By Ken Poor
The Carolina Rig is one of bass fishing’s oldest, most versatile techniques and is just as effective today as it was when it first became popular over fifty years ago. Fishermen, who have learned how to use it and understand its versatility, also know that variations of the Carolina Rig are equally effective, not only on bass, but many other species of fish including walleye, northern pike and catfish. Variations of the rig include the Lindy Rig and the slip-sinker rig and I have absolutely no idea which one came first.
Variations of the rig include the Lindy Rig and the slip-sinker rig and I have absolutely no idea which one came first. What I do know is, back in the 1950’s when I was working on the party boats, we called it a bottom rig and we used it on a hand-line. In later years we called the party boats “charter boats”. We were fishing on the ocean, out of Ipswich, Massachusetts.
The line that we used was called “Cod Line” and it was made from cotton, but now it is made of nylon. The cotton line was coated with a tar like substance that made the cotton line heavier and denser, but also protected it from rot and abrasion. Additionally, cod line was used for weaving fishing nets.
We used the bottom rigs, baited with clams or chunks of fish, primarily for bottom fishing for cod, pollack or haddock. Other rigs we used back in the 50’s included the drop-shot rig, and the split-shot rig. The only difference with those rigs today and the way we fished them back in the old days is that we fished with hand lines not rods and reels.
Catfish and other species of fish live their entire life searching for food on the bottom of a lakes and rivers or within inches of it. Bass and walleye will at times feed on suspended schools of baitfish, but like the catfish, most of their meals are found on or close to the bottom of the body of water they live in.
A slip-sinker rig tipped with the correct bait will often catch these fish even when other lures and presentations are not working. Of course, the secret in this case is to use the correct bait and that means matching the forage they are feeding on.
On most lakes, during July, August and part of September, most of the bass, walleye and northern pike move into deep cool water to avoid the high-water temperatures in the shallows. When this occurs, most of the fish are scattered and can be difficult to locate. A Carolina Rig is a great set-up for searching large areas and really shines when the fish are scattered in deeper water.
To set-up a Carolina Rig for deep water start with 6-1/2 to 7- foot medium/heavy action bait casting rod and matching reel. The longer rod length makes it easier to remove slack line during the hook-sets especially when you are fishing deep water. Spool your reel with a clear 12 to 17-pound test monofilament line. If you are fishing for northern pike or some other toothy critter add a suitable wire leader.
Run the end of your line through the hole in an egg sinker, add a couple of small plastic beads and then tie the end of the line onto a high-quality ball bearing barrel swivel. Make sure the hole in the beads matches the diameter of the line you are using.
The weight of the egg sinker you should use will vary depending on the type and size of the bait you use, strength of the wind, current flow and the depth you are fishing at.
For most situations 3/8 to ½ ounce egg sinkers will be adequate. Worm weights are a good option if there is some light weed growth in the area you are fishing.
A good barrel swivel will help prevent line twist and the beads prevent the sinker from damaging or hanging-up on the knot on the barrel swivel. The barrel swivel also acts as a stop to prevent the egg sinker from sliding down the line to the hook. Typically, a size 3 or 4 barrel-swivel works well with this set-up.
Next tie a piece of leader line to the other side of the barrel swivel. Leader length will vary depending on the type of bait or lure you use, but will normally be about 3-feet for soft plastics or live bait and much longer for crankbaits. The leader should be a lighter pound test line than the main line, so that the leader breaks off when snagged and not the main line.
Just about any type of lure or hook can be used on the end of a Carolina rig, including plastic worms, grubs, lizards or live bait. Hook or jig size will vary depending on the type and size bait you are using. Plastic worms or lizards are the most popular, with the lizard being my first choice for bass and nightcrawlers, leeches, or live minnows for walleye. Experiment with different set-ups and baits, but let the fish tell you what they want.
When a fish takes your bait, it will pull your line through the hole in the egg sinker and feel very little resistance. At this point some experts argue you should set the hook others say let the fish take some line before you make the hook set. My suggestion is that you decide what works best for you.
Most fishermen are comfortable working the bottom with a Carolina Rig, but when the fish are suspended well off the bottom they will often change to a completely different technique. In most cases, they do this because they don’t know that simply changing the length of the leader and the type of lure they are using would quickly put them back in the strike zone.
When fish are suspended off the bottom, but close to the bottom, stay with the Carolina Rig, but tie on a floating crankbait or depending on how close to the bottom the fish are, even a floating plastic worm. Longer leaders are a must for floating baits and for proper crankbait action.
Keep in mind that fish will rise to the bait, but seldom swim down to get one. To be most effective, your bait must be at the same height, or just above the depth the fish are holding at.
Slip-sinker rigs are a great way to fish from shore and should be one of the first techniques that you teach a youngster to use. Kids love to fish from shore and if they catch an occasional fish that makes the experience even more rewarding. Teach them the correct way to use a slip-sinker and they will catch fish.
Double Carolina Rigs are nothing new to avid walleye fishermen and many of their techniques can be adapted for bass fishing. The Double-Carolina rig allows you to fish two baits at the same time. In addition to a main leader, a second leader about 18-inches shorter than the main leader is tied directly to the swivel. The short leader should be made from a higher pound test than the long leader. The heavier line is more buoyant and will help keep the two lines separated.
Tie a floating lure on the short line and a heavier sinking lure on the long line. Variations for this set-up are limited only by your imagination. Try using live bait on the long leader and a flashing lure to attract fish on the short leader. A big lure on one leader and a small lure on the other leader is another good variation.
Fishing a Carolina Rig is the easy part. Cast it out, let it sink to the bottom, and then reel it back very slowly with frequent long pauses. With any plastic worm rig strikes, will often come on the fall, so watch your line for that tell-tail twitch or sideways movement. When the worm is on the bottom any change in the weight or feel should be considered a hit and reason for a hook set.
A Carolina Rig can be worked effectively using a wind drift or by casting. Drifting can be a good way to locate active fish especially at night and after you find active fish try casting the rig in the same area to pick up more fish. Normally you are better off casting the single Carolina Rig and using the double set-up when you are drifting.
As the summer winds down, water temperatures in the shallows will begin to drop and northern pike, bass or walleye will move from deep cold water into shallower water and gorge themselves for the coming winter. During the dog days of summer and again in late fall after lakes turnover, or in winter I look for fish in 20 to 40-feet of water. A Carolina Rig dressed with either plastics or live bait is a great way to catch them.
Select your bait based on the type of fish in the area where you are fishing. Typically, plastic worms or plastic creatures, minnows and nightcrawlers work well for either smallmouth or largemouth bass. Leeches, minnows, or night crawlers are a good choice for walleye. Stink-baits or fresh liver works well for catfish. It is also the best use I have found for liver.
On northern lakes, late in the fall, work the bottom at depths of 20 to 40 feet of water with large minnows on a slip-sinker rig for big northern pike. Another “local application” is drifting the flats on these same lakes at night for walleye. On southern lakes, local anglers will use the same set-up on heavier equipment for catfish, at night, and during the day. It is a basic technique, but one that every angler should have in his or her bag of tricks.