Fishing a Carolina Rig is sometimes referred to as dragging “The Old Ball and Chain”; thanks to the extreme love hate relationship many bass anglers have developed for the technique. They hate it because dragging around a heavy weight all day isn’t nearly as exciting as flipping a jig or working a topwater frog. They love it though, because it flat out catches fish when other techniques won’t or can’t.
The versatility of carolina rig fishing is hard to beat. It works in all types of lakes, north to south; clear to stained, and throughout all the seasons of the year. Yet many new bass anglers are hesitant to learn the Carolina Rig setup, perhaps because of the more involved rigging required. This guide will take you step by step through each component of the C-Rig and you will be ready to throw it the next time you hit the lake. Photo via krugerfarms.com.
The Basic Carolina Rig Setup
The basic Carolina Rig setup consists of a few simple components that when combined, create a subtle presentation that bass relating to the bottom have a hard time resisting. Let’s break down the Carolina Rig into 3 easily digestible sections to understand how and why it works.
Rod, Reel, and Main Line
Rod & Reel – The best rod for Carolina rig fishing is a Medium Heavy, Fast Action casting rod, and a good baitcasting reel with a 6.3:1 or 7.1:1 gear ratio. The longer rod allows you to make a long sweeping hook set that can quickly take up any slack line and the fast action helps penetrate the hook into the fish’s mouth. The higher gear ratios help you to reel line up quickly when making the sweep hook set. Here are a couple of good and affordable Carolina Rig combos, that can also be used for many other applications.
Main Line – Your line can be just about anything, or whatever you typically use for other baits. The best fishing line for a Carolina Rig is typically going to be 15-20lb fluorocarbon or 20-30lb braided line for the main line. Since you’ll be making long casts, the low stretch nature of these lines will help when setting the hook. Also keep in mind that a larger diameter line will tend to get caught in current more and can put a bow in your line that makes hook sets challenging.
Weights, Bead, & Swivel
Brass – The most common Carolina Rig weight is a 1/2 to ¾ oz brass bullet weight. Brass produces more noise than lead. There are many variations you can try however, such as a Mojo style weight that is cylindrical and can navigate through grass a little easier.
- Bullet Weights Brass Carolina Weights
Tungsten – Tungsten weights have several advantages in fishing a Carolina rig. First off Tungsten is much harder than lead, so it makes a louder noise when they hit the bead, and you can more easily feel the bottom composition. Tungsten weights are much smaller than lead and will come through cover without snagging as much.
Bead – When using a brass weight, a red or black glass bead will do the trick. The bead protects your knot as well as makes a clicking noise against the weight that can attract inquisitive fish to your bait. A tungsten weight can shatter a regular glass bead, so use a bead like the Eco Pro or Vike Force Beads that won’t break.
Swivel – The swivel is simple. Just choose a size 6 or 8 barrel swivel, or a size 2 ball bearing swivel. These sizes are plenty big enough to handle big bass and not get snagged in grass or cover. I like Owner hooks, so I also stick with Owner for swivels.
- Owner Micro Hyper Barrel Swivel
- Owner Hyper Ball Bearing Swivel
Leader & Hook
Leader – Stick to monofilament for most of your Carolina Rigs. You might be tempted to use fluorocarbon because it is nearly invisible, but remember that it sinks and defeats to whole purpose of the C-Rig: floating and gliding your bait off the bottom.
Hook – The best hook for Carolina Rig fishing is an offset shank wide gap hook. Choose the appropriate size for the bait you are fishing. Some people prefer a EWG hook for their plastics, and that will work fine as well, just use what you have confidence in.
- Owner Extra Offset Worm Hook
- Owner EWG
Best Carolina Rig Baits
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “match the hatch” before. It applies to Carolina Rig fishing as much as anything else. The lizard, creature, beaver, and finesse worms are great all around baits to start with, but if you see a lot of shad in the area, a tube or super fluke would be a better choice. If you think the fish are on a crayfish diet, then switch to a green pumpkin brush hog or beaver style bait. I keep things simple buy sticking with a few colors: Green Pumpkin and Black/Blue for stained to dirty water, and a Shad color for clear water or when bass are chasing bait.
- Trick Worm/Finesse Worm
- Big Worm
Why it Works
By now you are starting to see the logic behind fishing the Carolina Rig. But why exactly, is this rig so effective at catching fish? I can think of a few really good reasons off the top of my head:
- Easy to Use – All you do is cast it out and drag it back in, as slow or as fast as you want. That’s as simple a technique as you’ll ever find. It’s great for anglers of all experience levels, including kids.
- Covers Water at Any Depth – The Carolina Rig is effective at nearly any depth. You can cast to shallow weed edges, or drag across deep main lake points.
- Maintains Bottom Contact – We are using fairly heavy weights on the rig, making it very easy to maintain contact with the bottom. This provides you valuable information about the composition and hardness of the area. This also makes it a great rig for fishing in strong winds.
- Subtle Action – The slow gliding and floating action of the Carolina Rig is probably the most important factor in its success. The motion of your bait is tantalizing to bass, and the clicking of the weight and bead helps draw other fish to your bait.
When and Where to Use the Carolina Rig
The Carolina Rig is truly a year round presentation. Use it to locate hungry pre-spawn bass as well as recovering post spawners. It’s deadly all throughout the heat of summer, and can clean up on bass when they school up in the fall. Even in the dead of winter, the Carolina Rig can coax bites from the most lethargic fish.
- NOT Rocks or Rip Rap – The bullet style weight is going to get snagged in the rock crevasses, so avoid using it on rip shorelines. But parallel casting with the edge of the rock can be awesome.
- Grass Beds – The type of grass beds I’m talking about are just a few feet tall, not matted up vegetation. Using it in the short grass beds can be very fun. Just set you leader length long enough for the bait to dance at the grass tops and work the weight with a slow lifting motion instead of the standard drag.
- Works Well in the Wind – If the wind is howling and you find yourself scrambling for a Plan B, look to the Carolina Rig as an option that could save your day. The heavy weight makes it easy to cast into the wind, as well as still feel the bottom.
- Points & Humps – Bass love points and humps, so dragging a Carolina Rig over the top of them is a fast way to see if any fish are present. When you catch some, it’s easy to slow down and try some other baits and put a hurting on them.
- Ledges – Fishing a C-Rig down a ledge is a classic bass fishing staple. Cast to the top of the ledge and slowly bring it down. You can catch the active fish on top, and pick off inactive ones along the sides and bottom of the ledge.
- Ditches & Drains – These depressions among the big flats on lakes are bass magnets during the pre and post spawn phases. Throw the C-Rig up, down, and across the ditch to see if it’s holding any good fish.
- Transition Banks – When you find a stretch of bank that looks like a “no nothing bank”, but then has some changing features like grass, wood, or rock, there just may be a bottom composition change. The Carolina Rig allows you to feel when the bottom changes from muck to clay, or clay to gravel. This is what a bottom transition is called, and bass love these places.
Carolina Rig Tips
- Use a Tungsten Weight – You are trying to learn what’s on the bottom. Is it rock, sand, or gravel. The way you learn these things is by using a heavy, hard weight, and nothing does this better than a tungsten weight.
- Leader Length – Use a minimum of 12 inches for a leader, all the way up to 3 feet long. Let the cover and condition to tell you how long your leader should be. Use a long leader in submergent grass where you want the bait to glide at the grass tops. Colder water conditions would dictate you to use a leader on the shorter side. In strong current, use a shorter leader so your bait doesn’t get swept away, and you’ll never feel the bite.
- Pick the Right Rod – You want a Medium-Heavy, Fast Action rod because it has some tip flex to allow long casting with the rig, plus some backbone for setting the hook. A heavy action rod is really not a good idea because you lose casting distance and the hook set becomes more difficult. Stick with a 7’ to 7’8” rod to get the best results.
- Don’t Overwork the Bait – Just cast out your C-Rig, and let it sit to the bottom. Then all you need to do is a very slow, side sweeping drag with your rod. Don’t use you reel to move the rig because it will move to fast. Use an occasional abrupt pause or twitch to get the bead and weight clicking, but there’s no need to overdo it.
- Try a Walking Sinker – A walking sinker is a walleye fishing mainstay, but it can be adapted to a Carolina rig pretty easily. It will snag less often when you’re fishing rough and rocky areas.
- Try a Finesse C-Rig – I have also heard this referred to as a Mojo Rig. Basically, you take a texas rigged soft plastic and peg your sinker a foot or two up the line, with no swivel. It is basically a downsized version of a Carolina Rig. You can use lighter weights, line, and rod and reel with a finesse version.
- Keep the Bait Moving – The biggest complaint with Carolina rig fishing is not feeling the bite. Keeping the bait moving ever so slowly will allow you too much better feel when a fish sucks in your bait. You may feel the telltale tap, but many times it is a mushy dead weight feel. The biggest thing is to practice, and you will get the hang of it and not gut hook so many bass.
- Side Sweep Hook Set – When you feel a bite or a soft weight on the end of your line, reel up a few turns, and then make a long sweeping motion to the side to set the hook. You don’t want to make an upward hook set like you do with a jig because all that energy will go into lifting the weight and not penetrating the hook.