Carolina Rig Bass Fishing 101
By: Shaye Baker
A Carolina rig is one of the greatest fish catchers of all times. Catching big numbers and big fish alike, the C-rig was one of the earliest finesse techniques to gain widespread popularity. This way of fishing can be a bit boring at times though, many anglers referring to it with more than an ounce of distain as ‘the ole ball and chain’. But with a little preparation and a plan, you can get on a school of fish and catch them all day long with a Carolina Rig. So today, we’re going to talk a little about the components of this technique, how to rig it up and where to target fish with it. Let’s go.
How to Setup a Carolina Rig
There are seven basic components to a Carolina rig: main line, weight, bead(s), swivel, leader line, hook and soft plastic bait. Your main line is the line coming out of your reel. You’ll want to run your weight up on that line, like you would a Texas rig. Then you’ll put one or two beads on your main line, which will prevent the weight from hitting the knot that’s coming next. Now when you tie your main line to one end of the swivel, you have a weight and beads held onto the mainline by a swivel. This part of the setup will be what stays on the bottom and the weight and beads will clack together, making a little bit of noise to attract fish.
Starting with the other end of the swivel, you’ll want to tie on a short leader of either fluorocarbon or monofilament. This leader should be somewhere around 2- to 5- feet. Now at the end of the leader line opposite the swivel, you’ll tie on a hook. A standard worm hook, EWG (extra wide gap) or even straight shank hook will work well. You should base your hook selection on your choice of soft plastic bait though, as some hooks work better with certain soft plastic body styles than others. But after tying on your preferred hook and then threading the corresponding soft plastic onto it, you’re Carolina rig is ready for the water.
Best Baits to Use with a Carolina Rig
A wide variety of soft plastics work well with Carolina rigs. Some of the more common baits you’ll see anglers use are trick worms, grubs, lizards, stick baits and soft plastic jerkbaits. All of these baits can be fished on a standard worm hook, EWG or straight shank hook. But the grub will probably work a little better on an EWG, because the body of the bait has a little more material to it. Where a trick worm will likely be more suited for a standard worm hook or straight shank since there’s not a lot of material to tear through.
Paying attention to the amount of material your hook has to work its way through will help you narrow down your hook selection when trying to pair it with your bait. But this is when you’re really trying to dial in a Carolina rig and isn’t something to be too overly concerned with right out of the gate. You can get bit and catch fish on a wide range of bait and hook combos, so just develop a little confidence in the technique first and grow from there.
Where to Use a Carolina Rig for Bass
Carolina rigs work well from 2- feet down to about 25. Some anglers will attest to catching fish deeper than that, and while you certainly can do so, once you go much over 25- feet deep there are just other more effective techniques to deploy like football jigs and dropshots. And the best bottom compositions for a C-rig are fairly clean. Soft mucky bottoms are great because there’s little for the weight to hang on and it also kicks up a little mud and silt as it is drug along, with the soft plastic trailing just a few feet behind it.
Gravel, sand and clay are also great bottom compositions for Carolina rigs, providing a clean landscape for the fish to target your bait. Scarcity of cover is also good in that your bait won’t hang up as much. A Carolina rig is prone to hang brush and big rocks, so you want to steer clear of brushpiles and this isn’t a bait you really want to fish around riprap. While fairly clean areas with the occasional boulder or stump are ideal for Carolina rigs, offering bass a point of refuge where they can still identify the passing bait and go after it. Flats with sparse vegetation or scattered clumps of grass are great areas to target bass as well with a Carolina rig.
And you’ll want to fish this bait in fairly clear water the majority of the time. Though there is a little bit of sound generated by the weight and the beads, this is primarily a visual technique where the fish will either see the bait or perhaps the small silt cloud first being generated by the dragging weight. The muddier the water, the harder it is for the fish to hone in on a Carolina rig. The only caveat to this trend coming shallow, as the strikezone is narrowed a bit. So if you are to try to target bass in muddier water with a Carolina rig, it’s best to do it in less than 7- feet of water.
Fishing Gear to Use with a Carolina Rig
You can fish a Carolina rig with a variety of gear, but it’s certainly better to use a bait caster than a spinning reel. Depending on the size of the weight and length of the leader, you may be fine with a 7- foot medium heavy rod or may need to go up to something like an 7- foot, 8- inch medium heavy with a heavier weight and longer leader. You’ll want to make the selection on your weight size based on how deep you’re fishing.
For instance, you might need an ounce weight to keep your bait on the bottom in 20- feet of water but be able to get away with a half ounce weight in 10- feet. Some anglers prefer to keep it simple and stick with a bigger weight all the time, which isn’t a bad idea either. But, if you’re fishing a big weight shallow and hanging up a lot, moving to a smaller weight should help eliminate some of the hangups.
How to Fish a Carolina Rig
To fish a Carolina rig, you simply make a long cast out across the area where you think the fish are, let your rig make it all the way to the bottom and then make long, slow drags by sweeping your rod to the side. Once you’ve drug the bait about 5- feet, reel back down til your rod tip is pointed at the bait and then make another slow drag. Repeat this process with the mindset that you never want your weight to come off the bottom until you’re ready to reel it in. And if you get bit, make a similar sweep of the rod to set the hook, but do so a little swifter.
Final Carolina Rig Tips
Just remember the main goal is to keep your weight on the bottom at all times. And when a bite comes, be aware that it won’t feel like most bites where there’s a definitive ‘thump’. Instead, your bait will just feel ‘soft’, as many anglers describe it. That feeling is a result of the fish swimming off with the bait and thus picking the weight up off the bottom. When your weight loses contact with the bottom and you don’t feel anything, that’s when a fish has it and it’s time to set the hook.
Hopefully with these tips you’ll be able to put a Carolina rig to the test and find out why it’s considered one of the surest ways to get a bite. Though this technique can be slow at times, it’s very effective. There are lots of options, so choose your weight based on the depth you’re fishing, your rod size based on your weight and make sure your hook and bait work well together. Then you’re good to go fishing.