Sensitivity Training

Picking apart small nuances when piecing together the Carolina rig

I never used to listen to my mom telling me to pack an extra set of underwear in my carry-on bag until an evening flight lost the luggage with all my skivvies … and I had to make it through the next day until I could buy some new ones. That's kind of how Marty Stone developed his appreciation for the Carolina rig — pure necessity.

"I used to hate it, but now I'll pick it up and throw it. There's a time and place for everything, and this will catch fish and make you some money."

Secure in his power fishing prowess, the Bassmaster Elite Series pro said his change of heart occurred when he realized he'd need a strong deep water game to remain competitive during an offshore bite. Anyone can hit a hot streak when operating from their comfort zone, but sometimes success hinges on decidedly unsexy tactics like the old ball-and-chain.

Confidence is only part of the equation, Stone said. Competence is the other. Once he embraced the C-rig as a go-to technique for cashing checks on the most competitive bass circuit on the planet, he committed himself to mastering its design and delivery. The former begets the latter, so we'll start with the tackle tray.

HEAVY SUBJECT

Although Stone has a definite plan for his Carolina rig bait selection (see sidebar on page 57), the key is bottom contact. Tru-Tungsten bullet weights are essential because they deliver heightened sensitivity in forms denser and therefore smaller than lead.

"I now can feel the bottom composition better than ever, and I can detect strikes better than ever," Stone said. "Tungsten is the best way I have found to stay in contact with my lure."

It's a balance between mass and meaning. You don't want to feel like you're dragging a bowling ball through cover, but you still need to maintain sensitivity in various depths.

"I keep playing with the weight until I find the one that gives me the best feel for the depth I'm fishing," Stone said. "Usually I start with an ounce and then go from there. I want to use the lightest rig I can go with to get the right feel."

Generally, Stone rigs a 3/4-ounce weight for depths of 3 to 10 feet. Ten to 25 feet merits an ounce and a quarter, while the deep stuff — more than 25 feet — gets the 1 1/2-ounce weight. Tru-Tungsten Force Beads complement the weights with durable composite construction designed to withstand the pounding of tungsten. Force Beads also possess magnetic properties that have been proved to yield positive effects on bass.

Matching his bead and weight colors, Stone likes blood red for clear water; green pumpkin or watermelon seed in slightly stained water; and black for dark water. Always stacking two Force Beads, he'll use an 8 mm bead next to his hook knot and a 6 mm bead next to the weight. The larger bead protects his knot, while the combination of pitches — bead on bead, and bead on weight — enhances the rig's audible attraction.

"The more things I have down there rattling around, the better," Stone said.

TACKLE UP

Stone pairs his signature series

7 1/2-foot American Rodsmiths Magnum Casting rod with a Browning 6.3:1 reel loaded with 15-pound Vicious fluorocarbon main line and 17-pound fluoro leader. Fluorocarbon sinks quickly and gets the bait down to where the fish are, while abrasion resistance repels tough environments.

Stone likes the casting distance he gets from a long rod. "As a rule, I stretch it out as far as that weight and fluorocarbon will allow me to throw. Always stay away from the fish. Also, you may come across something you didn't see before.

"A lot of your bites come on the end of a long cast, and with that fluoro­carbon and the longer rod, you can really move some line and drive that hook up in there."

A fast reel affords the necessary swiftness for long-distance connections, while a sweeping hook set effects a better result than a lift-and-yank. "You're dragging at a slow rate, but when you get that bite you want to take up a lot of line quickly. You're so deep and so far away, you want to sweep that rod up and drive that hook home."

FIND THE FISH

When it comes to bottom composition, Stone prefers dragging his Carolina rig across rocks or a rock/shell mixture. Grass can be good but it's fickle, and getting a rig through wood is often a tough chore.

"If you gave me one of the bottoms to choose, I would take rock or rock/mussel beds over any other type of bottom," Stone said. "For whatever reason, there seems to be more life around rocks and shells. I think it offers more of an ecosystem. You can catch bigger fish in grass, but let the weather go bad and the first thing to go is the grass bite."

With tungsten and fluorocarbon, Stone said he can tell the difference between the chunkier rocks and sharper tips of mussel shells. (Think kettle drum versus snare drum.)

"If I know there is a good rig bite going on I give each spot 15 minutes," Stone said. "I will stay a little longer if I see the right things on the electronics."

Watching his Lowrance 38C, Stone loves to see baitfish hugging the bottom. They only do that when something's on the feed, so a Carolina rig patiently dragged through the strike zone is often rewarded with hostile response.

"Sometimes, you can leave too early because the bass are running that bait so hard that they ignore your rig," Stone noted. "But when your bait comes through at the right time, it's 'game on' because (the bass) are just down there gorging themselves."

When he locates such a spot, Stone kicks out a marker buoy — but not directly over the fish. Rather, he'll position the float as a reference point and note the alignment relative to where the strikes occurred so he can replicate the productive presentation.

When a rig snags, Stone can usually pop it free with a taut line, but if the bottom persists, the decision to retrieve his expensive tackle is a simple matter of priorities. "In practice I'll go get it, but in a tournament, I'll break it every time. I will not get over those fish."

COMMON MISTAKES

Stone points to mismatched ­tackle as a common Carolina rig misfire, and short leaders are often the culprit. Three feet suits him well.

"That length allows me to come through cover easily and it gives me enough distance so when I set the hook that fish isn't right there," he said. "With a short leader, that heavy tungsten weight will pull the bait out of the fish's mouth."

Even with the hardware in order, he warns against nullifying your efforts with improper presentation. Stone's pet peeve: hopping what should not be hopped.

"If you throw out your bait of choice and keep it on the bottom, you'll catch fish," he said. "If you throw a Carolina rig out and (keep your rod tip up), all you're doing is hopping a weight and beads along the bottom.

"Keep the bait down there with the beads and weight on the bottom. There's a reason people call it 'dragging.' If you want to hop a bait, tie on a Texas rig."

No surprise, Stone's cardinal rule is rod angle — parallel to the water. "If you hold your rod in the 11 o'clock position and move the tip up and down, you're losing the advantage of the tungsten weights and the noise of the Force Beads.

"If you're not hopping that bait up and down, but you're dragging it across that cover, you're keeping it near the sounds of the weight and beads. If you drag that rod side-to-side and you keep your bait down there with all that noise, you'll get bit more often."

Stone also admonishes against jerking on a slack line. "The fish moves left and you think he moved right. You're three-quarters into your hook set before you come tight on the fish. That's why I keep all the slack out of my line, so when I set the hook, all the pressure goes into driving that hook into the fish's jaw."

Getting back to the underwear thing: In a pinch, you can make it through a second day by turning your drawers inside out, unless it's really humid. However, if you do that twice, you're back to square one and you've lost the effectiveness … kind of like hopping a Carolina rig.

FEED 'EM RIGHT

Zoom's 5-inch Magnum Finesse Worm — a thick-bodied bait with a tapered design — is Marty Stone's go-to plastic for Carolina rigs, but he keeps a 7-inch Zoom Trick Worm and a Baby Brush Hog handy for change-ups. He'll rig the Mag Finesse Worm on a 5/0 Youvella offset wide gap hook. Trick Worms and Baby Brush Hogs get 4/0 and 3/0 hooks, respectively.

His color preference is watermelon/red flake. He'll also use junebug for stained water and cloudy days or watermelon seed for bright bluebird days with no wind.

Stone notes that diversity is rarely needed when the fish have the feed bag on. It's more a case of squeezing all he can out of the situation.

"After I have caught a few fish and they slow down, I'll change baits and give them a different look," he said. "Normally, if you have a school of active fish, they'll hit whatever you throw in there. I've found that when the bite slows down, by throwing a different bait in there I can pick up another bite or two."

In superclear water, Stone may start with a Trick Worm. The smaller diameter and natural appearance often get the show going when fish are finicky.

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