Mention Carolina rigging around a group of Tour pros, and you're going to draw mixed reactions.
"I hate it and won't do it," declares North Carolina pro Marty Stone. "It may be the best way to get bites on some lakes, but it rarely produces the quality of fish you need to win a tournament."
On the other hand …
"It might be the most versatile bass technique in the country," argues Texan Jay Yelas. "There isn't a better way to catch numbers of bass in open water."
Yelas' point is well taken. Although developed in the Carolinas years ago, the technique has become popular from Florida to Minnesota, throughout the Southwest and into the deep lakes of California and the Pacific Northwest.
Carolina rig opponents, meanwhile, say rigging is a drag — both literally and figuratively. The objective is to pull a heavy sinker along the bottom ahead of a soft plastic lure that darts or floats on a leader behind the weight. And that's not much fun for some.
"I'll do it — when I have to," grumbles Missouri's Denny Brauer. "It's not my favorite way to fish. It can be really boring."
Proponents assert otherwise.
"Some people think Carolina rigging is a lazy man's way to fish because it's easy to do and so hard to screw up," notes Texan Kelly Jordon. "It's a macho thing. A lot of pros have been outfished by amateur partners who were dragging a rig from the back of the boat. They don't like that."
There are other benefits, say supporters. Rigging serves as a quick means to locate bottom structure.
"It's a great search bait, because you can cover a lot of water and distinctly feel the bottom," offers Little Rock, Ark., pro Scott Rook. "It comes in handy during practice periods because you can make long casts, work the bait quickly and pinpoint the sweet spot on structure."
Everyone agrees that the Carolina rig is best known for producing numbers of keepers, but not necessarily quality bass. However, don't sell it short, insists Jordon.
"We catch big fish on it at Lake Fork all the time," he adds. "A crankbait may catch bigger fish, but the rig can reach depths that are unattainable with a crankbait. You can slow it down and keep it in the zone longer, whereas a crankbait only covers a few feet of the bottom. A Carolina rig also has a higher hooking-to-landing ratio."
The technique is being embraced by shallow water fishermen as well.
"At Guntersville (Ala.) last year, I caught all of my fish on a Carolina rig, and just missed the Top 10. I was throwing it onto the bank and working a grass edge out to 7 feet of water," describes Rook. "I tried other presentations, but Carolina rigging produced the most consistent bites."
The biggest advantage to a Carolina rig is that it allows anglers to present baits in a horizontal manner, as opposed to the Texas rig, which is more or less a vertical presentation. When you lift a Texas rig, the bait jumps off the bottom; by dragging a heavy sinker across the bottom, the lure darts or swims more naturally because a leader separates it from the weight.
The conventional rig consists of a sliding sinker threaded onto the main fishing line. Many anglers attach a glass bead or a metal disk behind the sinker before tying the line to a barrel swivel. The bead or disk protects the line from damage that can occur from the large sinker banging against the knot.
A leader is attached to the other end of the swivel and tied to a hook. Leader lengths vary from as little as 1 foot to 3 feet or more.
"I prefer a shorter (2 feet or less) leader when fishing deeper lakes and around timber because it tends to hang up less," says Texas pro Cody Bird. "But when fishing grass, I may go to a 3- or 4-foot leader."
As in all rigging aspects, the pros recommend anglers experiment with leader length.
"When the fish are fussy, I use the longest leader I can cast because it makes the bait more natural and subtle," explains Rook.
One of the biggest misconceptions about Carolina rigging is that the bait swims far off the bottom because it isn't connected directly to the sinker. In reality, most plastics sink (especially when rigged with heavy hooks), so when you pull on the sinker, it draws the bait to the bottom.
There are exceptions, of course. The new superplastics introduced in late summer by Strike King and Outdoor Innovations (Terminator) are high floaters and will hover off the bottom. The "Cyber-Flexxx" material is 20 percent lighter than water and will float most 4/0 hooks.
Also, floating "trick" worms, Creme's air-injected Devil's Tongue, Carlson Tackle's floating tube bait and Gene Larew's floating lizards, craws and tubes are buoyant and will flutter above the bottom.
Fishing line can make a difference as well.
"Line diameter plays a big part in lure presentation," insists Peter Thliveros, a Florida pro considered one of the Tour's best Carolina riggers. "If you're fishing in current, and you want the bait to move less, use thinner diameter line to hold the bait in one position. Heavier diameter line gets caught in current and will sweep, and that can be a detriment."
When to rig
Pre-spawn, summer and fall — those periods when bass are schooling on structure — are prime times for Carolina rigging.
"It's one of my favorites when fish are staging during the pre-spawn, especially during nasty cold fronts," says Scott Rook. "It's probably the best spring bait for locating fish that aren't aggressive."
The same can be said for the post-spawn period, when bass are a little lethargic and a lure needs to be put right in front of the fish to get them to bite. Because the bait stays in the strike zone longer, you can work it through a large area without relying on the bass to chase the bait.
And when bass pull out to main lake structure on deep, clear lakes, the Carolina rig may be the most effective method for reaching schooling bass in deep water.
"It's also a good choice in the fall, when you aren't seeing bass near the surface chasing bait," says Jay Yelas. "When they're on the bottom, this technique will catch them when all else fails."
— Louie Stout
Because of its small diameter, Jordon spools his reels with 50-pound braided line without sacrificing casting distance or manageability. He connects it with 17-pound SpiderLine XXX Super Mono for the leader.
"The Carolina rig is an example of where new line technology can enhance the number of fish you catch," he explains. "The superline makes it easier to feel bites and the bottom, and because of the limited stretch, you can set the hook on a fish at the end of a cast and in deep water. If you do snag, the monofilament will break, so all you need to replace is the leader."
Yelas agrees, saying that his Berkley FireLine is a good choice for rigging in heavy winds because the smaller diameter creates less drag.
"You don't get as much bow in the line as you do with thicker line, so you detect strikes better," he explains.
Yelas also recommends fluorocarbon as a leader material, particularly in clear water. Fluorocarbon is more sensitive, durable and less visible than monofilament. However, fluorocarbon sinks faster, so it may not be the best choice if you want your bait to hover off the bottom.
When fishing around heavier cover in deep water, Bird uses 30-pound monofilament as his leader.
"The thicker line doesn't sink as fast, and it will help keep your bait off the bottom," he notes.
Sinker size can affect line choice, too. Most pros prefer a weight that gets to the bottom quickly and enables them to feel the structure or bottom content. However, when fishing shallower water or with lighter line in ultraclear water, a lighter sinker may do the job.
A smaller sinker is best for fishing grass because it is less likely to clog in the vegetation. You can lessen the drag through grass by choosing a more streamlined bullet, or a cylindrical Mojo style weight.
"I'll also switch to a straight shank hook rather than an offset design," adds Rook. "The bend in the offset is great for keeping soft plastics from sliding down the hook shank, but it really catches in the grass."
Several anglers now use sinkers made of tungsten material, because they are extremely hard; hence, they transmit more bottom sensations and are 25 percent smaller than lead sinkers.
"Tungsten also creates more noise when it bounces off hard objects," says Jordon. "Noise is a huge factor in the amount of fish you catch."
So much, in fact, that Jordon rigs two tungsten weights on his line so that they bang together. He recommends a metal disk instead of a glass bead behind them to protect the knot, because the hard tungsten material will shatter a glass bead, causing line damage.
"One day I rigged my Lake Fork (guide) clients' lines with the dual tungsten weights, and I used lead," he recalls. "They caught 15 bass on one spot, and I caught two. I switched to the tungsten weights and began catching just as many as they were. But when I switched back to the lead, they started outfishing me. That made me realize how important the extra noise can be."
Anglers who are open-minded about lure choices catch more fish, says Rook. While lizards, French fries and worms are mainstays, less notable lures can be deadly.
"A lot of fishermen fish the traditional baits, and when they aren't working, they give up," he explains. "I've found that trying different colors, sizes or styles of lures can make a difference."
Thliveros agrees. Two of his favorite Carolina rig lures are the Zoom Fluke and flipping-size tube baits. Both are effective in the fall, when bass are targeting baitfish.
The eight time BASS Masters Classic contender drags both lures the same way he does traditional Carolina rig baits, but notes that the actions may be different enough to catch the bass' eyes.
"Imagine how many lizards these fish have seen during the past seven years," he offers. "The Fluke has a unique swimming action, while the tube catches as many fish sitting still as it does when moving. That makes those lures effective in heavily pressured waters."
The key to selecting a bait is determining whether the fish want a subtle presentation (French fries, tubes, finesse worms) or more leg and tail action (lizards, creature baits, sickle-tail worms).
"You can count on a lizard being the bait of choice during the pre-spawn, but on places like Rayburn, you'll get five times as many bites on a French fry when it gets closer to the spawn," describes Yelas. "Once the fish set up in summer patterns, they get back on the lizard and other active baits. As the season progresses into fall and they start getting finicky, the subtle presentations dominate."
A hybrid Carolina rig
Should you drop shot or Carolina rig?
Why not do both?
Jay Yelas does. His "Carolina rig for the new Millennium" incorporates the benefits of both, and enables him to catch bass that are on the bottom or suspended just above it.
Here's how he rigs it:
A drop shot hook is tied to the main fishing line at least a foot above the swivel. A sinker (at least 1/2 ounce) and bead is slid onto the line between the drop shot and the swivel, and a leader and lure is then attached just as you would a traditional Carolina rig.
When fishing grass, Yelas places the drop shot hook farther above the sinker/swivel section.
"It's important to use the proper hook and a heavy sinker," says Yelas. "If I'm fishing around big fish and using bulky baits (large tube or big worm) on the drop shot, I'll use a 4/0 Gamakatsu Superline hook. If fishing around spotted bass or in a real clear lake, I'll use a finesse worm, French fry or drop shot bait and a 1/0 hook."
On the end of the Carolina rig, he'll use a lizard or Berkley Power Hawg.
A heavy sinker is critical, because Yelas wants to keep it in one spot and shake the line to quiver the drop shot lure above the structure.
"What's neat is that I can work it as I would any other Carolina rig, but if I feel it pull onto a hard spot, I can hold it there and shake it," he describes. "That allows me to keep both baits in the strike zone longer and give the bass two choices."
Yelas has caught fish throughout the country on the Carolina Millennium rig.
"It's a great way to cover water with two techniques and determine just how the bass want a lure presented," he adds. "And if the fish are schooling, you've got the potential of catching two bass at once."