Carolina rig made easy
The Carolina rig is simple to rig, very efficient in producing bass, and uncomplicated to use. However, it seems to be a method of last resort, rather than the first choice for most fishermen. The multitude of rigging choices enshroud this method of fishing, deep in a quagmire of uncertainty, and because of this mystification the recreation angler seldom uses the Carolina rig effectively. Rod selection, reel preference, line selection, weight option, leader strength and length, whether to use beads or not, and types of swivels are topics of deep and intense dialogue amongst fishermen when the rig is mentioned. Among the experienced fishermen the rig is considered at the top of the list of their choices.
The debate about the history of the Carolina rig leads to controversy and uncertainty. However it should be agreed that no matter how or why the Carolina rig came about, learning this simple but deadly method of fishing should be paramount in your fishing arsenal. It is an extremely successful method of bait presentation in all depths of water and its only restriction is the cover that you are trying to move it through.
Since its only limit of use is the cover that you are trying to move it through let’s look at the areas that it wouldn’t be recommended in. Areas of extreme vegetation such as heavy hydrilla don’t lend themselves to unproblematic usage of a Carolina rig. An area where the brush coverage is dense is another such area. Areas were the bottom is made up of boulders that are very close is another area where the rig is sure to get caught up. All other areas are potentials for the use of this rig, so as you can readily see, the Carolina rig is an extremely adaptable rig.
The various components:
The rod: To be most effective the rod should be a longer rod, (7 to 7.5 feet), with a good backbone and fast tip. It doesn’t have to be an expensive rod, for example we use a Shimano Convergence MH, 7.0 rod for most applications. This is a rod that can be gotten in Wal-Mart for under $40.00. The reason for the longer rod will become apparent as we discuss how the bait is moved and the hook set.
Reel: The reel should have a fairly fast retrieve. When I discuss reels with anyone my advice is buy the best reel that you can afford. The reel can be used on multiple rods and dollars and cents is a definite factor in reel quality.
Line: The line will depend greatly on the location that you fish. However for general purposes it should have strength of at least 14 pounds for most areas. The type of line is a matter of personal choice and it is an area of definite intense discussion and disagreement in the fishing population. However, remember that in choosing the line it needs to be of sufficient strength and quality to stand up to the area you will be fishing. We use as a standard, 15-17 pound good quality monofilament.
Swivel: The swivels used should be of good quality and as small as possible. The general function of the swivel is as a stopper for the weight rather than keeping out line twist and you want it as unobtrusive as possible. Several weight stoppers have emerged on the market and they can be readily used in place of the swivel.
Weight: Choosing the type and amount of weight to use is another area of controversy, however bearing in mind that the rig calls for the weight to be in constant contact with the bottom will help with the weight side of the equation. Bottom consistency and the type of cover that you are coming through determine whether to use a bullet type weight or an egg type weight. We use 3/8-ounce weights as a starting point and rarely use less than that.
Leader: The length and the type of line to be used as the leader, ranks right in there as the most discussed and disagreed upon component of this rig. As a general reference we use 18 inches of leader per 10 feet of water. Keep in mind however that the length can also be affected by what you are seeing on your sonar. For example if you note that the fish that you are seeing are holding three feet off the bottom the best of floating worms couldn’t get into the zone with an 18 inch leader.
Beads: Beads and whether to use them or not, and how many to use is also an area of debate. The general function of the bead is to protect the knot from the constant abrasive action of the weight. However, some do feel that the beads also create noise thereby attracting curious bass. We use no bead if we use bullet weights and one bead if we us an egg weight. My feeling on the beads is they are just another obtrusive attractant and I want the bass striking the bait, not the rig.
Putting the rig to work
Using the rig is easy, and I think its simplicity is what makes it difficult to use for many fishermen. To understand why it is so efficient let’s take a look at the eating and the defense mechanism found in the bass. On the eating side the bass will be in one of two modes. They will either be aggressively feeding which is a rare and highly valued time for you to be on the water, or they will be opportunistically feeding. The latter mode of opportunity is the one that you will find the bass in most often, and it is the one that the Carolina rig was designed to take extreme advantage of.
Most often you will find the bass hanging around biding his time and surveying his territory. If an object is placed in front of the bass that the bass considers as having a possibility of food value the bass will pick it up to test its desirability. If it considers it good it will swallow it, and if not it rejects it and quickly spits it out. Realize that the bass is an extremely lazy critter so in order for you to take advantage of this opportunistic mode you have to place your offering within inches of their mouth. You also have to present it in that location for a sufficient period of time for the bass to make the decision to pounce on it.
On the defensive side of this equation you must understand that the bass although a schooling fish is also territorial. Understand that a bass’s territory is the area that its body is occupying so if you wish to elicit a defense response from the bass your presentation has to be in that space. Also understand that a defensive response from the bass does not mean an actual pickup of the bait with its mouth. The bass may head butt it, take a swipe at it with its tail, or just try to push it out of the way.
Simple Physics: For every action there is a reaction. Looking at the action of the bait attached to the Carolina rig you can readily see why it is so effective when the bass are either being defensively aggressive, or opportunistically feeding. As the rig is drawn across the bottom the bait can move, depending on the forces it may encounter, 180 degrees to the distance of the length of the leader. As it hits resistance from weed for example and than releases it can spring right or left, upward, or forward of the weight. This not only gives the bait great action but also covers the water in any direction equal distance from the weight. If the bait moves into the territory of the bass it could react. With this you should also readily see why slow movement of the weight during the retrieve is so important. Whether eating or defending the bass needs the opportunity to decide and by moving slowly you give him that much more chance to decide in your favor. You have all heard many times what is meant by the word slow but I will say it one more time. When you think you are moving the bait slowly then you need to slow down some more.
In order to move the bait slowly you need to use the rod rather than the reel to move the bait. Even if your reel has a slow retrieve it is too fast for the Carolina rig. To understand how to move the rig, picture the baits location as 12 o’clock. Using a dragging motion to the side, move the tip of the rod very slowly from 12 to 2 o’clock. Left-handers would go from 12 to 10 o’clock. The longer the rod, the greater the distance is between 12 and 2, (or 12 and 10), which is why we recommended the longer rod back at the beginning. If you feel a hit during the drag quickly return to the 12 o’clock by picking up the slack with the reel, being sure to keep the line taut, and set the hook. The longer rod also gives you more leverage for the hook set. The key to the reel down is keeping the line taut. If you throw slack line at the bass you will be setting the hook on slack line.
Sensing the hit with the Carolina rig is the same as sensing the hit with any other plastic bait rig. If it feels different than hit it! The bass as I said earlier may be testing it for food quality, or they may be pushing it, or head butting it, so if doubt enters you mind hit it! Another hit to watch for is revealed in line movement. The bass just might pick the bait up and move off to investigate its quality. They do this to hide it from other bass in the vicinity, but rest assured, in most cases if you don’t react they will eventually reject the offering and you will be left holding the bag so to speak. You have probably experienced this as the three tic hit. The bass picks it up, turns, and spits it out in rejection. Get the hit before the third tic!
Setting the hook: Speed is the requirement for a good hookset, not power or distance of the rod sweep!
The Bait: Last and least discussed but certainly extremely important is your choice of baits. However the choice is an easy one to make. Color should be your first consideration and the formula for this is generally dark colors in darker water and light colors in lighter water. Shape and size are experimental and subjective matters. Very little that you throw to the bass for its consideration is going to look anything like the real thing so if you have a bait that you are confident in that would be your best first choice. Remember that your strikes are going to come from either aggression or the possibility of opportunity from the bass so go with what you like. We find that the best of all the plastics on a Carolina rig are the Senkos but again that is a subjective choice. By using a plastic that you have confidence in you will tend to throw it more often rather than giving up and going to another bait.
When fishing an area with this rig, keep in mind that its function by design is to meet the need of placing the bait just about into the mouth of the bass. Be thorough with its use and cover all the water. Too often I see people using this bait like they are throwing spinner bait. Target your casts to land no more than the length of your leader from the last cast and you will be very successful with this bait. Keep it slow, concentrate in order to sense the hit, and aggressively set the hook. Above all, use it long enough to give it the opportunity to show you why it is considered the most effective method of catching the wily bass. It won’t take you long to be a Carolina rig expert.
George & Scott Welcome
Imagination Bassin Guide Services