The Alabama Rig: Fishing's Biggest Controversy

When Paul Elias entered the FLW Tour Open at Lake Guntersville in October, he knew he had a gamechanger with the Alabama Rig. But chances are he didn?t think he?d obliterate the competition by an unheard of 17 pounds over the next closest competitor on his way to a hefty paycheck of $100,000. Since that tournament, the Alabama Rig has become the most talked about lure since the introduction of the crankbait, with anglers across North America trying to get their hands on fishing?s hottest lure.There?'s just one problem with this revolution in the making ? many anglers decry it as unethical and nonsporting, and certain states even disallow the use of it altogether. Read on to see why this controversial lure has anglers and organizations of every level talking.

Wait, what is the Alabama Rig exactly?

For those who have yet to be acquainted with the lure, here?s a brief description. It is similar to the umbrella rig, a lure used for over a decade by anglers who troll for stripers, but the Alabama Rig is instead used for casting, specifically for largemouth bass. It?s meant to look like a school of baitfish: The line ties to a hard-bodied bait, where up to five attached arms fan out. Each arm has a swivel attached, which can hold a bait ? swimbait, grub, crankbait, etc. The angler casts out and reels it in at a steady pace, imitating a school of baitfish, a technique that before now was never really been utilized in any way by bass anglers.
alabama rigPaul Elias' winning Alabama Rig.Brett Carlson/FLW

Four arguments against the use of the Alabama Rig

You may already begin to see why some people may have a problem with this rig as you are essentially fishing up to five lures at once. Below are some of the top arguments as to why this is such a bad thing.

Where's the challenge?

As you can tell by the look of it, the Alabama Rig with its multiple hooks has the potential to catch multiple fish at the same time. Many anglers - especially tournament supporters - think bass fishing should only be about catching one fish with one lure. Elias claimed he caught two at once several times during the FLW tournament, some included in his limit. Such a lure effectively takes the challenge of finding the right bait and presentation.

Foul-hooked fish

One of the main reasons some states do not allow this rig - or at least minimize the amount of arms that can be used - is that there is an increased potential for foul-hooked fish. You may get one that takes a bait with its mouth, but that doesn?t mean you won?t accidentally snag another when reeling in. For most regions in North America, snagging fish is illegal, so even if it?s an eater-sized fish that dies, it cannot be harvested. For catch-and-release anglers, it is counterproductive when they accidentally kill or injure a fish they didn?t mean to catch.

The ?what next?? argument

Some internet commenters from various fishing websites are worried that these kinds of innovations, if deemed legal, will only lead to more damaging lures and devices. What if popular demand makes a state amend its laws to allow ten arms? Why not just allow recreational anglers to use nets? Or trolling in pro bass tournaments? Or motorized lures that do all the work? Why not allow dynamite fishing? Ok, so these may sound a little absurd, but there?s no question that finding out where to draw the line has rarely been more put to the test.

Detrimental to fish populations

A lot of protestors of the rig believe it to be so good a lure that any average angler could pick one up and catch dozens of fish in one trip. There?s a danger for fish populations if everyone keeps their limit of fish per day, with the chance of death for foul-hooked fish thrown on top of that.

Four arguments supporting the use of the Alabama Rig

A controversy doesn?t exist because there?s only one side to the argument. Here are some point of views that support the Alabama Rig.

It's just the latest in fishing technology

alabama rigThe Humminbird 1158c DI Combo, winner of ICAST 2011 Best Electronic, has some amazingly detailed down imaging display.
While some proclaim the Alabama Rig as not very sporting for tournament use, where the skill of the hunt and capture is paramount, others just see it as another tool that demands to be used correctly to be successful. After all, is it really sporting to use fish sonars that can pinpoint a fish?s exact location and provide detailed imagery of structure, let alone come equipped GPS chartplotting? Such devices are widely accepted now, so why not the Alabama Rig? It would be like saying a construction worker shouldn't use a nail gun because it?s not the true work of a laborer.

Still takes skill

alabama rigJacob Powroznik used an Alabama Rig as well on Lake Guntersville, but could not quite find the success of eventual winner Paul Elias (finished 8th).Rob Newell/FLW
The Alabama Rig is not a magical lure that'll catch you loads of fish each time. It still takes some skill, like knowing what depth to use it, what season, what kinds of bait, and what speed to retrieve it. Take a look at Elias?s victory. Once word got out about what he was using, many anglers began to use the rig at the same tournament. Despite using the same setup, only Elias was able to thrive with it. Why? Because he knew the way it had to be used for it to be successful that weekend. No one else caught fish at the same level of frequency as Elias.

Not the first fishing controversy

When crankbaits were first introduced decades ago, anglers were catching fish left, right, and center with them. Anglers of the time denounced them as being ?too good? a technique and should therefore have no place in the world of recreational fishing. Obviously that argument didn?t win out as crankbaits are now found throughout the world. As for fish populations? While they took a hit momentarily, they have stabilized because fish are better trained to look out for such a presentation. Over time, it will be the same with the Alabama Rig.

It?s been around a while already

The umbrella rig is not anything new, nor technically the Alabama Rig. State departments have had years to look at the effect of the lure, all of them making laws explaining how they should be used. For example, in Alabama, the full use of five arms is fine, but in Ontario, only four can be used. Meanwhile, the state of Mississippi won't allow the rig at all on certain lakes, but do on others. Laws are in place to protect fish populations. If biologists deem a certain lure as not detrimental enough to a fish population, then it should be ok to use.

The Future of the Alabama Rig

The allure of the Alabama Rig will not go away anytime soon, no matter how much certain protestors want it too. Only time will tell if it will become as staple a technique for bass anglers as the Carolina or Texas rig, but judging by the popularity of it right now, it's likely to be the most tried out new lure of the year. Just remember, if you're going to try out this rig yourself, be sure to check the regulations for your state or province.Want to have your say? Join the discussion over this controversial rig!

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