Best Bottom Rigs For Bass
March 10, 2011
Deep thinking has led to the creation of several rigs to tempt bass that are on the bottom.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Most of us fishermen can remember the first time we went bass fishing; most likely with our dad at the local lake. We used real nightcrawlers or worms and just hoped to catch something. As we grew older, dad taught us to use plastic worms. He showed us how to rig them Texas-style and explained that the hook wouldn't get caught up in the brush we were throwing the bait into. We all have come a long way since our first trip and we have learned that there are multiple ways to rig plastics.
Let's look at three ways to rig soft plastics for deep-water bass, ways that have moved from one region to another and spread across the country as more anglers realized their effectiveness.
All in the family
You may be familiar with the Carolina rig and the split-shot rig. If you've paid attention to finesse fishing the past few years, you've no doubt heard of and maybe experimented with the drop-shot rig. The one you may not have heard of, though, is the Bubba rig. Essentially an amped-up Carolina rig, this set-up has, over time, been transformed from an old timer's technique for bass to an important part of a new young tournament pro's arsenal.
A lot of ink has gone to describing the drop-shot in recent years, and more will be used here, but to maximize success, a bass fisherman needs a thorough understanding of the Bubba, the Carolina and the split-shot rig, too. They are all similar, but all can be used in different situations and at different times to target largemouth bass or any of the black bass subspecies, for that matter.
A Bubba, a Carolina and a split-shot rig are all basically the same. A main line, with the sinker up from the bait, and a leader of different lengths, tied to a hook, with various plastic lures added to that hook. What makes these so special? Well, when you think about it, a Texas-rigged worm or a jig-and-trailer is always nose-diving along, either bouncing off the bottom or, if there is a bunch of muck on the bottom, usually dredging it up. When the sinker is right at the front of the lure, that is the result.
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Carolina, Bubba and split-shot rigs have no weight right at the bait. The lure you choose is set back from the weight by various length leaders. A slip sinker lets the fish pick up the bait without feeling the weight of the sinker. In some situations, like heavy cover, the sinker can be pegged. If you are pulling through a lot of sticks, for example, the sinker may slide down the line in a way that could cause you to miss the target area.
Most prey of the bass swims or scoots around. These rigs let the bait of your choice better emulate the prey and move more naturally through structure. Since the weight is away from the bait, the lure floats along or looks to be swimming or scooting. You can change the action simply by adjusting your retrieve. Twitch your rod tip and make the bait swim like a wounded shad or run like a crawdad, scurrying across the bottom.
So, why the different names? Well, the rig has evolved over time, but probably was known as a Carolina rig since its inception. Split-shot and the Bubba rig came along after that. The latter two names were affectionately bestowed on the Carolina rig by west coast fishermen as good ole southern fishermen brought the technique west. No matter what you call them, they work, and the different variations of the rig will catch bass all day long at any of your favorite lakes.
A Bubba rig differs from a Carolina rig only in the beefiness of components. It requires a stout rod, strong line, heavy sinker and sizable bait like this Yamamoto Kreature. Photo by Bill Schaefer.
The Bubba Rig
The Bubba rig is usually a heavy-duty version of the Carolina rig. The heavier main line is run through a sinker of 1 to 3 ounces, tied to a swivel, and then a long leader of about 3 feet is tied to that and the appropriate hook for the chosen bait is attached to the terminal end. For gear, a longer trigger stick in medium-heavy- to heavy-action is used along with heavier breaking strength line. The size of the line for the leader can be changed out for different applications. Fluorocarbon line is a favorite leader material of a lot of bass pros for this rig.
With the Bubba rig, different baitfish or crawdads can be imitated. Plastic creatures or crawdad baits of some kind are added to the hook for the look of crayfish running along the bottom. Shad-type baits, such as a reaper or even a fluke, can be added to glide along like a wounded shad or baitfish.
The Bubba rig is thrown out in open water where the bass are locked on bottom structure in deeper water: old riverbeds, bottom contours, rock piles, gravel bottom areas, stumps, light brush, or whatever is down there.
The larger weight of the Bubba rig stirs up the bottom, attracting the bass to the lure. Snags are usually common, but it depends on the type of structure you are throwing it around. Fishermen set up on structure and usually cast beyond the target area and slowly pull the bait along through it.
The long leader lets the bait float along, attracting bites. A fish will just feel like pressure on the line. Don't hesitate or think about it, just set the hook! Since mostly used in deeper water, with this rig you will need to use a large sweeping hookset to take up slack and make good contact with the bass.
The Carolina Rig
The Carolina rig is the version of this rig that
has been around forever. Whether this type of fishing began somewhere in the Carolinas is up for debate, but one thing is for sure — it catches fish. This rig is the most versatile and, when used by bass fishermen, can be fished around most any shallow to deep bottom structure. The rig is set up similar to the Bubba rig: main line through a sinker, then to a swivel, then a leader is tied to a hook. More often with this rig, fishermen adjust the size of the sinker to the depth they are fishing or the length of the leader to the structure.
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The Carolina rig can be fished on medium casting gear or spinning gear, depending on the weight you are throwing. As I mentioned, the leader's length can be adjusted as well. I tend to go with an 18- to 24-inch leader most of the time, but will shorten it up in heavy cover.
The shorter leader will make dragging it through deep brush easier. Even with a shorter leader, the bait still has a more natural presentation and look to it. Sinkers should not only be adjusted to the depth you are fishing, but the structure. Too heavy a weight is hard to drag through rock or heavy brush, for example. I like to use a worm weight as my sinker. With it's pointed tip it lessens the chances of snags. Even braided line can be used as the main running line in order to feel the subtle bites better.
Hook size will also vary with the baits you throw on this rig. The Bubba rig is used with larger, bulkier creature baits, and this rig can be, too, but more traditional baits are used with it as well: regular worms of all sizes and shapes (floating and traditional), reapers, french fries, lizards, and crawdads. Some fishermen have even run a floating stick bait on this rig.
The Split-shot Rig
Evolving out of these rigs comes the split-shot rig. West coast bass pros find that some of their finesse baits work better floating along the bottom and through structure then hopping along like a Texas rig does. Since this rig is primarily used on light tackle with lighter line and these smaller baits, they don't want to chance the line breaking at any of the knots normally used for any of the rigs above. The fishermen just pinch a small split-shot onto the line up from the hook to form a leader.
Light to medium spinning gear is usually the tackle of choice for throwing this rig, along with tiny baits. Lightweight line, 4- to 6-pound test, is also the norm and this rig works in all situations that call for a small bait with a more subtle presentation. Finesse fishing has been practiced this way probably more than any other for years out west. Lengthening or shortening the leader also helps this rig around the typical structure. Usually, the more intense the structure, the shorter the leader. Most pros aren't afraid to throw this rig right in the middle of shoreline brush.
The Drop-shot Rig
Although this rig is set up opposite of the others, the drop-shot rig is similar to them in many ways. The end result in working the lure is the same: Keeping the bait off the bottom; no nose-diving, and a more natural presentation. With this rig you can also keep the bait in the strike zone a little longer than you can with the others. With the Carolina rig, for example, you are pulling it along to make the bait dance. With the drop-shot, you can make the lure work for you in the same place because the weight is below the bait. Fished on light to medium spinning gear with lighter 4- to 6-pound test most of the time, this rig can really bring up your "catch" numbers. To set up this rig takes a bit of practice, but very quickly you will be tying it on in a second. Bites can be hard to detect with this rig but, when in doubt, set the hook!
The first thing you must do is determine your hook size for the particular bait you will fish. Then tie it on using a Palomar knot. Part of the trick is to leave a long tag line after the knot is done being tied. You should have the main line to the hook and anything from a 10- to 16-inch tag line coming off.
It is this line that the weight will be added to. There are special drop-shot weights out there, but many fishermen go with a pinch-on split-shot. Size will vary with the depth you will be fishing. One advantage of this rig is that if you get the weight stuck in the rocks it pulls off and you just add another without retying.
There are special baits for this rig as well, but I have seen everything fished on it. It is primarily a finesse rig that can be fished from 1 foot of water to 80 feet of water, so it is a favorite of all bass fishermen, no matter the subspecies. As far as structure goes, you can throw it in any type and just twitch or shake the bait. As I mentioned earlier, the bait will stay in the strike zone longer since you are moving the bait more than the weight if you work it right. Small rod tip movements will move the bait, and leave the weight in place on the bottom.
When should you fish all these rigs? Well, they all work year-round. Subspecies of bass, lake location, time of year, or structure can all determine which of the set-ups to use. These rigs are set up for everything from the tiniest finesse baits to the heaviest bulky creature baits. Every plastic lure you throw could be adapted to these rigs. And these rigs will produce a more lifelike presentation of the bait and induce more bites by the end of the day.
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As I said, they all work year-round, but if you were to pin a season on any of these set-ups it would probably look like this: The split-shot rig would be
more for finesse baits when the bass are most finicky. This can be in the summer, when the day has blue bird skies and no wind, the water is gin-clear, or when the fish are just finicky about what they want to eat. It is a rig that can be thrown around shoreline brush and sticks.
The Carolina rig truly can be fished year-round. You may fish it though the spring, hoping to drag it through a spawning nest, or if the fish are out on long main lake points. Whether there are old tree stumps or brush piles or rock, this rig can make that bait you are throwing look better to the bass.
The Bubba rig is my winter through prespawn go-to rig. For deeper bass on river channels, rock piles, or tree stumps, this rig gets their attention. The larger sinker stirring up the bottom just draws them to the bait.
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And the drop-shot rig encompasses all of the seasons. This set-up is truly a versatile weapon any time of year. No matter the depth of the fish, you will catch them on this rig. Largemouth, smallmouth, or spots, adding this to your arsenal will definitely do the job.
These methods, no matter who takes credit for them or where they originated, will help any fisherman, from novice to pro, catch more fish. Master these techniques and you will find you'll never be at a loss for a method to use. In fact, the odds will be "rigged" in your favor.