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Why the Carolina Rig?
by George and Scott Welcome
Imagination Bassin Guide Services

The Carolina rig is easy to tie and effective in producing bass. To understand why the Carolina rig is so efficient, let us take a look at the eating and the defense mechanism found in our beloved quarry, the bass.

On the eating side, the bass will be in one of two modes:

  1. They will either be aggressively feeding which is a rare and highly valued time for you to be on the water, or
  2. They will be opportunistically feeding. This mode of opportunity is the one that you will find the bass in most often, and it is the one that the Carolina rig takes best advantage of.

Most often you will find the bass hanging around biding its time and surveying its territory. If an object is placed in front of the bass that the bass considers as having a possibility of food value? The bass will pick it up to test its desirability. If it considers it good it will swallow it, and if not it rejects it and quickly spits it out. Realize that the bass is extremely lazy or inactive most of the time. We've all seen those safari documentaries where lions lounge around most of the day, and in the case of lions, do not necessarily even get active or hunt every day. Bass are somewhat like that too. So in order for you to take advantage of bass that are more often than not in this inactive opportunistic mode, you have to place your offering within inches of their mouth. You also have to present it in that location for a sufficient period of time for the bass to make the move to food-test it.

On the defensive side of this equation you must understand that the bass although a schooling fish is also individually territorial. Territorialism in bass is most observable during spawning season. It's an instinct to defend their nursery grounds, eggs and young against all intruders, even your bass boat. However, once the parental duties have been discharged, individual bass still tend to "need their space" year-round. So territorialism is not only part of spawning. Year-round territory, at a minimum, is the area that its body is occupying. If you ever go to a large public aquarium (or even in a small home aquarium), you can observe how fish there are constantly territorializing the water around themselves - and constantly nipping at any other fish that come too close to them. In such artificially close confines, it is a full time pre-occupation, but it goes on in the wild also. A more dominant fish may actually get a nice territory - a corner of the tank or a rock to defend and call its own. But at a minimum, each fish has a territory it defends which is the water occupied by its body.

So if you wish to elicit a defense response from the bass your presentation has to be in that space. Also understand that a defensive response of the bass does not mean an actual pickup of the bait with its mouth. The bass may head butt it, take a swipe at it with its tail, just try to push it out of the way, or approach, swerve and glide past it.

Now let us look at the action of the bait attached to the Carolina rig and you can readily see why it is so effective when the bass are either being defensively territorial or opportunistically feeding. As the rig is drawn across the bottom the bait can move, depending on the forces it may encounter, in a 360 degree circumference for the distance of the leader around the weight. As it hits resistance from weeds for example and then releases it can spring right or left, upward, or forward of the weight. In effect, the bait can move or land anywhere in a circle within the length of the leader around the weight. Even just pulling and pausing the weight across the bottom, the weight may stop but the bait may continue to glide in any direction and distance for the length of the leader. This not only gives the bait great action but also covers the water in any direction equal distance from the weight. You have all heard many times what is meant by the word slow but I will say it one more time. When you think you are moving the bait slowly then you need to slow down some more. Although the weight may hardly be moving, the bait may be moving any which way more than you realize within the strike zone. If the bait moves into the territory of the bass it could react.  Whether eating opportunistically or defending, the bass needs a period of time to act or react to your bait and by moving the rig slowly you give the bass that much more opportunity to act in your favor. With this you should readily see why slow movement of the weight during the retrieve is so important.

In order to move the bait slowly you need to use the rod rather than the reel to move the bait. Even if your reel has a slow retrieve it is too fast for the Carolina rig. To understand how to move the rig, picture the baits location as 12 o’clock. Use a dragging motion to the side, move the tip of the rod very slowly from 12 to 2 o’clock. The longer the rod, the greater the distance is between 12 and 2, which is why we recommended a longer rod (see below). If you feel a hit during the drag quickly return to the 12 o’clock by picking up the slack with the reel, being sure to keep the line taut, and set the hook. The longer rod also gives you more leverage for the hook set. The key to the reel down is keeping the line taut. If you throw slack line at the bass you will be setting the hook on slack line.

Sensing the hit with the Carolina rig is the same as sensing the hit with other baits. If it feels different then hit it! The bass as I said earlier may be testing it for food quality, or they may be pushing it, or head butting it, so if doubt enters you mind hit it! Another hit to watch for is revealed in line movement. The bass just might pick the bait up and move off to investigate its quality. They do this to hide it from other bass in the vicinity, but rest assured, in most cases if you don’t react they will eventually reject the offering most of the time and you will be left holding the bag so to speak. You have probably experienced this as the three tick hit. The bass picks it up, turns, and spits it out in rejection. Get the hit before the third tick!

Last and least discussed but certainly extremely important is your choice of baits. However the choice is an easy one to make. Color should be your first consideration and the formula for this is generally dark colors in darker water and light colors in lighter water. Shape and size are experimental, personal and subjective matters. Very little that you throw to the bass for its consideration is going to look anything like the real thing so if you have a bait that you are confident in that would be your best first choice. Remember that your strikes are going to come from either aggression or the possibility of opportunity from the bass, so go with what you like. The bass will probably food-test anything if you leave it long enough close enough. As for ourselves, we find that the best of all the plastics on a Carolina rig are Yamamoto Senkos but again that is a subjective choice. By using any soft plastic bait that you have confidence in, you will tend to throw it more often rather than giving up and going to another bait or technique.

As far as where to use it, what areas, a general rule is you need to locate the haunts frequented by bass, which are usually cover related to structure and then pull the Carolina rig through the cover. There's no magic to this. You toss a rig out somewhere and catch a bass or two, you go back there next time and catch another bass or two? That's a haunt frequented by bass. It may not produce all the time, all season - but you've found what you are looking for. All such areas are potential areas for the use of the Carolina rig. So as you can readily see, the Carolina rig is a viable technique for most areas.

There is no restriction on what depth you may present a Carolina rig. It is an extremely successful method of bait presentation in all depths of water and its only restriction is the cover that you are trying to move it through may be too dense. Let us look at some areas that may be too dense to best deploy a Carolina rig:

  1.  Areas of extreme vegetation such as heavy hydrilla cause problematic usage of a Carolina rig.
  2. An area where the brush coverage is dense is another such area.
  3. Areas where the bottom is made up of boulders that are very close is another area where the Carolina rig is sure to get caught up.

So as you can see, the Carolina is an extremely adaptable rig since its only limitation of use comes from the cover that you are trying to move it through.

When fishing an area with the Carolina rig, keep in mind that it’s function and design is to meet the need of placing the bait just about into the mouth of the bass. Be thorough with its use and cover all the water. Too often I see people using this bait like they are throwing a spinner bait. Target your casts to land no more than the length of your leader from the last cast and you will be very successful with this bait. Keep it slow, concentrate in order to sense the hit, and aggressively set the hook. Above all, use it long enough to give it the opportunity to show you why it is considered the most effective method of catching the wily bass. It won’t take you long to become confident you are a Carolina rig expert.


Among more experienced fishermen, the Carolina rig is considered at the top of the leader board of choices. Yet it seems to be a method of last resort rather than first choice for the average or beginning fisherman.

It seems that myriads of rigging choices bog down this method of fishing in a quagmire of confusion. Rod selection, reel preference, line variety, weight size and type, leader strength and length, whether to use beads or not, and types of swivels are topics of deep and intense debate when the Carolina rig is mentioned amongst fishermen. Because of this confusion, the average angler seldom uses the Carolina rig effectively.

It seems we've made it harder than it has to be. Let’s take a look at the various components of a Carolina rig. You'll see how simple it can be.

  • ROD.  To be most effective the rod should be a longer rod (7 to 7-1/2 feet), with a good backbone and fast tip. The reason for the longer rod we discussed above for how the bait is moved and the hook set. It doesn’t have to be an expensive rod. For example, we use a Shimano Convergence MH 7'0" rod for most applications. This is a rod that goes for about  $40.00.
  • REEL.  The reel should have a fairly fast retrieve. When we discuss reels with anyone, our advice is buy the best reel that you can afford. The reel can be used on multiple rods and dollars and cents is a definite factor in reel quality. We use the Shimano Chronarch as an example.
  • LINE.  The line will depend greatly on the location that you fish. However for general purposes it should have a minimum strength of at least 14 lbs. for most areas. As a standard, we use 15-17 pound good quality monofilament. The type and brand of line is a matter of personal choice and an area of passionate discussion and disagreement in the fishing population. However, remember in choosing the line that it needs to be of sufficient strength and quality to stand up to the area you will be fishing.
  • LEADER.  The length and the type of line to be used as the leader ranks right in there as the most discussed and disagreed component of this rig. Bearing in mind the cost of terminal tackle, about the only thing many will agree on is that the leader should be of a lighter strength than your main line. As a general rule, we use 18 inches of leader per 10 feet of water. Keep in mind however that the length can also be affected by what you are seeing on your sonar. For example if you note that the fish that you are seeing are holding three feet off the bottom the best of floating worms couldn’t get into the zone with an 18 inch leader.
  • WEIGHT.  Choosing the type and how much weight to use is another area of controversy. As a starting point, we use 3/8-ounce weights and rarely use less than that. What will help you determine the weight side of the equation is to bear in mind that the Carolina rig calls for the weight to be in constant contact with the bottom. Bottom consistency and the type of cover that you are coming through determines whether to use a bullet type weight or an egg type weight.
  • SWIVEL.  The swivels used should be of good quality and as small as possible. The general function of the swivel is a stopper for the weight rather than keeping out line twist and you want it as unobtrusive as possible. Several weight stoppers have emerged on the market and they can be readily used in place of the swivel.
  • BEADS.  Beads and whether to use them or not, and how many to use is also an area of lively debate. The general function of the bead is to protect the knot from the constant abrasive action of the weight. However some do feel that the beads also create noise thereby attracting curious bass. We use no bead if we use bullet weights and one bead if we us an egg weight. Our feeling on the beads is they are just another obtrusive attractant and we want the bass striking the bait, not the rig.
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