Winter Carolina Rigging
As early winter comes to most parts of the
country in November, weedbeds shrivel, bass evacuate their summer
homes in shoreline cover, and they aggregate on or near structure
in deeper, open water. The colder it becomes, the deeper they
Until the bass return to the snaggy shorelines in
spring, it is a great time for the Carolina rig. The reasons are
1) At this time of year, bass are often not in
dense cover. Typically, they hug bottom on structure with sparse
cover - relatively open bottom - where the Carolina rig works
2) You can dredge a small bait deep with a heavy
Carolina rig. You cannot easily pair a small bait with any other
heavy rig or jig. A skinny 4" worm, for example, would be
mismatched on a 1 oz. jighead or Texas rig - but a 4" worm
is perfect on a 1 oz. Carolina rig.
3) Bass often like a muted movement from a bait
during winter. A Carolina rig does just that - the leader line
between the weight and bait mutes or dampens the action imparted
by the weight.
Let's talk about that last point for a moment.
Now, most people will say a Carolina rig allows the bait to
develop more movement. Not me. I say a Carolina rig allows the
bait to move less.
Try these three tests and decide for yourself:
First, rig a soft bait on back of a 1 oz. jig head. Drop it in
water. Lift and drop the rod tip. What happens? Obviously, all
the action you give to the jig head is exactly duplicated by the
bait. The bait moves as much and as quickly as the jig head.
Second, Texas rig the same bait with a 1 oz. weight pegged to its
nose. Drop it in. Lift and drop it. What do you see? All the
action of the weight is completely imparted into the bait, right?
Third, Carolina rig the 1 oz. weight and bait separated by a 3
foot leader. Lift and drop it. What do you notice? The sinker has
a lot of action, but very little of the sinker's action is
imparted into the bait. That proves my point. The Carolina rig
allows a bait to move LESS than any other type of rig or jig -
and LESS movement is often better for cold water bass!
Okay, that was important point number one I
wanted to make about Carolina rigs:
#1: The bait has less action than most other
types of rigs that get down deep. Bass often like less action,
especially in winter waters.
Important point number two, at least for me, is
that I like to use a Carolina rig going DOWN structure - down the
sloping tip or sides of a point, down a series of stairstep
ridges, down a channel edge, down the side of an underwater hump
or saddle - just down.
#2: As a heavy Carolina rig plummets down a depth
break on structure, the bait flutters directly above like a
helium balloon tied on a 3 foot tether. When the heavy weight
bangs bottom again? The weight thuds to a stop but the bait
that's been fluttering above it now begins a totally weightless 3
foot fall - that is when bass bite best! Work the heavy weight
DOWN structure, and pause often to let the bait freefall
weightless behind it. That freefall is when bass bite a Carolina
rig best, and it doesn't happen enough when you work up structure
or across level bottom - only down.
A QUICK REVIEW
Let's begin with a quick review of what we
learned so far. We started talking about Carolina rigs for
bass that have moved onto deep water structure for the winter. We
talked about retrieving so the rig falls DOWN structure which can
be a series of stairstep ridges, tips of points, the sloping
sides of humps, channel edges or whatever. As the heavy weight
falls deeper, the bait flutters directly above it like a balloon
on a tether. When the weight thuds to a stop on bottom, pause for
the bait make a totally weightless freefall the length of your
leader - which is when winter bass bite best during the pause.
The sinker creates most of the action on a
Carolina rig. Because the bait is separated from the sinker by a
leader, the bait itself has less action than if it was pinned
directly to a jighead or Texas rig, plus the separateness allows
you to present a small bait better in deep water without the
bulkiness of a jig or weight ruining the small profile of the
bait. Winter bass are often fond of smaller offerings, and it
seems that chilly bass often prefer baits that don't move too
much during winter.
BEST WINTER BAITS
On a Carolina leader in winter, I want a bait
that has that do nothing fall of a dying critter descending those
last few feet to the bottom. Squiggly, active, multi-appendaged
baits (lizards, craws, ribbontail worms, curly grubs, and other
critters) work well in spring, summer or fall, but they are not
my favorite choices in winter. For winter fishing, I opt for
baits that both look simple and act simple. No waving claws,
skirts, tails, antennae or anything else. Just simple baits like
tube baits, Ikas, straight-tailed worms, Senkos and soft
jerkbaits. Just a bait that does a dying flutter down to bottom
and lays there like it's not going anywhere after that. Lethargic
winter bass will snap it up as it lays there.
HEAVIEST WEIGHT POSSIBLE
Try to get away with the HEAVIEST weight possible
without excessive snagging. There's nothing wrong with one ounce
provided your rod and reel can handle that. If your rod can
handle 1 oz, use it! If your rod can only handle 3/4 oz, use that
as your "go to" weight. The big weight does not bother
the fish. In fact, a big weight raking and digging the bottom
attracts bass over to the weightless bait kiting behind it. The
heavy weight gets you to the bottom quick, keeps you in constant
bottom contact, makes maximum noise and stirs things up on the
bottom. All very good.
LIGHTEN UP AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE
As you drag bottom, it's perfectly normal for the
heavy weight to get temporarily bogged down in dead weed tops,
mucky bottom, or on the edge of a rock or stump (but the trailing
lure should not get snagged).
This temporary bogging down is generally a good
thing. It will get you to slow down and pause up against the edge
of something - just the kinds of places where bass hang out! Wait
a minute for a bite, then give a slow deliberate nudge on the rod
tip to jump start the weight and pop it loose to keep the weight
However, if you are snagging and having to break
off your line too often with one ounce, you may have no choice
but to lighten up to 3/4 or 1/2 until you stop snagging so much.
A lighter weight will guide itself over snags and stuff that
would bog down a heavy weight - but keep in mind that a lighter
weight takes longer to reach bottom, tends to rise up from bottom
very quickly as you retrieve, makes less noise and does not stir
up as much commotion as a heavier weight. So, only lighten up the
weight as little as possible to avoid excessive snagging - do not
lighten up unless you absolutely have to avoid break-offs!
Also note that it may not be the size - but the
shape - of your weight that needs changing. Oval egg sinkers are
the best shape on rocky bottoms because eggs do not wedge into
cracks as easily as pointy bullet-nosed sinkers. In crisp weeds
or brushy areas, a bullet weight is more weedless and snagless
than the egg. A thin, elongated weight like a Mojo or Water
Gremlin Needle Nose slides along better on silty, mucky bottoms
or in soft grassbeds (dead or alive).
LOB IT OUT THERE
As far as Carolina rig rods go, you DEFINITELY
need a heavy rod to hurl a heavy weight as far as possible. Use a
heavy action rod at least seven feet long and hurl/lob the
Carolina rig out there as far as you can DIRECTLY AHEAD of the
boat. Cast out and when the weight thuds bottom, simply keep a
semi-tight line and DO NOTHING for the first one or two minutes.
Even though it seems that you are doing nothing, your lure is
still side-shifting around down there on its tether and
attracting fish towards it. You may often just get bit on the
initial drop while you do nothing for one or two minutes. After
that initial time, then gently walk your weight and lure back to
the boat by using three to four foot slow, deliberate draws of
SLOWLY DRAW IT IN
Do not retrieve the Carolina rig with the reel.
Only move the rod very slowly starting from horizontal to the
water to nearly vertical - slow and steady about three to four
feet. Do not give it any rod action. Don't worry that the rod tip
is too high at the end of the lift to set the hook. They never
hit you on the drag. Now reel in the slack that the rod lift
created and WAIT and WAIT SOME MORE...It's when you're waiting
that you'll get bit...that's when the bait is fluttering back to
bottom and laying there.
Make a concentrated effort to bumble and bang the
weight into everything in its path. Bang the weight up good as
you make the long slow draws with the rod tip. The action of the
bait occurs naturally as the weight drags through the different
degrees and densities of the bottom terrain. Keep in mind it's
preferable to go down the terrain. As the terrain plummets off,
the weight plummets too, but the bait should mostly stay above
the weight as it falls. Then the bait waffles down to the bottom
like a dazed and dying critter. Then wait for the fish to bite
during the one to two minute pause between rod draws.
With so much weight, such a "do
nothing" retrieve and the lethargic habits of winter bass,
you may not feel any bite at all. You may not even notice a bass
is on your bait until you begin the next rod draw. So it's very
important that when you are done waiting, you have reeled up
slack (without moving the weight) and the rod is back at
horizontal. When you start the next lift, you are trying very
hard to feel if a fish sucked you in during the one to two minute
wait. Keep in mind, it may not be a fish, but just a temporary
snag bogging you down. (You are pausing the retrieve at spots
where the weight bogs down on irregular bottom, right?) So, make
a SLOW sweep until the rod tip loads up. This will either un-bog
the weight, popping it free - or else take the slack out between
yourself, the heavy weight and the fish if you still suspect you
have one. A good fish indicator is that a snag will pop out, but
a fish will not! You'll either pop loose at this point - or
follow through to rear back and set the hook completely like you
see them do it in the movies! That's how to detect a fish is
laying on the line. All this happens in a split second - much
less time than it takes to read this!
Nothing could be finer! Dress warm. Pause long.