, with arms that can be removed and the configuration changed to a lateral or circular array. Their Workingman Schooler Rig is a larger version with arms up to 7 inches. With optional spreader bars, up to 9 baits can be fished.
In the right situation, umbrella rigs are deadly on smallmouth bass. Immediately after watching the Guntersville weigh-in, Paul Strege, a veteran tournament angler from Deerfield, Wisconsin, purchased an Alabama Rig and tested it on Green Lake, a clear lake containing cisco, a shooling preyfish that gathers in fall to spawn. "I rigged it with 4-inch Netbait BK Swimbaits and 4-inch Berkley Hollow Belly Swim Baits," he reports. "On my second cast, a 3-pounder chased it in. On my third cast, I caught a 4-pounder. They were slamming it as I slow-rolled the rig over a 17-foot breakline. To be legal in Wisconsin, at the time, I had 3 baits with hooks and two dummies.
"Those bass completely wore out my rig. As the arms fell off, so did the number of bites. It continued to produce as the water dropped to 43°F." Strege notes that since then, Wisconsin has clarified their regulations to limit the number of lures to 3 and no dummies can be used on umbrella rigs. But spinners can be added as they're not considered lures by themselves.
He quickly found that choice of jighead is important. "I was bending out several different ballhead jigs. My favorite has become the VMC Flat Shad Jig, in 1/8- and 1/4-ounce sizes. It has a stout hook, double keeper, and good head shape for these rigs. The hook must be stout since you fish these things on a super-heavy rod and 65-pound test superline. Those big smallies pull against each other as well as you when you hook more than one."
Other users like the VMC Boxer Jig, Kalin's S Jig, and the J-Will Head from Buckeye Lures. Reaction Strike's Flats Lok Jighead and Deener's Medusa Head have a screw-lock to hold baits. The Wiggly Jiggly jig from Logic Lures is jointed to add action and to keep fish hooked.
This topic recalls the phrase, "the more the merrier." There have been concerns from a conservation standpoint and about the "fair chase" aspect of umbrella rigs. Reports of bass wounded on their sides have come from waters where umbrella rigs became hugely popular. We don't know the extent of damage to fish caught or lost on these devices, from other hooks in the array. Others have claimed that umbrella rigs make fishing too easy. But as the past season unfolded, multi-rigs did not dominate tournaments as some predicted. Like other forms of effective rigging, there's a time and a place for these tools.
The onset of castable umbrella rigs got conservation officers and anglers examining regulation books. Minnesota appears to have the strictest regulations on their use. In inland waters, only a single lure may be used, though a set of spinners may be deployed in a multi-arm array. In border waters, two lines are legal and thus two hooked lures can be part of the array. Iowa also allows only a double-lure rig, while Wisconsin allows three hooked baits. In Ontario, the limit is four hooked lures in a rig.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency was one of the first to clarify its regulations, due in part to their intricacy. That state had previously defined umbrella rigs as an array of more than three artificial lures or baits (with or without hooks) used on a single rod and reel. If hooks are #8 or smaller, all lures or baits may have hooks. If they're #6 or larger, only one lure or bait in the array can have a hook. Chief of Fisheries Bobby Wilson noted the regulation was enacted in 2002 over concerns about catching too many fish at the same time and foul-hooking large sportfish, particularly striped bass and wipers. Thus rigs there can have no more than three lures. Regulations vary across jurisdictions. Know what's legal where you fish. Alabama Rig For Smallmouth Bass