Alabama rig: An overview

Paul Elias with the Alabama Rig
Elite Series pro Paul Elias nearly set a lake record with the Alabama Rig on Lake Guntersville in 2011.

It’s not often that any lure or tactic can be said to totally blow away the angling competition, but a new device known as the “Alabama Rig” has come pretty close lately, winning major tournaments on both Wheeler and Guntersville lakes in northern Alabama.

Seasoned Elite Series pro Paul Elias was the top rod at Guntersville in an FLW event, and he not only caught fish on the rig but almost set a lake record with it, turning in 102 pounds, 8 ounces over the four-day, 20-bass event. Word got out on the Internet on the second day, and by the end of the event most of the top 20 contenders were also using it.

If you’ve not heard of the Alabama Rig, a first look may be a bit of a shock. Devised by Andy Poss of Muscle Shoals, Ala., it’s similar to the “umbrella rig” used to troll an entire school of lures in saltwater for big stripers and bluefish. But Poss made the rig light enough to be cast, sort of. Fully rigged with five swimbaits, it can weigh over 5 ounces, and the entire spread is the size of a breadbox being pulled through the water! It sounds crazy, but as they say in combat, if it’s crazy but it works, it’s not crazy.

“It’s the most amazing new rig I’ve seen in all my years in the bass fishing business,” said Paul Elias. “I really had my doubts that it would work, but I just walked away from the field once I started using it. Three times I caught two keepers at once on a single cast. The fish just wouldn’t leave it alone — I caught 50 a day when other anglers were barely scratching out a limit. I had a lot of places with fish I didn’t even bother to go to because I could sit in one spot and catch all I needed.”

There are already a hundred web theories on why TAR (apparently the accepted acronym for The Alabama Rig) works so well, but most likely is that the five lures look so much like a school of shad that the bass can’t resist.

That, plus they’ve never seen anything remotely like it.

Guntersville’s bass are among the most sophisticated anywhere, thanks to incredible fishing pressure from skilled tournament anglers, so fooling them often takes something truly different. The Alabama Rig definitely qualifies.

The rig consists of five wires coming out of a molded plastic head. Four of the wires are 5 1/4 inches long and the fifth, in the center, is 5 1/2 inches long. Each is tipped with a wire loop on which a snap swivel is attached, and the lures are attached directly to the snaps. The wires are bent outward far enough that the dangling lures can’t snag each other.

“The key is that you attach the lures direct to the wire, and that keeps them from getting tangled,” said Poss. “If you use any leader at all, they will tangle and make the rig unfishable — I learned that from the past two years of experimenting.”

Poss noted that once he got the rig right, he immediately began to win local tournaments with it.

“Sometimes I caught up to four fish on one cast,” said Poss. “I couldn’t believe it myself.”

And once he got a few Alabama rigs into the hands of top tournament anglers visiting area lakes, it was all over but the shouting. His website, www.thealabamarig.com, had more than 50,000 hits in four days after the Elias win, and his phone has yet to stop ringing. Since Poss and his family make the rigs themselves, it seems likely that his fishing time is going to be somewhat limited for awhile — he’s five weeks behind already, and that’s before any major orders from retailers have hit.

Not to say that every angler in America is going to fall in love with the $25 rig. For one thing, casting it is like lobbing a brick all day long.

“I was about worn out by the end of the tournament,” said Elias. “I used a heavy Pinnacle flippin’ rod and 65-pound-test Ultracast Fluorobraid line, and after several hundred casts a day, my muscles really felt it.”

Elias caught most of his fish on humps and structure near causeways on Guntersville, where current flow concentrated shad schools.

“I could see the bass on my Lowrance; basically, it was a matter of counting it down to their level and then retrieving,” said Elias. “Sometimes they’d follow and hit just as the rig started to rise toward the boat. I caught one bass over 6 pounds by pulling it past bridge pilings.”

Elias got his fish on swimbait tails, using Mann’s Hardnose 5 1/2 inch models until he ran out, then working through many other tails up to 6 1/2inches long. He varied jighead weights from 3/8 ounce to 1/2 and even 3/4 ounce. All caught fish, he said. Inventor Poss says a wide variety of other lures work well on the wire arms of the Alabama Rig, too.

“I’ve caught fish on weedless frogs in the shallows, and on bottom with plastic worms. Though it may be primarily a rig for suspended bass, in my experience so far it can do some other things pretty well, too.”

Not surprisingly, there’s a good bit of Internet and coffee-shop chatter about whether the rig should be legal in tournaments — and whether it should be legal at all.

Elias sees no issue with it.

“We still have the bag limits and the tournament limits. If an angler catches all his fish on one cast or 500, he can still only bring the same number to the scales or to the cleaning table,” noted Elias. “I think what this might do is open up access to a lot of fish that haven’t been caught before, though. People who knew Guntersville pretty well were saying that maybe 15 pounds a day would win there, and it would have if we hadn’t made use of this rig to catch all those suspended toads — this thing is merciless on bass.”

Reprinted from the December issue of B.A.S.S. Times

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