May 29, 2012
By Lynn Burkhead
In some ways, it seems like the A-Rig, or umbrella rig, has already been around for half-way to forever.
But the reality is that it has barely been seven months since the swimbait contraption burst onto the angling scene in a Major League way.
As you'll recall, it was longtime bass angling pro Paul Elias who turned the national spotlight on the A-Rig last October when he won the final Walmart FLW Tour event of the 2012 season in wire-to-wire fashion on Alabama's Lake Guntersville.
With a tough bite predicted by pre-tournament pundits, Elias laughed his way to the bank with a $100,000 payday after claiming the eighth win of his pro angling career, his second FLW Tour triumph, and his first ever professional win on Guntersville.
With four consecutive stringers weighing more than 20 pounds, Elias blew away the rest of the field by a little more than 17 pounds. He ended up posting an event total of 102 pounds, 8 ounces, a mark that fell just four pounds shy of the FLW Tour record.
But the A-Rig was just getting warmed up.
Days later in early November, it would play a significant role at the Jack Link's Major League Fishing Challenge Cup on Lake Amistad near Del Rio, Texas.
While the A-Rig was virtually brand new on the tackle scene - and difficult at the time to get a hold of - several anglers had been able to arrive in the Lone Star State with the bait stuffed into their tackle bags.
Those that had one used it, caught plenty of fish with it, and often used it to advance to the next round.
As the 2011 Christmas shopping season rolled around, the hard-to-find A-Rig quickly became a must-have stocking stuffer. When Santa could actually find a supply of the contraption, the bait flew off tackle store shelves like hotcakes.
But controversy was building as state agencies began to make calls on the legality of using the A-Rig according to their state fishing codes.
And not long after the New Year rang itself in, the Rig was banned in early 2012 by B.A.S.S. officials who declared the bait off-limits in this year's Elite Series events and Bassmaster Classic.
And yet, somehow, the Rig still managed to dominate the Classic's side-kick Outdoors Expo in Shreveport this past February as tackle manufacturers rushed to unveil their particular version of the Rig.
Meanwhile, FLW Tour officials followed the B.A.S.S./A-Rig controversy by announcing that the Rig was still welcome in all of their 2012 events.
In both instances, some anglers cheered, others grumbled, and the Rig continued to make headlines.
And it still is.
In fact, in the past couple of weeks, the A-Rig has become the center of a literal million-dollar controversy after an Arkansas angler, Rodney Ply, used it to catch a potential state and world record freshwater striped bass from Bull Shoals Reservoir that weighed 68 pounds.
The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission has not accepted the fish as a state record. But the International Game Fish Association may accept the fish -- perhaps even as early as this week -- as a new freshwater striped bass benchmark.
And since Ply had signed up for the Mustad Hooks' "Hook a Million" promotion, he is potentially in line to receive as much as $1 million if the IGFA rules that his catch on a homemade A-Rig was good and is the new freshwater world record.
Quite a track record for a bait still in its infancy, don't you think?
Elias sure thinks so.
"I'm surprised that there has been so much negativity towards it before it's even been given a chance to really see if it's going to be any kind of detriment to the fish population, which I really think is a far reach for people to be saying that," the Laurel, Miss., bass pro said. "In those four days at Guntersville and in the practice days leading up to the event, I probably caught 150 fish.
"I doubled just three times, snagged a few that swatted at it and didn't get it, but I didn't weigh in a dead fish and I didn't have any fish swallow the bait (too deep) at all. I just don't think it's a harmful thing to the fish."
It certainly has not been a harmful thing for the tackle industry.
"I'm surprised at the number of people, yes, who have purchased one and all of the hoopla surrounding it," said Elias, the 1982 Bassmaster Classic champion and new member of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. "But it's been great for the fishing industry. It came at a time when the fishing industry was down and more people have fished this (past) fall and winter (because of it). I mean they've set records (with sales)."
And not just for the lure itself.
"It's not just the Alabama Rig itself," Elias said. "It's swimbaits, lines, rods, reels and everything (else) sold because of this. When you've all of a sudden got something that generates $10 to $15 million dollars in the fishing industry in a short period of time, it can't be anything but good."
How did Elias first come to using the bait he has made famous?
"Well I was emceeing a fishing tournament on Pickwick Lake in September (2011) and Andy Potts, the inventor of the rig, came up and started talking to me and showed it to me and told me how many fish he had been catching on it and gave me a couple of them," he said. "I knew it was going to look good in the water, but I hadn't seen it or anything. (But) I was fishing the Guntersville tournament in about a month and a half and I rigged one up to try there (but) wasn't real pumped up about it.
"But once I tried it, I caught four fish in a row on the first four casts I made with it and I knew then that it was definitely something to contend with and I took it from there."
That he did, literally taking the A-Rig to some of Guntersville's best-known spots where big schools of suspending fall bass were troubling the tournament's angling field. Until Elias showed up with his shad-school on a stick.
And the rest is history, as in tournament angling and fishing industry history.
How does Elias fish the A-Rig?
"I throw it on a Pinnacle rod-and-reel," he said. "I use a 7-foot, 11-inch heavy flipping rod with 65-pound Berkley Spiderwire braid spooled on a 6.4:1 Pinnacle reel."
After getting it rigged properly, is it then as simple as throwing the Rig out and reeling it in?
No way, says Elias.
"No, you've got to be around fish," he laughed. "It's just a technique and it's going to work in some places and some places it's not. It's not a solve-all (bait) to go out into the middle of a lake, start throwing it, and they swim to it. That's not going to happen."
Do make note of the fact that Elias first used the A-Rig on Guntersville when he found big schools of shad-ambushing bass stacked up on the Alabama lake's bridge pilings.
Trouble was, as already noted, they were suspended bass which are usually difficult for anglers to catch. Those are the fish that Elias thinks will respond best to the A-Rig.
"It remains to be seen how it is going to work on ledges in the summertime and stuff like that," he said. "But my indications are (so far) that it's going to be more of a suspended-fish kind of thing with colder water in the fall, winter and early spring more than anything else."
One thing that does seem important in correctly using the A-Rig is to make sure that the center bait is somewhat different than the others. If you're using silver shad colored swimbaits on the Rig's outer perimeter, consider using something else like a chartreuse shad pattern on the center bait.
"I think you could actually throw it with one hook in the center and have four dummy baits on it and still catch a lot of fish on it," Elias said.
Where should an angler fish the A-Rig?
"I would start around points, rip-rap, bridge pilings and things like that where you can vary depths and (also) in places where you won't get hung up," Elias said.
After casting the Rig, experiment with various retrieves until you find the one that the bass are keying in on. Like any other lure, that will change from day to day.
Elias notes that while the A-Rig is essentially an open-water tool, swimbaits can be rigged weedless thus enabling the bait to be fished in tighter places with woody cover.
Just be sure that when you do, you hold on. The A-Rig, for all of its controversy, has got plenty of bass catching game.