It’s sort of old fashioned, and it doesn’t nearly have the appeal of the latest hot fishing fad, but even if your tackle box is filled with Alabama rigs, you’d better know how to tie and fish a Carolina rig.
I have fished a Carolina rig my whole life — it was one of my grandfather’s favorite techniques — and it got very popular in the 90s, but over the past five years in particular, all anybody has heard about is the Alabama rig. But if you fish an A-rig, you’d better know how to fish a C-rig, because it will still catch a lot of fish, and I love to fish it in March for prespawn fish.
A Carolina rig is such an effective way to fish with a variety of soft-plastic baits, and it’s a great way for less-experienced fishermen to fish the bottom. They can tie on a Carolina rig and be able to feel the kind of bottom they’re fishing and catch fish.
A lot of people will fish a Carolina rig with a heavy sinker, from a half-ounce to an ounce, but I’ll fish anywhere from a 1/8-ounce weight on up. If you’re fishing some kind of cover, you’ll want to fish a light rig that will come through grass, lily pads or brush. A bigger weight will get you hung up more, and a lighter weight will still fall through the cover.
I fish a Carolina rig on a 7-foot, medium to medium-heavy Bass Pro Shops Carbonlite rod. I like a medium-heavy action in a 7-foot rod. The size of the weight depends on the depth and cover you’re fishing. I like to fish 14- to 17-pound XPS Fluorocarbon for my main line and 10-pound mono for my leader.
As far as leader length is concerned, I’ll fish anywhere from 1 to 4 feet, depending on the cover and water clarity. If I’m trying to fish thick cover, I’m going to use a shorter leader to keep from hanging up. You definitely don’t want slack between the swivel and the hook. I think the bait is going to drop to the bottom 99 percent of the time if the soft-plastic bait you’re fishing will sink with the weight of the hook.
In dirty water, I want a shorter leader, because I think the silt being stirred up and the noise of the sinker moving along the bottom will attract fish, especially in stained water. In clear water, I’ll use up to a 4-foot leader, because you need to keep your bait and hook away from all the hardware, the bead and barrel swivel.
I normally fish a 3/0 or 4/0 offset VMC worm hook, and as far as what kind of soft plastic, the sky is the limit. I’ll use anything, from a Senko to a lizard to a crawfish. And in March, with bass concentrating so much on eating crawfish, you need your soft-plastic bait to be in some kind of a crawfish color like green pumpkin. I did a seminar with Larry Nixon recently, and he’s probably the best worm fisherman of all time, and somebody asked him what color he liked the most, and he said all he fished was green pumpkin.
In March, a lot of people will be surprised that I fish a Carolina rig as a search bait, but it’s a great bait to tie on and be able to feel what kind of bottom you’re fishing: soft, hard, grass. Even people who are not experienced fishermen can feel what they’re fishing. I can cover a decent amount of water dragging a Carolina rig, and if you find fish, especially in March, there is a good chance you’ll find them ganged up, staging in prespawn places. If I catch a fish or two, then I’ll pull out a Mop Jig and fish the place more thoroughly.
So, do yourself a favor and go back to one of the most basic setups in all of fishing. Throw a Carolina rig with a nice chunk of soft plastic on the business end, learn a lot about the composition of the bottom where you’re fishing and run into a few bass.