Carolina Rigs Part 2
Published on Bassmaster.com December 10, 2009
I've always thought of a Carolina rig as a numbers bait and not necessarily a bait for quality fish. From my extensive experience watching bass on the beds, I've noticed that bigger bass can suck a bait off the bottom easier than smaller fish. I've always thought a Carolina rig is better suited than a Texas rig for catching numbers because it keeps the bait elevated and makes it an easier target for the smaller fish; and my statistics in the Insider BassLog definitely reflect that mindset. My average fish caught on Carolina rigs is 1.93 pounds, while my average on Texas rig baits is 3.90. So the fish I catch on Texas rigs are twice as big as those on the Carolina rigs.
But that isn't the case for the majority of fishermen. I was actually quite surprised to see that the average bass caught on a Carolina rig was almost the same as that caught on a Texas rig for the rest of the BassLog users. The average on Carolina rigs is 2.37 pounds compared to 2.48 pounds on Texas rigs.
I'm certain the difference between me and the masses has to do with my mindset of Carolina rigs being a numbers bait. Rarely do I throw big baits on a Carolina rig. In fact, I almost always use a 1/0 or a 2/0 hook on a Carolina rig but I hardly ever use that small of a hook on a Texas rig.
After seeing the stats from the majority of BassLog users, I probably should change my mindset. I'm sure if I threw bigger baits on a Carolina rig, I could shorten the gap between the two. But the truth is — when I fish a Carolina rig, it's usually so I can get a smaller bait where the fish are without requiring them to have to suck it off the bottom. After all, my average fish on a Texas rig is 3.90 pounds and bigger baits are relatively easy to throw on a Texas rig. So it's hard for me not to throw the Texas rig whenever possible.
The Carolina rig does have some definite advantages over the Texas rig. As I mentioned, it makes the bait accessible to more fish by keeping the bait elevated. But it has other benefits. Most importantly, it allows you to work a bait better in deep water. Since the weight is apart from the bait, you can use a heavy weight and the fish won't feel it when it takes the lure in its mouth. With a heavy weight, you can get it to the bottom quickly and cover much more water than you can with the Texas rig. The heavy weight also allows you to feel the structure and get a good idea of what's down there. Also, with the Carolina rig, the fish can pick up the bait without feeling the rod making them more likely to hang on longer than they would a Texas rig.
According to the BassLog data, the best bait for numbers on the Carolina rig is the straight-tailed worm, followed by lizards, small finesse worms, creatures, and small ring fries. All of those baits have an average of 2 to 3 pounds. When I queried the database for bigger fish caught on Carolina rigs, appendages seem to make the difference. The overwhelming majority of fish were caught on creature baits and lizards.
Six to 10 feet is the best depth for bigger fish caught on Carolina rigs. Although all other depths up to 25 feet have good numbers recorded. Best structure for the bigger fish is near a drop or on a dropoff. Main lake points and humps have a lot of fish recorded, as well. A large percentage of bigger fish were caught where no obvious cover was present. The best cover is grass where available, followed by wood cover. I was surprised to see that there was considerably more big fish caught in the morning than the afternoon. Sunup to 9 a.m. was the best period, followed by the 9 a.m. to Noon period. The best water temperature was 81-85 degrees, followed by 86-90, 76-80, 51-55, and 66-70 degrees respectively. Late summer to early fall is by far the best time for bigger fish caught on the Carolina rigs.
As I mentioned before, I mainly use Carolina rigs as a numbers bait. So I'm not the authority on them but I'll share the experience I do have with you. Carolina rigs are a favorite among many of the guides on Lake Fork. They are great for covering water and don't require a lot of experience, making them a great choice for beginner anglers. In fact, fishermen with a lot of Texas rig experience tend to lose a lot of fish because they set the hook too fast. The Carolina rig takes some un-learning.
With a Texas rig, I like to drop the rod and set the hook as soon as possible. But with the Carolina rig, I believe I have more time. I reel in the slack as I point towards the fish, then I sweep the rod the opposite direction with force instead of speed. If I'm using a Texas rig, I tend to go straight up on the hook set. But with the Carolina rig, I usually set the hook more sideways than overhead.
I prefer a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce weight if the water depth is over 15 feet. I like to use what I call "cheater rigs". These have the weights and beads inside a wire. They are a little faster to rig, but that's not the main reason I like them. Sometimes, when you cast a typical Carolina rig, the weight can separate from the rest of the rig. Then you can have a 3-foot leader and the free sliding weight ends up being 15 feet away from the bait when it hits the water. With the cheater rigs, that can't happen. The weight can only be the length of the leader away from the hook. Another reason I like those rigs is that the bead doesn't hit the knot. Since it is inside the wire, it hits metal instead. So the bead won't weaken the line.
I like to use 20-pound test as my main line with a 15-pound leader. That way, if the hook gets hung, I don't usually lose the entire rig. If you use polymer knots, it makes a difference what order you tie the rig. If you tie the swivel to your main line first, then when you tie the leader to the other end of the swivel, you would have to run the entire rod and reel through the opening in the knot for a true polymer. To avoid that problem, I tie the leader line to the cheater rig (or swivel) first. Then I tie the rig (with the leader attached) to the main line. Next, I tie the hook to the leader. If I'm using a tiny bait like a finesse worm or French fry, I like to use a super sharp 1/0 hook. The smaller hook gives the bait better action than a bigger hook will.
I like to keep the weight on the bottom as much as possible. If I don't find any cover, I normally work the bait relatively fast while keeping it near the bottom. When I feel it going over a tree, I try to let it drop straight down on the other side. When I catch fish, I work the area thoroughly and usually catch several other fish.
When I'm in water less than 10 feet, I occasionally fish a split shot rig. I'll attach a small bite-on weight a couple of feet from the bait. I normally use a finesse worm with this approach. I consider it a lightweight Carolina rig because it's the same principle. The split shot helps get the lightweight bait out, especially on a baitcast reel. It also helps the bait to fall without getting blown around too much by the wind. The stronger the wind, the heavier the split shot weight I'll use. Chances are, if I'm throwing this rig, the fishing is probably tough. But it will often catch fish when others fail.
In a nutshell, that's my experience with the Carolina rig. I hope it can help you with your Carolina rig fishing.