Carolina Rigging For Bass
February 04, 2014
For several years, the drop-shot rig was the rage. Last fall, along came the A-Rig. Headlines were followed by countless versions of the castable umbrella rig. Even top pros have found that in some situations, they're fishing for something other than first place if they're not "hurling the cage." Remember back 30 years or so, when another rig took the fishing scene by storm, the Carolina or C-Rig. Living in south Georgia at the time, I'd been fishing it regularly for several years when Jack Chancellor of Phenix City, Alabama, won the Bassmaster Classic on what he called, "The Do-Nothing Rig." I was introduced to this setup soon after moving there, where it was known as the "Dumb Worm," for similar reasons—merely cast it out and you'd catch bass. No technique, no tricks, just action.
One merit of Carolina rigging is quickly bringing any lure into the field of action. Kinked prerigged worms like the Savage Worm and Little Action Mac were among the earliest baits used on rigs. Small straight worms, sometime referred to as French fries, came into vogue; Zoom's Centipede and Fish Doctor, and Berkley's Power Noodle were popular options, fitting the Do-Nothing motif extremely well.
The slow glide and settling action of a little bait freed of a sinker seems hard for bass to pass on. It's a top choice for cold fronts and other difficult fishing conditions. The slow glide of a softbait tethered to a C-rig predated the weightless glide of the Slug-Go and Senko, and performs this deadly action in water of any depth. No wonder this rig may be under the radar at the moment, but it's certainly not passe'.
For years, lizards ruled the Carolina rigging roost, as the flat belly, curly tail, and 4 curly legs created superb action when towed about and allowed to settle in select spots. They remain popular for largemouth and smallmouth bass, from 4-inch mini lizards to 8- and 9-inchers.
Top Carolina riggers also rely heavily on creature baits. Clark Wendlandt of Texas, Peter "T" Thliveros of Florida, and Mike McClelland of Arkansas all pointed to Zoom's Brush Hog as a top option. "I use the 6-inch Brush Hog in many situations, particularly in summer when bass generally want a bigger bait," Wendlandt says. "The 4-inch Baby Brush Hog is a great option for a finesse rig and smallmouth and spotted bass eat it up. The flappers, swimming tails, and arms create lifelike action and underwater vibrations."
Terry Scroggins, Florida ace, fishes the Yum Wooly Hawgtail in those situations. The new Yum Yumphibian has a similar profile, but with a thicker body and two long swimming tails. Available in three sizes, 4.5, 5.25, and 6 inches, it promises good things on this setup.
Carolina rigs have a reputation, not unfounded, for catching lots of small bass. To boost bass size, boost bait size. For summer fishing for big fish, magnum worms come into play in deep and shallow conditions.
A swimming tail ripples as the lure's pulled along, then slowly settles. When it goes thump, set the hook. Manufacturers have added new options here, notably Zoom's Mag Ol' Monster (12 inches), Yum's F2 MightEE Worm (10.5 inches), Gene Larew's El Salto Grande (12 inches), and PowerTeam Lures' 10-inch Ribbon Hinge Worm. In response to angler demand, Berkley reintroduced their 12-inch Power Worm after years in mothballs. And Mann's Bait Company added a 12-inch Jelly Worm, available in all those fruity flavors.
Carolina rigs also excel for bringing small finesse baits to deep water and precise structure locations, as well as shallow vegetation. For tough times, Wendlandt relies on a 5- to 7-inch straight-tail worm, rigging it on a light-wire hook. On the light C-rigs he uses in shallow grass, Thliveros goes with an original 4-inch Fluke, occasionally upsizing to a 5-inch Super Fluke. I've found a 4-inch Berkley Gulp! Sinking Minnow, Lake Fork Ring Fry, Yum Dinger, or Yamamoto Senko superb for extracting bites from what seems to be a dead sea, both on offshore structure and shallow vegetation and wood.
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Traditionally, the rig involved a hefty slip sinker, generally 3/4 or a full ounce, separated from the bait and hook by a leader several feet long, and attached with a swivel. A glass bead or two and a brass ticker could be added for visual and auditory attraction.
Thliveros is a long-time Carolina rigger, chalking up many high finishes in tournaments with it. When asked what's changed in the world of C-rigging, he paused, then mentioned its lack of current publicity, compared to other presentations. But like the other pros I chatted with, he always has several rods with various version of the rig, ready to put into play in nearly every situation.
"For me, one change has been relying more on light sinkers," he added. "You might better label it a split-shot rig, as I use tiny weights and dispense with the usual hardware. For finesse fishing in shallow grass, I go down to a 1/32-ounce weight at times, often a 1/16, pegged to the line with a rubber peg. With light tackle, the fewer the knots the better."
To cast this rig, Thliveros uses a medium-action spinning rod with 10-pound braid for a mainline and a leader of 8-pound fluorocarbon. A Zoom Fluke gets the nod, rigged on a light-wire hook. "That's for clear shallow water, with calm conditions," he said. "I also carry a rig with a 1/8- or 3/16-ounce weight, a medium baitcaster with 12- or 14-pound test and a Super Fluke and a heavier-gauge hook. On that setup, I use a swivel and bead. Finally, I carry a big rig with a 3/4-ounce weight for fishing deeper."
While Scroggins uses big lead egg sinkers for river fishing, he switches to tungsten to fish shallow grass. To slip among the stalks, he favors XCalibur Tungsten Barrel Weights from 3/8 to 1/2 ounce, rigging with a swivel and bead.
McClelland worked with Gayle Julien, president of Jewel Baits, to develop a completely new type of sinker. The Rock borrows the basic shape of a football jig, melding it into a slipsinker. Julien reports it was based on the shape of Jewel's Football Jig.
"The offset hole, passing through the middle of the lead body, not down its long axis, is the key to its snag resistance and the action it imparts to lures," McClelland says. "This weight has a concave side and a flat side. Rig with the concave or scoop side forward and the sinker stirs up a soft bottom as you pull it. With the flat side forward, the angle of the line from the hole lifts the front of the sinker upward, helping to deflect snags and also imparting a rolling action to your bait. It's a great Carolina sinker."
A fine option in snaggy cover is the banana-shaped Lindy No-Snagg Sinker. I've towed both the No-Snagg and the Rattlin' No-Snagg through the gnarliest stuff imaginable and haven't lost one. VMC recently added the Switch-It Slip Sinker, a banana-shaped rigging weight that evades snags. It clips onto the line for easy weight adjustment.
The Rock Hopper from Mojo Lures is another option in snag-free fishing. This thin lead weight has a hole at one end and hangs below the line. It pivots back and forth, freeing snags before they happen.
Wendlandt notes that the popularity of football jigs led some anglers to fish them in place of a Carolina rig. "For offshore fishing, I always have both options," he says. "Carolina rigs work better than football jigs over finer substrates, anything from sand to pea gravel. You can move the lure along at a steady clip and show it to a lot of fish.
"In rocky areas, though, I fish a football jig because you can maximize the action by pulling the jig up against a rock and shaking it. You can keep it moving without moving it out of the potential strike window. Overall, the Carolina rig is more versatile, for the variety of lures you can fish with it."
Many anglers don't pay much attention to their rod and reel when Carolina rigging. McClelland says that's a mistake. "You want a rod with backbone, but a softer tip," he says. "Its bend helps the rod load with the whole rig and helps cast farther."
He chooses a Falcon Heavy Cover Jig rod for general use, upsizing to a 7½-foot, 7-power Falcon Cara when casting a 1-ounce weight. "Both have a soft tip that casts well, and let you feel a soft bite before the bass feels you at the other end," he says.
The pros also acknowledge that the Carolina rig is unsurpassed for covering water of any depth, searching for biting fish, and at the same time, feeling for subtle underwater features that can be bass magnets. "In addition," Wendlandt notes, "it's a power technique with heavy line and tackle, but lure action is subtle."
Carolinas in Current
Scroggins grew up fishing the St. Johns River, Florida, a slow-moving system that winds its way northeast, emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville. "In the lower sections, you often have tidal current of 3 to 5 miles per hour," Scroggins says. "As in other situations, the Carolina rig is a great search tool for finding key spots. I use a 1-ounce egg sinker to hold bottom and transmit signals about bottom type. In the river, shell beds attract bass whatever depth you find them.
"In deeper water, cast upstream and work baits downstream with the current. Bass face upstream and the lure approaches them in a normal manner. I found lots of key spots by using a Carolina rig, and caught lots of fish." Indeed, he was a local tournament legend until he decided to fish the national trail with the BASS Elite Tour.
"Nowadays, all the pros use side-imaging, which is unbelievably effective for finding offshore spots. On my Humminbird I detect rocks or shellbeds from 50 feet away and can place a waypoint on the spot. When prefishing for a tournament, you don't even need to cast. The fish are there, and you haven't had to sore-mouth any."
With mainline and leader, Carolina rigging offers options in line choice. Wendlandt considers himself a traditionalist. "I'm not a braid guy," he admits. "My go-to outfit has 17- or 20-pound test Berkley Trilene XT." But like many anglers, he favors fluorocarbon for leaders, going with 12- or 15-pound-test Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon, even lighter in clear water. "After all these years, I don't need braid to tell me about bottom content," he says. "And in craggy terrain, it's a pain to break that stuff when you hang up. You could use braid for a mainline if snags are scarce but I prefer mono."
For fishing current, Scroggins goes with 40-pound test Hi Seas braid with a 15-pound mono leader. Current can be tricky, but with braid and a 1-ounce lead weight, you can keep a tight line to the weight, which helps detect bites. "In flatwater, I use fluoro on the mainline and switch between mono and fluoro for the leader. Mono keeps a bait a bit higher in the water column, especially if you're pulling it through vegetation. And that's where the rig with a lighter sinker works well."
In most situations, McClelland spools 20-pound Sunline Shooter as his mainline, and a leader of Sunline Super Natural Mono. But in the clearest conditions, he switches to a leader of Sunline Sniper or Shooter, going a bit lighter than the mainline. If he hangs the lure, he can break off and need only retie a hook or leader and hook, depending on which knot fails.
"After all these years," Thliveros says, "it's still the best way to catch fish other people have trouble catching. Like the old timers say, 'Don't fix it if it ain't broke.'"