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Return to the Old Ball & Chain?

If you haven't fished a Carolina rig lately, now's the time to revisit this timeless classic.

Return to the Old Ball & Chain?

When fishing a Carolina rig, the author prefers a 7-foot-6-inch, medium-heavy rod with an extra-soft tip, paired with a reel with a 7.0:1 retrieve ratio. (Photo by Glenn Walker)

The Carolina rig is a great technique to employ when targeting bass that are relating to offshore structure. This is especially true during the spring, as bass are in pre-spawn mode and setting up on points, humps and other offshore areas outside of their spawning grounds, feeding up as they prepare to spawn.

With a Carolina rig you can cover a vast amount of water in a short amount of time, meaning you can quickly fish an offshore structure while both confirming what the bottom content is and seeing if there are any bass willing to eat. If not, you are off to the next potential spring honey hole. There have been times in spring when I can see bass on my MEGA Live imaging but can't get them to bite certain offshore offerings, like a crankbait or a spinnerbait. But when I cast out my Carolina rig and slowly drag it over or through the cover I'm fishing, the school turns on.

By examining each tackle element that comprises a Carolina rig and how you can adapt it to different scenarios, you'll be a more versatile angler on the water this spring.

The venerable Carolina rig is just the ticket for finessing early spring bass at any depth. Here are two ways to rig it. (Illustrations by Peter Sucheski)


For my main line, I prefer 15-pound Seaguar Tatsu Fluorocarbon; for my leader I'll use the brand's 12- or 15-pound-test Gold Label Leader Fluorocarbon. If I'm fishing around laydowns or stumps where my hook may hang up frequently, I'll go down to a 12-pound-test leader, as I can break off just that part if I become snagged and not my whole rig.

The length of my leader will primarily depend on the clarity of water. For stained water I use a leader that is 12- to 18-inches long, whereas in gin-clear water I need a 24- to 36-inch leader. The type and density of the cover you are fishing will also dictate the length of your leader. If you are dragging your rig through emergent grass, you'll want a leader long enough that your soft-plastic bait suspends above the grass. On the other side of the coin, if you are dragging your rig over hard-bottom areas, and the bass are tight to the bottom, then you'll want a shorter leader.


A premium ball bearing swivel is the key connection between your main line and the leader. It helps prevent line twist and ensures that a hookset results in a bass on the end of your line. Additionally, I put two beads between the sinker and the swivel to make more noise and protect the knot from damage.

Smallmouth bass under water
Dragged across the bottom, the Carolina rig is an ideal offering when bass are holding tight to a sandy or muddy substrate. (Photo by Glenn Walker)


My personal choice is a brass sinker because of the noise it makes in the water when bounced off the beads. Depending on the depth and current I'm fishing, my weight will range from 1/4 ounce to 1 ounce. I go to a tungsten weight, either a bullet weight or a barrel weight, if I'm dragging my rig in sand or mud, as I think this weight design kicks up more silt, thus attracting bass better.

Another instance in which a tungsten weight is beneficial is when you need a heavier weight, and the water is either super clear or you're fishing shallow. This is because a tungsten sinker is about half the size of one made of lead or brass of the same weight. So, for example, if I'm fishing a grass line and it's only 8 feet deep, I may need to use a 3/4-ounce weight to get to the bottom through the grass. But since the water is on the shallower side, the smaller profile of the tungsten won't spook the fish and will slide through the grass easier.


The two hook styles I use when fishing a Carolina rig are an extra-wide-gap hook, like the Lazer TroKar TK120, and a standard worm hook like the TK105. If the soft-plastic bait I'm using is on the bulkier side, the extra-wide-gap is my choice, as there is plenty of room on the hook for the soft plastic to slide out of the way. If the plastic I'm using is longer, and I want the hook point near the back of the bait, the Pro V Worm hook (TK105) is my choice. The size of the hook you use will depend on the size of the soft plastic, but typically a 3/0 to 5/0 hook gets the nod.

Glenn Walker with caught bass
The Carolina rig is simple but customizable, making it a versatile option for a number of scenarios. (Photo by Glenn Walker)


There are countless soft-plastic bait options for Carolina rigs. Whatever the bass are feeding on dictates what I rig up, but my usual bait is a creature bait, as it can mimic both a crawfish and a sunfish. Some of my favorite creature baits include a Zoom Brush Hog, Baby Brush Hog and Lizard. If I'm throwing a Carolina rig to an inactive school of bass feeding on bait, shad-imitating baits, like the Super Fluke, are a good option. A soft-plastic stick bait, like a 4- or 5-inch Senko, is the call when the bite is tough or the bass have been heavily pressured.


The proper gear will enhance your ability to fish the Carolina rig properly, detect bites and get bass into the boat. Using a long rod will help in making long casts and will pick up slack in your line quickly after a bass hits. An extra-soft tip will ensure that you feel everything that your weight is being dragged over on the bottom. My go-to Carolina rig rod is a Witch Doctor Tackle Voodoo II 7-foot-6-inch, medium-heavy rod, which has the length necessary for making long casts with my C-rig, keeping me in the strike zone for as long as possible.

A reel that retrieves a lot of line with each turn of the handle will assist in the task of picking up slack prior to setting the hook. I like a 7.0:1 retrieve ratio. To fish a Carolina rig, you simply cast it out and drag it across the bottom. However, there are several things you can do to alter your retrieve and help improve your catch.



I start by moving my rig along the bottom, sweeping the rod in a sideways motion. This keeps the sinker in contact with the bottom and allows it to disturb the sand or mud, resembling a crawfish or sunfish fleeing from a predator and hopefully attracting a bass to the lure. When fishing around rocks, I have noticed that the sinker will get hung up less if I move my rod in a vertical motion.

Pay close attention to when strikes occur. Many times you'll get a strike when your sinker bangs off a large rock or when your bait is ripped through the vegetation. When this happens, be sure you have visuals on shore or a marker buoy in the water to help you keep your boat in position so you can repeat that cast and hit the cover in the same way.

Examples of offshore structure where a Carolina rig shines in spring include underwater humps or points, isolated boulders and flats that either have emergent vegetation or isolated hard-bottom spots. I target these areas when bass have just moved out of the wintering areas and have started to make the progression toward their spring spawning grounds.

Identifying these offshore structure spots located either just outside or adjacent to a bass' spawning area is likely to produce a great day on the lake. The ideal depth of the water is dependent on the lake you are fishing and how close the bass are to spawning. When fishing during early spring, and bass are just starting their migration, offshore spots in deeper water are likely best. If you are out on the lake during a warming trend, a shallow-water point (2-to 3-feet on top and dropping to 5 feet) may be the ticket.

Bass fishing near dam
Wing dams, riprap banks and sand bars are among the best places to fish a Carolina rig in a river this time of year. (Photo by Glenn Walker)


When fishing a Carolina rig on a river system, you can use a big weight to fish the bait in the current, yet bass won't detect it since the soft plastic bait is on a leader. Some prime river areas for fishing a Carolina rig include on sand bars and drops, along rip rap banks and wing dams and on ledges lined with laydowns and stumps.

You might have noticed that I haven't used the word "deep" when discussing where in the water column to fish a Carolina rig. When modified correctly, the rig can be used to target shallow-water structure off the bank in lakes as well in rivers. As you prepare for your next fishing trip this spring, be sure to have a Carolina rig ready to target bass relating to bottom no matter how deep the water.


  • What to use when the Carolina rig won't get a sniff

There are times in spring when a bass won't eat a Carolina rig. Here are some options to use instead.

All-Terrain Tackle Swing-Head Rock Jig

With its football-shaped head design, this jig is great for dragging offshore structure. With the ability to select your own hook based on the soft-plastic bait, you can create a setup that's ideal for any given situation on the water.

Z-Man ChatterBait JackHammer

This is a moving bait, but by increasing the size of your JackHammer to the 1/2-, 3/4- or even 1 1/4-ounce model, you can slow-roll it over the same offshore structure where you were dragging your Carolina rig and get some big bites.

Neko Rig

By taking a soft-plastic stickbait, such as the ever-popular Senko, and inserting a nail weight into one of ends of the bait, you can cast the bait out and let it soak over a rock pile or slowly drag it over a flat. Increase the size of nail weight as the depth of water increases or if the wind is blowing and you need to maintain the feel of your bait.

Texas Rig

Many bass fisherman equate fishing a Texas rig with flipping shallow-water cover, but going back to the basics of dragging a soft-plastic worm or a large creature bait with a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce bullet weight is a great way to fish offshore structure during the spring.

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