Carolina rigs: When huge is better

Six-inch lizards, slender worms and dainty French-fry-style baits didn't become America's favorite Carolina rigged lures solely because they look good to fishermen.

No, sir. Those soft plastic babies dragged in front of a school of bass are like a bowl of salted peanuts sitting on the bar during Happy Hour. Irresistible, you know.

Arkansas pro Ron Shuffield will attest to that. He's among the best on the CITGO Bassmaster Tour when it comes to dragging soft plastics along deep ledges for schooling bass.

But Shuffield says that bass' insatiable appetite for small baits can prevent anglers from opening their minds to a more refined pattern that may yield bigger results.

"There are times when a big bait can be a better option," says the 13 time Classic qualifier.

That was a discovery he made in his first visit to Alabama's Lake Eufaula for a tournament several years ago.

"That lake is a tremendous fishery and full of bass," he notes. "I was catching incredible numbers of bass on a 6-inch lizard — 50 to 75 a day — but they were all relatively small."

Shuffield was getting bites on nearly every cast and was going through a bag of baits in no time flat.

"I switched to a monster 10-inch lizard and my bites dropped to 12 a day — but the fish averaged between 3 and 6 pounds," he describes. "I finished fourth in that event and was fifth in one shortly thereafter — all on the strength of a big bait on the Carolina rig."

Don't assume the big bait pattern is one that applies only to Eufaula, he adds. He has experienced similar results on lakes around the country.

When to go big

If there are a lot of small fish in the area, they tend to be more aggressive and will get to the bait first, Shuffield says. But where small fish are present, there are likely a few big ones, too.

"If you can get the little ones to leave it alone — and they usually shy away from a bigger bait — the big ones will eat it when you bring it by them," he insists.

So, should you abandon small soft plastics on Carolina rigs? Of course not. Those 4- to 6-inch traditional plastics usually will produce more bites and are worthy of top billing.

"The Carolina rig is a limit producer, so it takes some discipline to increase the size of bait, because you know you're going to get fewer bites," Shuffield admits. "On the other hand, if you've got your limit, the bigger size plastic is more likely to produce that kicker fish and enable you to cull or upgrade your catch."

Texan Kelly Jordon says the bigger bait should be a consideration even if you're not catching smaller fish.

"I have seen times when the bass ignored the smaller bait but would knock the stuffing out of a bigger bait," he explains. "If the Carolina rig is the choice presentation for the area you're fishing, don't just experiment with colors or types of baits. Play with sizes, too."

He says anglers shouldn't be intimidated by the bigger baits. Bass of all sizes will chase down bream or big shad, especially when bass are being territorial, like during the spring.

"There is so much emphasis on downsizing these days, that I think a larger bait may be different enough that bass will react to it," Jordon says.

Summer may be the best time to go big, adds Shuffield, especially when bass have moved to deep water. In fact, he uses big baits exclusively during those hot water periods.

"A big fish just has a difficult time turning down a big, slow moving worm or lizard," he says.

Texan Jay Yelas agrees, noting that deep weed edges on points seem to attract larger fish, and that's a good time to show them a bigger bait.

"I also like that tactic during the summer on lakes undergoing drought conditions," he explains. "When the water is low, it moves fish away from the shore and onto cover and structure in deeper water. That's when I opt for an 8-inch (Berkley) Power Lizard or 10-inch Power Worm."

Yelas says night anglers would be wise to increase the size of their bait, too. Larger fish will get more active during summer darkness, and a big Carolina rigged bait offers a larger profile and makes the bait easier for the fish to locate.

Choosing big baits

Shuffield's choices of magnum-rig lures include 8-inch lizards, 10- and 12-inch worms and big, bulky creature baits.

"Most of the major manufacturers make giant sizes, but they're not available in all tackle stores," he says. "They're probably not that popular because most people believe you've got to be fishing for giant bass for them to be effective. The fact is that any bass at least 16 inches or larger will hit them."

Shuffield's day on the lake may begin with the traditional sizes, but if he suspects quality bass may be around, he may begin with a 6-inch Zoom Brush Hog. Its length is about the same as a lizard but it offers more bulk, hence a slightly larger appearance.

"If I'm wanting to totally eliminate smaller bites, I'll jump to the 12-inch worm," he offers. "If that's not producing, then I'll work my way down in sizes rather than starting small and working my way up."

His favorite big worms have the long, swimming-style ribbon tails, because of the rippling action they produce.

"I think the action gives the fish another reason to bite it," he adds.

Nearly all of his Carolina rig plastics have chartreuse tails, unless the water is ultraclear. His favorite primary colors are green pumpkin, pumpkinseed and watermelon seed.

If the fish are a little finicky and appear to want a more subtle presentation, Jordon turns to a fat 4-inch Lake Fork Ring Fry that is twice the diameter of most French-fry-style baits.

"The beauty of that bait is it's short, but bulky," he says. "The large rings on the core of the bait create a disturbance, but the length of the bait isn't quite as intimidating to the fish. You also get excellent hook sets with it because of the spacing and thinness of the rings. There's less plastic to penetrate."

Rigging considerations

The manner in which Shuffield works a larger bait is no different than his small bait presentation. However, there are rigging considerations.

For example, the larger bait creates more drag in the water and will fall a little slower. It also can be a little tricky to cast because the larger bait catches air and loops slower.

"I always increase the weight of my sinker when fishing bigger baits," Shuffield says. "Whereas I might use a 1/2 ounce or 3/4 ounce for the traditional baits, I go to at least 1 ounce for the bigger lures."

The bigger sinker enables him to make longer casts and control the feel of where the bait lands — next to cover or on structure. That can be critical, he notes, especially when fishing grasslines.

"Some of the grasslines up north may have 2 to 3 feet of water on the edge but taper into deeper water," he describes. "I want the sinker to hit outside that grass so that the bait falls along the edge. It's difficult to be precise with your casts with a lighter sinker."

Hook size is another issue. Because the baits are bigger, anglers need to beef up the hook in size, length and gap. Instead of using 2/0 or 3/0, opt for 4/0 to 6/0. It's important to note that those hooks require heavier line to accommodate the hook set required to bury the larger hook in the fish's mouth, especially on long casts. In addition, you're fishing for bigger fish, so the heavier line makes more sense.

Hook setting requires a little more patience, too. Shuffield prefers to let the fish run a little or hold the bait longer when he suspects he's getting a bite.

"That bait is a bigger mouthful and you're using a bigger hook, so it takes a little longer to get the bait in their mouth," he explains.

The dying shad presentation

When big shad are present, Oklahoma pro O.T. Fears will rig a 5-inch Zoom Super Fluke on a Carolina rig and pull it over the structure.

"That's one of my favorite things to do once I've gotten my limit," he explains. "I don't get as many bites, but it's a sure way to increase the size of fish I'm catching."

Fears says that the Fluke will sail through the water when the sinker is dragged along the bottom. The action resembles a wounded shad, he adds, and the bigger size makes it even more irresistible to a big bass looking for an easy meal.

Fears rigs a 4/0 or 5/0 Gamakatsu EWG hook in the bait. The hook is "Tex-posed" so that the barb lies against the top of the Fluke for an easy hook set.

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