The Carolina rig is easy to tie and effective in producing bass.
To understand why the Carolina rig is so efficient, let us take a
look at the eating and the defense mechanism found in our beloved
quarry, 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. This
mode of opportunity is the one that you will find the bass in
most often, and it is the one that the Carolina rig takes best
Most often you will find the bass hanging around biding its
time and surveying its 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 extremely lazy
or inactive most of the time. We've all seen those safari
documentaries where lions lounge around most of the day, and in
the case of lions, do not necessarily even get active or hunt
every day. Bass are somewhat like that too. So in order for you
to take advantage of bass that are more often than not in this
inactive 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
move to food-test it.
On the defensive side of this equation you must understand
that the bass although a schooling fish is also individually
territorial. Territorialism in bass is most observable during
spawning season. It's an instinct to defend their nursery
grounds, eggs and young against all intruders, even your bass
boat. However, once the parental duties have been discharged,
individual bass still tend to "need their space"
year-round. So territorialism is not only part of spawning.
Year-round territory, at a minimum, is the area that its body is
occupying. If you ever go to a large public aquarium (or even in
a small home aquarium), you can observe how fish there are
constantly territorializing the water around themselves - and
constantly nipping at any other fish that come too close to them.
In such artificially close confines, it is a full time
pre-occupation, but it goes on in the wild also. A more dominant
fish may actually get a nice territory - a corner of the tank or
a rock to defend and call its own. But at a minimum, each fish
has a territory it defends which is the water occupied by its
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 of 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, just try to push it out of the way, or
approach, swerve and glide past it.
Now let us look at the action of the bait attached to the
Carolina rig and you can readily see why it is so effective when
the bass are either being defensively territorial or
opportunistically feeding. As the rig is drawn across the bottom
the bait can move, depending on the forces it may encounter, in a
360 degree circumference for the distance of the leader around
the weight. As it hits resistance from weeds for example and then
releases it can spring right or left, upward, or forward of the
weight. In effect, the bait can move or land anywhere in a circle
within the length of the leader around the weight. Even just
pulling and pausing the weight across the bottom, the weight may
stop but the bait may continue to glide in any direction and
distance for the length of the leader. This not only gives the
bait great action but also covers the water in any direction
equal distance from the weight. 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. Although the weight may hardly be moving,
the bait may be moving any which way more than you realize within
the strike zone. If the bait moves into
the territory of the bass it could react. Whether eating
opportunistically or defending, the bass needs a period of time
to act or react to your bait and by moving the rig slowly you
give the bass that much more opportunity to act in your favor. With
this you should readily see why slow movement of the weight
during the retrieve is so important.
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.
Use a dragging motion to the side, move the tip of the rod very
slowly from 12 to 2 o’clock. The longer the rod, the greater
the distance is between 12 and 2, which is why we recommended a
longer rod (see below). 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 other baits. If it feels different then 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 most of the time
and you will be left holding the bag so to speak. You have
probably experienced this as the three tick hit. The bass picks
it up, turns, and spits it out in rejection. Get the hit before
the third tick!
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,
personal 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. The bass will probably food-test anything if you leave it
long enough close enough. As for ourselves, we find that the best
of all the plastics on a Carolina rig are Yamamoto Senkos but
again that is a subjective choice. By using any soft plastic bait
that you have confidence in, you will tend to throw it more often
rather than giving up and going to another bait or technique.
As far as where to use it, what
areas, a general rule is you need to locate the haunts frequented
by bass, which are usually cover related to structure and then
pull the Carolina rig through the cover. There's no
magic to this. You toss a rig out somewhere and catch a bass or
two, you go back there next time and catch another bass or two? That's a haunt frequented by bass. It may not
produce all the time, all season - but you've found what you are
looking for. All such areas are potential areas for
the use of the Carolina rig. So as you can readily see, the
Carolina rig is a viable technique for most areas.
There is no restriction on what depth you may present a
Carolina rig. 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 may be too
dense. Let us look at some areas that may be too dense to best
deploy a Carolina rig:
- Areas of extreme vegetation such as heavy hydrilla
cause problematic usage of a Carolina rig.
- An area where the brush coverage is dense is another such
- Areas where the bottom is made up of boulders that are very
close is another area where the Carolina rig is sure to get
So as you can see, the Carolina is an extremely adaptable rig
since its only limitation of use comes from the cover that you
are trying to move it through.
When fishing an area with the Carolina rig, keep in mind that
it’s function and 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 a 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 become
confident you are a Carolina rig expert.
COMPONENTS OF THE CAROLINA RIG
Among more experienced fishermen, the Carolina rig is
considered at the top of the leader board of choices. Yet it
seems to be a method of last resort rather than first choice for
the average or beginning fisherman.
It seems that myriads of rigging choices bog down this method
of fishing in a quagmire of confusion. Rod selection, reel
preference, line variety, weight size and type, leader strength
and length, whether to use beads or not, and types of swivels are
topics of deep and intense debate when the Carolina rig is
mentioned amongst fishermen. Because of this confusion, the
average angler seldom uses the Carolina rig effectively.
It seems we've made it harder than it has to be. Let’s take
a look at the various components of a Carolina rig. You'll see
how simple it can be.
- ROD. To be most effective the rod should be a
longer rod (7 to 7-1/2 feet), with a good backbone and fast tip.
The reason for the longer rod we discussed above for how the bait
is moved and the hook set. 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 goes for about
- REEL. The reel should have a fairly fast
retrieve. When we discuss reels with anyone, our 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. We use the Shimano Chronarch as an example.
- LINE. The line will
depend greatly on the location that you fish. However
for general purposes it should have a minimum strength of at
least 14 lbs. for most areas. As a
standard, we use 15-17 pound good quality monofilament.
The type and brand of line is a matter of personal choice and an
area of passionate discussion and disagreement in the fishing
population. However, remember in choosing the line that it needs
to be of sufficient strength and quality to stand up to the area
you will be fishing.
- LEADER. The length and the type of line to be
used as the leader ranks right in there as the most discussed and
disagreed component of this rig. Bearing in mind the cost of
terminal tackle, about the only thing many will agree on is that the leader should be of a lighter strength
than your main line. As a general rule, 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.
- WEIGHT. Choosing the type and how much weight to
use is another area of controversy. As a starting point, we use
3/8-ounce weights and rarely use less than that. What will help
you determine the weight side of the equation is to bear in mind that the Carolina rig calls for
the weight to be in constant contact with the bottom.
Bottom consistency and the type of cover that you are coming
through determines whether to use a bullet type weight or an egg
- SWIVEL. The swivels used should be of good
quality and as small as possible. The general function of the
swivel is 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.
- BEADS. Beads and whether to use them or not, and
how many to use is also an area of lively 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. Our feeling on the beads is they are
just another obtrusive attractant and we want the bass striking
the bait, not the rig.