There’s a front approaching as I write this, and it looks like we are getting our first taste of colder weather soon. Fortunately, it doesn’t last long here in Florida. But it still gets the bass on the move and can make them hard to locate. During these weather fluctuations, I switch to a Carolina rig.
The best techniques for these conditions are those that can be fished extremely slowly but at the same time can cover water. In both deep and shallow water, such methods can bring home bass in conditions that are not so favorable. There are several ways to do that, but the Carolina rig is among the simplest.
This time of year, bass start to work themselves toward deeper water. Here they can feed up without being as affected by frontal conditions. The Carolina rig becomes a great bait to cover water. I like to use it near vegetation not too far from deeper water. Points are an attractive area to fish even if you have no vegetation. Bass will use a slow tapering dropoff as a path to shallower water. By working a bait across or parallel to the depth change, you can often times find bass on the move.
When tying your Carolina rig, you’ll want a big heavy weight. I prefer is a half-ounce brass weight. These tend to make just a little more noise when being eased across a firm or rocky bottom. I will use a 3/4-ounce if the boat is drifting due to wind or the water is more than about 8 feet deep.
My leader length is anywhere from 18 to 24 inches, depending on what’s on the lake bed. If there is no vegetation, I like it a little longer. If there are some weeds down there, I shorten it up a bit. A leader that’s too long when fishing through vegetation makes it tough to detect bites and gives the bass a better-than-average chance to get away.
The other little trick I have is to place two oversized plastic or glass beads between the weight and the swivel. This allows the weight to rattle, similar to a crawfish sound, as it is being dragged across the bottom. The noise helps with making that bait more attractive to a feeding bass. For hook size, I prefer a 5/0 wide gap. They just seem to connect better when you set the hook.
I like using big baits when fishing a Carolina rig. The water is cooler, the bass move slower, and an easy meal being presented to them seems to work really well. I prefer junebug or blue-and-black soft plastic worms 9 inches or longer. I will occasionally scale it down to 7 inches but only with thicker worms. I’ll toss a creature bait or a lizard every so often just to make sure I am not missing out on a bite that may be really producing, but for the most part, bigger worms have worked best for me.
I am experimenting with using a floating Rat-L-Trap on this rig as well. I remove the front hook and tie the line to that bottom front ring (using a split ring for freedom of movement). I put a bigger treble hook on the back to make sure I get good hookups. The weight takes the Trap down, but during the retrieve, the bait rides up when you stop moving it. This allows the bait to be fished slightly quicker and the vibration is awesome during the retrieve.
The retrieve is very important. I work the bait so slow across the bottom that I can feel every rock, shell or bit of vegetation it touches. I want that bait to be in the strike zone as long as possible. The slower you move the bait, the more lifelike it appears. I can tell I’m going too fast when the bites aren’t happening. Slow it down, get bit.
Detecting a strike can be tricky when fishing a Carolina rig. With all that free line behind the weight, it’s easy to miss a bite. Stay alert. If you ever feel like you’ve lost contact with the bait, reel up the slack and swing away. Setting the hook is no easy task when using this technique. You have to pick up a lot of line that is behind that weight, so make sure you have a tight line before you set up.
I using nothing shorter than a 7-foot rod for this technique. You can even step it up over that if you prefer, but don’t go shorter. That rod length gives you added swing radius when setting the hook, and you need it to gather up that extra line. I want a reel with at least a 7:1 ratio. Getting that slack line reeled up when setting the hook can only be done with a reel that will get it picked up quickly. The rod will move the bait during the retrieve, but that reel will get your bass back to the boat once they are hooked.
If you are not already trying some of these rigging tips while using the Carolina rig, give them a try. After all, catching more bass and finding new ways to do that is what bass fishing is all about.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland and enjoys RV travel around the Southeast with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.