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Oh, to be in Carolina...
By Paul Crawford

The Carolina Rig has recently become all the rage in presenting soft plastics to bottom-hugging fish. Although it has actually been around for years, it has been "discovered" again largely due to some notable successes in B.A.S.S. tournaments. In it's traditional form, a giant sinker with a trailing bait, it's a dynamite presentation for finicky fish and can cover lots of water in a hurry. But like most "discoveries" of late, we've not only recovered what has always worked, but found whole new ways of using the rig in situations never before dreamed.

The Basic Carolina Rig. The basic Carolina Rig consists of a large slip sinker, followed by one or more beads, followed by a swivel, followed by a leader, followed by the hook and bait. That's a lot of following, and for those keeping score at home, 3 knots are required to make up a rig. It they weren't so effective, no one would take the trouble to tie one up. But effective they are and each component has a specific purpose and job to do. To really master the rig, you need to know what each component does and the role it plays in the overall rig, (we'll get to all of that in a minute.)

The general theory of the Carolina rig is to present something stirring up the bottom in a big way. Noisy and kicking up dirt is just the thing to attract a bass, a notably curious creature, from some distance off. Think of it as kind of a noisy top water that happens to be on the bottom where the fish are at. When the fish wanders over from it's hidey hole, it will find this strange thing bumping along the bottom, and following along, floating behind a short distance, another curious creature seeming stalking the first strange thing, and the second creature is just about the right size for lunch. If you fish the Carolina rig in clear water long enough, you're bound to see a bass stalking the bait in a manner that reminds me of nothing more than a kitten getting ready to pounce on a ball of string. One of the rather odd things about the Carolina rig is when you SEE the fish hit the lure, it looks like a sudden viscous attack, yet you normally barely feel the fish take the bait if you feel it at all.

Since the Carolina rig is a "fish caller", (a rig that attracts a fish from a distance rather than one you have to drop on his nose), they are noted for being able to cover a lot of water in a little time. This is the main attraction of the rig to the cast for cash crowd where time is money and covering miles of water may be the only way to pay the mortgage payment. Since it's also rather easy to fish for so effective of lure, the guides love the rig for insuring a novice customer gets his money's worth on a tough bite day. The fish do have to cooperate a little bit, but compared to other lures and presentations, it's a pretty tough bite when you can't catch fish on a Carolina rig.

Weights.

The heart of a Carolina Rig is it's weight. The "normal" rig uses a large bullet slip sinker, unpegged, in the 1 oz class. The weight serves several purposes here. The obvious one is to get the rig on the bottom. But it is used to dig up the bottom a little as well. And don't forget it should make some noise. Depending on your methods, it has to keep the rig on the bottom over all types of cover and terrain. It will also an a large effect on how long your leader can be and what types of baits you can use. But most important of all, it will govern how fast you can fish the rig over the bottom.

It should be readily apparent that "normal" is a small group of people indeed. You can do a ton of different things with your Carolina rig depending on the weight you select. We can pretty much assume any reasonable weight will get the rig on the bottom, so let's get this speed thing out of the way in a hurry. The general rule is: "The heavier the weight, the faster you can work it." Pretty simple stuff, huh? In traditional Carolina rig fishing, the Number One rule is to keep the weight on the bottom where it stirs stuff up and attracts attention. If you use, say, a oz weight in 15 feet or so, you'll find that means you're working pretty slow. For really covering water, move up to a 1 oz weight and you can stay attached and move quickly too! A lot of guides take the next step and use 2 or 2 oz egg sinkers and go trolling on the trolling motor just dragging the rig behind. But keep in mind the mood of the fish. It doesn't matter if you can stay connected to the bottom and zoom along if the fish won't chase anything moving faster than a slow crawl. Adjust your weight with the season, down sizing in cold water to force you to slow down to the fish's speed.

Now let's worry a little about how well the weight digs up the bottom. Whether or not you want the weight to dig up the bottom is largely a function of what kind of bottom you're fishing. The original idea was to fish the rig over a combination of silt, mud, and small rocks. That's just about the standard over 90% of the bottom on a man made reservoir. Here, kicking up a little mud trail is a pretty good idea. Since there isn't much to hang up on, you can fall back to the "standard" egg sinker which is readily available in most of the larger weights, (you always have to fight the problem of finding a big enough bullet sinker to get the job done.) Some anglers have taken the next step of putting a bullet sinker on backwards letting the bottom of the sinker dig in a bit. I recently saw a "finned" weight made so at least one of the fins stuck in the mud and kicked it up on the retrieve.

Noise is another important component of Carolina rigs. Here we're talking material more than size and shape. Most sinkers are made of cheap, easily available, and easily molded lead. The trouble with lead weights is they are soft and don't make much noise when you hit them with anything. Better suited to our noise purpose is Brass or maybe Stainless Steel. Since brass is much cheaper than stainless steel, it is the common material used for Carolina rig sinkers. Take a glass bead, tap it on a brass weight, and you get a distinct ticking noise. Move the brass weight across a rough bottom with a glass bead trailing it, and you can make quite a racket. Although the scientists steadfastly refuse to confirm it, most experienced fishermen will swear to you this ticking sound of brass and glass is remarkably similar to the noise made by a crawdad crawling across the bottom. There is a down side to the harder material. First, since it is hard, it can crack or break the bead after repeated use which will cut even your heavy braided line in a heartbeat. Second, since it's hard, it will take an edge and keep it better than soft lead, so again you can be fishing with a knife edge next to your line. When selecting a brass sinker, at least make sure they have rounded off all of the edges to prevent line nicks. It will cost a little more, but worth it in time and frustration saved.

Hang ups. Now all of this has been great and simple as long as you want to fish the 90% of the bottom covered in mud and small rocks. But what if you fish in a shallow weedy natural lake, or prefer the 10% of the bottom containing heavy cover and all of the fish? Houston, we have a problem. That same wonderful weight that has kept you attached to the bottom is very like to keep you there, permanently. Carolina rig weights have a remarkable talent for hanging up on anything available on the bottom. Put two piece of chunk rock side by side surrounded by an acre of mud, and most Carolina rig fishermen will tell you they can find it ,hang up on it, and break off within 3 casts. So, when faced with heavy vegetation, wood, or rock, do you have to put the rig away? Not at all! The same smaller sinkers used for Texas rigs will climb over the cover on a Carolina rig. The penalty, of course, is you're staying attached to the bottom, which may or may not be a problem, and that you have to fish much slower, again, not necessarily a problem. Fortunately, when fishing heavy cover most of the time you want a slow thorough presentation anyway and you're likely to be fishing an isolated spot rather than an entire area. We'll talk about ways to fish faster and cover more area in heavy cover later, but for now, you get the general idea.

So, about the only thing left here is casting the rig. Casting a Carolina with a long leader is a challenge under the best of conditions. Frustration is the most common reaction to anything less best conditions. When you're dealing with leader lengths of up to 7' or so, getting it over the side of the boat can seem like success. Actually getting a long leader more than, say, 5 feet or so away from the boat without wrapping it around itself, the motor, your tackle box, your own or your partner's head, or all of the above, may qualify as an art form. One of the major contributors to casting one of these rigs is the weight. Too light of weight will cause wrapping around everything because the weight will separate from the swivel give you a 15' leader swinging in all directions at once. Too heavy of weight can cause the rig to spin on the drop, so you'll get the rig away from the boat, but find your bait at your rod tip while the sinker is still on the bottom, and of course wrapped around itself a couple of hundred times. There are no fixed rules in this game, and experience is the only teacher. It's actually pretty easy to figure out you're not using enough weight when the bait hits the water 20' away from the sinker. Too much weight is another thing since casting into the wind, or just poor casting technique can cause the same effect. If you're staying tangled most of the time, at least consider dropping down the weight a little. Might save your nerves if not your life, depending on who you drew as a partner.

Beads and Swivels.

There's really not too much to say about the swivels. Use a good ball bearing barrel swivel and you should have pretty good luck. I prefer small swivels since I fish grass a lot and the smaller size hangs up less. Even a tiny swivel can be rated at 35 lbs or there abouts, so breaking a swivel really isn't a problem. I'd stay away from snap swivels if I could, since any snap significantly weakens the link.

One rather neat set up I saw was from a draw partner. He had a whole tray of preset rigs ready to go. He'd taken a thin wire with a swivel on end, threaded on a couple of beads and his sinker, then closed it off with a tie loop on the leading end. We were fishing some heavy wood that day, and he lost a couple of rigs. He just grabbed a new one, tied if off to his main line, tied his leader to the other end, and was ready to go. It still took 3 knots to get ready, but he said the beads and weight would slide much easier on the wire and he didn't have to worry about the weight or beads nicking his line. It made some sense, (not enough to get me to start doing it), and he did catch several fish on the rig. If nothing else it gives you something to do on a cold winter's night.

Beads are only slightly more complicated. You have to select a color, size, finish, number, and material. Most dedicated Carolina rig fishermen go with glass beads for the extra noise. For as popular as they are, you'll be surprised how hard it is to find glass beads in the tackle store. For some reason, tackle stores carry every shape, size, and color of plastic beads, but very few glass beads. I have chosen to do what I do with most difficult problems, delegate it to my wife. She loads me up with all of the glass beads I can ever use on a single trip to an arts and crafts store, and at a cost so low it's embarrassing. In the modern age of metric measurements, you'll probably have to select your beads by the millimeter, (mm.) An 8 mm bead is about right for heavy cover, giving you plenty of noise in a small package. A 10 mm is about the size of the head of a plastic worm, so is another good choice for general use. Most people trying to attract anything, especially things underwater, will choose red as their primary color. But you can color coordinate with your bait, boat, rod, or the shirt you're wearing that day if you choose. I haven't seen too much difference although I'm positive some do. You can get beads either with a smooth round finish or a facet cut kind of like a gem stone. Some believe the facet cut reflects better in clear water and will use nothing else. I'm a smooth kind of guy and think the smooth beads take a bit more pounding without chipping. If you opt for the plastic beads, then either way won't make much difference, but you won't make much noise either making even using beads a rather mute point.

Now we come to the only real debate, how many beads to use. For compact brass and glass types, anything more than one is overkill and takes a chance at breaking a bead and needlessly cutting your line. Since I've had bad luck in heavy cover using brass, I prefer 2 beads pounding together following my lead sinker. You want more noise? Add more beads. I've seen people use as many as 7 beads on their rigs and swear the fish won't hit just 6. I personally think this is getting carried away a bit, but a lot of people think the same of my 2 beads. Experiment and have fun with it. After all, beads are pretty cheap compared to anything else we use.

You really don't even have to use beads at all. One of the original purposes of the bead was to protect the knot from getting cut by the sinker. I can think of several other ways to accomplish the same purpose. But assuming you are after noise, then there are a bunch of products designed to give it to you. One system consisted of a standard bead and a small donut shaped disk for the bead to bounce against, (this undoubtedly started as recycling some type of industrial waste, but that's another story.) It did make quite a racket before the disk cut your line. Another product was a hollow plastic rattle chamber to either augment the beads or just replace them. You get the general idea here. Anything that makes a noise when bounced off the bottom has or will be tried. I still haven't found anything I like better than the standard bead, but that doesn't mean you won't. Now you have new things to look for on your next trip to the tackle shop.

Lines, Leaders and Knots.

Always a point of discussion is how long of leader to use and how to attach it. Everyone thinks they have the only answer, and I guess I'm no exception. But at least we'll discuss what the others think.

I'm a Palomar knot fanatic. I use the Palomar knot for just about everything, including my Carolina rigs, (OK, so I'll use an improved cinch sometimes, so shoot me.) One thing to keep in mind here is you have to tie the leader to the swivel BEFORE you tie it to the main line, (can't make the over loop, try it.) This knot is strong, easy to tie, quick, and simple. The Palomar works on braided line, (except Kevlar), and can be retied at night better than any I've tried. Well, if the truth be known, I don't see as well as I use to under great lighting, but that just proves the point. I also love this knot because it's small and takes abuse well.

My partner just can't see the wisdom I've been trying to show him. He still relies on an improved cinch knot. He says he can tie it by feel at night, (he'd have to, his eyes are as bad as mine), and it's just as quick as the Palomar, (not if I have my glasses.) He actually uses a Palomar on his main line, (wisdom at last), but insists on attaching his swivel first, (you have to forgive him, he's from Texas.) He kind of likes the idea that the cinch will break a little quicker than a Palomar, and claims he saves a lot in sinkers, swivels, and beads when the leader breaks before the main line.

The one thing we do agree on is the main line. If ever an application was tailored made for braided line, a Carolina rig is it! Now, for those scoring at home, you already know I use braid on most everything, but even those that use braid for only one application will grudgingly concede braid is great for Carolinas. When you go to set the hook on a Carolina, you've got not only the normal slack in the line, but have to account for the leader as well. If the fish happens to be headed towards the boat, you may have to move the sinker twice the leader length before you ever get to the hook setting part, (quite dramatic with a 7' leader.) In addition to that, the sinker you're moving isn't a non-factor like a 3/16th Texas rig, we're talkin' an ounce or two to move through the water. If you add all this up, why anyone would still want to add the stretch of monofilament to the equation is beyond me. And even when you get to the fish, there is still the matter of driving a hook through a jaw that will slay a Philistine. The added sensitivity of braid helps in detecting those mush bites and helps keep the sinker on the bottom. And even if you mistakenly believe that braid results in shy fish and fewer bites, here you have the option of a mono leader. What could be better?

A quick knot note on braid. The Palomar knot works great on all Spectra based lines, but leaves much to be desired with Stren Kevlar. It turns out Kevlar resists compression better than Spectra so a Palomar has trouble binding properly. Either use a doubled up Trilene Knot, (the best knot for Kevlar much to the delight of Berkley and horror of Dupont), or use a drop of their Knot Glue. I'm almost a fan of the Knot Glue for any Carolina since the hardened shell helps protect the knot from getting beat up by the beads.

As far as the leader is concerned, I always prefer a mono leader. There are several reasons for this, (there had better be for me to carry a spool of mono in the tackle box.) First, I still think the complete lack of memory of braided line affects the action of some baits, including the ones I prefer to use on Carolinas. Second, even I have to admit it looks more natural in the water with a clear leader than with a faded out braid. Third, the mono acts as sort of a shock leader on the hook set and no longer than the leader is, the stretch doesn't amount to much. Fourth, if I get the bait hung up, the leader will break before the main line, saving my weight rig and some retying.

My partner, on the other hand, refuses to use mono. He claims he likes the extra strength and sensitivity of a full braid set up plus gets an even better hook set. He says he gets just as many bites on braid, and because he puts a weaker knot on the trailing eye of the swivel he doesn't loose any more rigs than I do.

Now on the controversial subject of leader length. There are a couple of theories about leader length. It kind of depends on what you think the bait does on the end of the leader.

The basic theory says you want to use a bait that floats, so the longer the leader, the higher the bait floats behind it. If you believe in this, then you want a long leader for aggressive fish setting high over the cover. You'll shorten your leader slightly in as the water cools to keep the bait a little closer to the bottom as you slow down your presentation. For spring and fall fishing, you may want a 6' - 7' leader for fishing grass, and only drop down to a 4' - 5' leader in cold water. The guys that hold to this view will always select a large floating bait like an Air Lizard and will use a small thin wire hook to keep it floating high in the water column. These guys love a stop and go type retrieve, giving the bait a chance to work for them. The action they expect is the bait to float up at rest and dart towards the bottom when they pull on the rig, ( a very natural looking presentation for something trying to escape.)

The other side of this argument is that few baits actually float. Those that do float will only do so until you start pulling through heavy cover, at which time the sinker will work itself under something and the leader will pull the bait to the bottom as it passes by. Those that hold with this view don't bother selecting air filled or other extra soft baits in an attempt to float a 4/0 hook. They prefer a more steady retrieve figuring the bait is bumping along the bottom anyway and if they pause it will pretty much just lay there. Since they expect the bait to follow the weight, you get more action if the bait is trailing closer. For this school you run a short leader for active fish, something in the 2' range, and cover a lot of water with a compact rig. In cold water, you can kill some of the action by adding length and letting the bait do it's own thing even if the sinker is climbing up and down in the cover. This means the two schools can at least agree on a 4' - 5' leader from late fall through early spring.

Being from Florida where shallow grass is a way of life, I'm probably more in the bottom bumper class. I've drug through enough grass beds to know I can dig up the bottom with any bait I tie on. Since grass is mostly what I fish, I don't bother much with floating baits around home. But put me on a reservoir with a fairly clean bottom or maybe an eel grass bed, and I'm a floatin' fool.

The Business End.

If you listen to Bassmaster, you'd think the only thing you can tie on the end of a Carolina rig is a lizard. A lizard does make a good choice, just because they're so big compared to the same length of worm and therefore are pretty easy to get to float a 4/0 hook. But you can Carolina rig just about every bait in the box in one form of the other, and so folks get it a darn good try.

For hooks, there is a trade off between being light enough to allow a floating bait and being big and strong enough to get the job done around cover. If you're in the bottom bumping school, floating doesn't matter and you can use a 4/0 wide gap if you'd like. For floaters, a 3/0 or even 2/0 thin wire will get the bait off the bottom quicker. Either way, get the sharpest hooks you can find. We've already talked about trying to set the hook on a Carolina, and you can't assume it's a done deal when you get the bite. The best hooks will save frustration and lost fish any time, but especially if you're fishing a Carolina.

Other than lizards, just about every soft plastic you've ever seen has been on the end of someone's Carolina, and probably with success. Naturally, most folks fish worms just like with Texas Rigs. For cold front conditions, often the same worm that the fish hit on a Texas rig any other day will still work if you switch to a Carolina. Swimming tails, curl tails, paddle tails, or straight tails, they all work well on this rig. One of my personal favorites is a Slug-O on a Carolina. Works like a dream and has an action not many deep fish have ever seen. Finesse worms were just made for Carolinas. Jack's Do Nothin' Worm is the perfect example of a small worm that wonderfully on a Carolina. I've boated a couple of tons of fish on Bass Assassin's Charmers night fishing in clear water. If you think it will work, try it, it probably will.

But it's always fun to do something different. One idea is to forget the weight, swivel, and bead, and just tie on a rattling jig instead, then tie the leader to the hook. For aggressive fish, it works like a champ and you can occasionally double up doing it. Another idea is to Carolina rig a hard jerk bait or crankbait. If you keep your leader medium length so you can throw it, you can tear them up on a deep bite showing them something they've never seen below 7'. Bill Dance has made a couple of shows on using pork strips on a Carolina rig, pointing out that even 30 years ago they were just made for each other.

But by far the most outrageous thing I've seen was a few years ago in a tournament. When my draw partner's turn came, he left the rather nice largemouth bite I had going and headed for a bluff down to about 40' of water. He took a standard Carolina rig, tied a small float to about a 6' leader, and tied a couple a small white hair jigs about 1/3 and 2/3 up the leader. He'd throw this mess on one end of the cliff, take the trolling motor and move about 30 yards down the face, trailing line all the way, the stop and retrieve. Instead of just a steady retrieve, he'd pull about 6 or 8', then stop and lower his rod tip. This let the float take the jigs another 5' or so off the bottom. About the third time he lower his tip, he set up on a 4 lb smallmouth. I watched, (fishless), for the next couple of hours as he caught fish after fish, including a couple of doubles, until he had a nice 18 pound stringer of smallmouths! That was good enough for him to take 2nd, (my largemouths had me around 18th), and to turn my amusement into amazement. I should warn you that I tried the same rig then and several other times and remember getting 2 bites and have yet to land my first fish. But nevertheless, it worked extremely well for him. Point being you can use a Carolina Rig limited only by your imagination.

Fishing the Carolina Rig.

When you head out for Carolina fishing, take a rig that will get this big job done. For a rod, a 7' broom handle comes to mind. You've got a ton of line to take up, and a long stiff stick helps like nothing else can. A lot of people now use flippin' or pitchin' sticks to get these big awkward rigs in the water and out. Match this heavy weight rod with a heavy weight reel. You're going to be throwing quite a bit of weight so a rugged reel will help in any case and the extra leverage of a large spool can't hurt. I personally use a 6 ' Loomis 785 (broom stick strength) matched with a Shimano Calcutta reel. Being a big boy and having never learned the art of casting with two hands, I prefer the shorter rod, but can easily see why most go to the 7' model or longer.

The most popular way to fish a Carolina is just a slow steady retrieve constantly bumping off the bottom. This will let you cover miles of water in a day and has to rank up there as the quickest way to bump the bottom with any bait. You'll be surprised at how few times you actually feel the fish bite. Most times, it will just have a "mushy" feeling, very similar to getting caught in the grass. Experience will let you tell the difference, but the easy quick way is just to reel down slight will a touch of pressure. Fish move, grass doesn't. If you feel the least little difference in the amount of pressure when you reel down, it's time to set the hook. After all, the jerk's free.

A close second is the Stop and Go retrieve, which you do exactly what it says, stop and go. This retrieve has the advantage of letting the floating bait float up in the water column a little and hover. The better you're bait floats, the better you'll like this retrieve. The penalty of course is that you cover less water since it takes time to stop. Usually, I prefer to go with a constant retrieve, and when that doesn't work, then I fall back to the stop and go. Only move the bait a few feet, always with your rod like a Texas rig, not with the reel like the constant retrieve. Regardless of how far you've moved the bait, always stop when you hit something. If you don't get bit, then stop again when you pull over or through it. A lot of times your sinker will disturb a bottom hugging fish and cause him to move a few feet. He'll nail the floater on his way back to where he was a few seconds later.

For those paying close attention, you'll note that both steady and the stop and go retrieve rely on a floating bait and maybe a fairly clean bottom. But what about those thick grass beds I was talking about? Well, if you have a bait that doesn't float, that doesn't mean you don't want to get it off the bottom. It's back to the old jukin' retrieve like fishing a Texas rig a bit aggressively.. I actually break this movement into three parts. First I pull very slightly a couple of inches just to see if a fish is already involved. After feeling for the fish and deciding there's not one there, (you'd be amazed at how many hits come at that slight motion), then it's time for a big juke. I about always get the sinker a couple of feet off the bottom, and sometimes try for 4' or so. The bait will follow the same path pretty closely. At the very top of the arch, I add the third part which is to very slightly lower my rod tip then snap it back just to clack the beads together a bit. A lot of hits will come at the top of the arch as well. For this type of fishing, I prefer a straight tailed worm or Slug-O. The straight tail will let the bait glide better underwater and will normally cause it to die off to one side or the other. This gives a very natural looking fall that I've had tremendous success with over the years. On about a 3' leader, it will take the bait around 7 to 10 seconds to drift back to the bottom, (don't you love clear water where you can learn these things), and that's about how long I'll wait between jukes.

You really don't even have to get the weight to the bottom. There is a whole form of light weights on light gear with tiny baits that are Carolina rigs. They are known as Split Shot rigs, (from the use of split shot for the weight), but there is some much different about those we probably need to wait for another day for that one. Just keep in mind that the theories are pretty much the same with split shots and Carolinas. And even with a bigger weight and bait, if you're going to be swimming a worm over the bottom, a Carolina rig has much to offer over the traditional Texas rig swimmer.

My wife has taught me a couple of extreme retrieves with Carolinas. As with most of our wives, she's not too big into this fishing thing, but will consent to accompany me on the rare occasion. And like most of our wives, she takes delight in the fact that she outfishes me more often than not!

The first retrieve she taught me was on the Kissimmee chain at the mouth of the Dead River running between Cypress and Kissimmee. It's one of those lovely little outflows where the fish gang up to feed in the current and attracts almost as many fishermen as fish. Since the fish were not actively schooling to the point they'd eat the motor off the back of the boat, she got bored after an hour or so. As I struggled to keep the boat into the current, fight the cross wind, and fish at the same time on one leg, she just threw out there and let it set,.and set, .and set. If she had the foresight to have brought a book, I'm sure she would have been on the 3rd chapter. Now comes the part where the 6 lb 4 oz fish takes one look at her bait flappin' in the current and decides to run to the other end of the lake with it. After all the screaming, first at trying to land the fish then at me to get her back up river to where "her" fish were at, I was seriously wondering if I should take the fish back to weigh in and if I could possibly leave her there. About 15 minutes later, right in the middle of the lecture I was giving about fishing "flukes" and how she ought to at least move the bait every few minutes in case some floating grass matted up on her line was when the 8 lb 9 oz fish annihilated her still motionless bait. Yeah, you guessed it. First place, Big Bass and Second Big Bass for the day. I probably would have been all right had not, in a moment of temporary insanity about 3 hours later, right after the comment that I should pay more attention to her since any idiot could catch fish, I had the poor judgment to agree.

About a year after the apology, I took my wife to night tournament on Clermont as a stand-in for my regular partner, where she taught me the second retrieve. The wind was howling that afternoon The 20 mph wind and white caps were not fully appreciated with my open water grass pattern. After a couple of hours of fighting the wind, standing on one leg trying to undo the backlashes, and putting up with the incessant whine coming from the rear deck, (even though she had boated a couple of 3 lbers draggin' the rig behind the trolling motor), I'd had enough. I motored off to a calm feeding flat known for a lot of small fish to dry out and get some peace and quiet. My wife pouted in the passenger seat for about 20 minutes over some insult I had given her, (I think it was "Fine, we'll move then"), while I conclusively proved there wasn't any fish here either. Then she preceded to pick up her rod, throw out her Carolina, and shake the rod violently. I was almost as amused by her ridiculous display with the rod as I was with the fish she caught doing it. It was a keeper though, but the one she caught the next cast wasn't. The fourth fish she caught measured, and it took about 15 fish in 20 minutes for her to finish out the limit. It was small, but respectable at least compared to the one dink I caught. When I asked just what in the hell she was doing, she calmly explained she was trying to make the worm look just like those wriggling red worms that her Oscars in the aquarium at home so readily attacked. It seemed rather pointless to debate that Oscars weren't bass or that these fish didn't have to wait for the lid to open for food to drop in. She caught about 40 fish that night, all without her weight coming within 10' of the bottom. I don't know if the worm was whipping side ways, up and down, or turning circles. But what ever it did, it worked. I learned a couple of things that night. Fish can catch even the fastest moving lure if they want to. Sometimes a faster lure works better than a slower one, even on suspended fish that are shut down. A Carolina rig can be fished in a number of surprising ways. And no matter what you do you'll never win an argument with your wife.

Variations on a Theme.

There are a number of closely related rigs to the Carolina that are really just variations. We've already mentioned split shotting. There are several products on the market that are a quick fix for those not willing to take the time to tie a Carolina up. One of the better ideas was an oblong bead with a cleat pattern. Called Speed Beads the idea is to be able to attach a bead to your line when you have a Texas Rig on without having to retie. The line weaves its way through the bead which then offers enough resistance to prevent your sinker from pushing the bead back towards the bait, at least on a fairly clean bottom. This actually works rather well if you're using braided line, (I still don't like the crinkles it puts in monofilament), and if you only have one rod with you. And a Carolina is a dynamite come back lure for a fish missed on a Texas Rig. A couple of problems is the bead isn't really that speedy for a come back, and most of the guys I know serious enough to be using braid and wanting both rigs have at least two rods and already have a proper Carolina tied up. But it's an option.

Another old variation is the 3 way rig. This actually started at before the Carolina rigs as a live bait rig. This uses a 3 eyed swivel with the bait on one leader and a bell sinker on a second, longer leader. This rig serves to keep the bait up in the water column and with proper selection of leader, all you'll ever loose is the sinker if you hit a snag. This rig works great around grass and heavy timber. Bill Dance with his Pork-O lures brought this rig back into vogue with a little national TV exposure. It is a great solution to a number of problems in keeping a lure just over thick grass.

Jim Porter over in Palm Bay has a variation that combines a 3 way with a Carolina. In this case he uses a walking sinker made popular by the walleye fishermen. Instead of putting a weight in line, he just ties directly to the swivel then uses a rubber band to attach the sinker to the leading eye. For fishing rocks or other heavy cover, the advantages are obvious. Instead of breaking off the entire rig when you hit a snag, you can just bust off the sinker and tie another one on in seconds. It's still an open case if the fish notice the weight or it makes a significant difference in the bite, but early reports from Jim show promise and it's worth the room in the tackle box for a couple of rubber bands and sinkers.

If you're a braided line fan like I am, then the Carolina idea will solve some action problems with jerk and crank baits. I've come to the conclusion I don't like the action of either jerk baits or crank baits on straight braided line. I now use either Fusion or Fireline for most of those applications, but before I tried that, and for several application even now, I tie up the swivel and leader just like a Carolina without the weight or beads. This restores the action the monofilament gave to my baits while giving the low stretch, abrasion resistance, and sensitivity of braid. The swivel even acts like a tiny sinker giving my soft jerk baits a little quicker drop on the pause. It's a nice compromise between braid and mono with all of the benefits of both with few of the draw backs of either.

Still one more that leaps to mind is to forget the swivel. Leading beads in front of worms are as old as worms themselves and still work today. Several of the guys in this area use a light weight and a couple of beads in front of a worm for flipping Kissimmee grass. Adds a ton of noise with few added hang ups in relatively sparse cover. Just put it on the bottom and shake. All you need now is one of those little metal propellers and you're ready for any situation.

Carolina rigs are as fun as they are effective. There is no wrong way to fish one, and several very good ways to do it right. They can catch fish regardless of the experience level of the fishermen, but in the hands of a pro can catch fish when few other options will work. They can target big fish or numbers of fish by just changing bait or weight size. If you're not fishing Carolina rigs now, give them a try. You'll quickly find they earned their reputation and wear it well. They work at depths where few other presentations are possible and will work shallow as well.

Until next time, Best of Luck and Good Fishing.

Paul Crawford

 
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