The Carolina Rig isn't much to look at. Just a 3/4 or 1 ounce weight separated from a soft plastic bait (usually a lizard) by a barrel swivel and a leader about 2' long. But like my grandma used to say to me, "Don't worry son, looks ain't everything." And so it is with the Carolina Rig, not much to look at, but an incredibly productive bass catching setup when used at the proper place and time.
Let's go into this proper place and time thing just a little deeper. The proper time is right now. On Lake Livingston right now, most of the bass on the south end of the lake are moving to main lake structure. Be it main lake points, creek channel edges or drop-offs, the bass are located about as deep as they are ever going to be (5'-12') and they will stay there for the remainder of the summer. Shallow logpiles and brushpiles can still be productive, early and late, but during the day these deeper fish seem to be just a little more active and willing to bite. So now is the time when I really start using those deeper diving crankbaits and a Carolina rig. This is where the Carolina Rig really out shines the Texas Rig and it all hinges around that heavier weight. That 3/4 or 1 ounce weight allows you to get that bait down to the bottom quicker and maintain contact with that bottom much easier while using a faster retrieve than the Texas Rig will allow. We could just fish a Texas Rig with a 1 ounce weight, but the bass seem to bite the lure much better when that heavy weight is not jammed up next to the bait.
My normal method of fishing main lake structure this time of year involves covering the area first with a crankbait and trying to catch the more active fish. Then I follow up with the slower moving Carolina Rig. Many times the bigger bass will let that crankbait go by but they just can't resist that Carolina Rig. The way that I normally fish my Carolina Rig is to make a long cast and allow the rig to settle to the bottom (I can tell when it's on the bottom from the slack in my line). Then I usually turn my rod roughly perpendicular (or sideways) to my line and I begin slowly reeling my rig in. I try to keep my reeling slow enough and my rod low enough, so that my rig maintains constant contact with the bottom. If I am reeling too fast or if I am fishing on a fairly steep slope, then I will have to stop my retrieve occasionally and allow my rig to sink back the bottom.
Strikes sometimes feel just like they do on a Texas Rig, which feels like someone lightly thumping the end of your rod, but usually the line just gets heavy and it feels like you are dragging an old dishrag through the water. When you get this heavy feeling, just stop reeling but keep some pressure on the line, most of the time the bass will betray his presence by trying to swim off with your lure. When you detect a bass on the end of your line, give him a little bit of slack and then set the hook hard with a sideways "sweep" hookset. With the slack involved with the leader, many times if you set the hook by bringing your rod straight up you don't get a good hookset because you aren't physically moving enough line. If you will rotate your body and "sweep" that rod sideways you will move a whole lot more line and usually get a much better hookset.
Let's touch on terminal tackle. I usually use a VMC Vanadium Carolina Special hook in a 2/0 or 3/0 size depending on the size of the lure that I am fishing. This hook may look a little weird at first because it has an extremely wide gap and is based roughly on the old Kahle style of hook that has been around for ages. The main advantages of this hook are its light wire construction that allows the bait to float up off the bottom easier and makes for easier hooksets and that Kahle design that almost insures that once a fish is hooked, it stays hooked. Anyway, try this hook, I think you'll like it.
I usually tie this hook to a 2'-3' leader of clear 20 lb. Berkley Vanish. This is one of the new fluorocarbon lines that is virtually invisible in the water. Just be sure to use a Trilene knot or an improved clinch knot. This line does not well with a Palomar knot, too many breaks at the knot. I then tie this leader to a barrel swivel that is tied to my main line, which is usually 50 lb. Original Spiderwire or some of the new Spiderwire Stealth. Braided line just gives you so much more sensitivity. Try some of the new Spiderwire Stealth, its impregnated with Teflon and casts further and is easier on your rod guides than the Original.
On that main line, immediately above my barrel swivel, I thread a 3/4 or 1 ounce brass weight (depending on the wind, more wind=more weight), followed by a glass bead (usually black). This bead is very important because it adds a clicking sound to the rig, which the bass seem to find attractive, and also it keeps that heavy brass weight from beating up the swivel knot. Let me give you a small tip here that may help. When buying swivels and beads, try to buy black ones and take a black magic marker and color your weights black. The black bass that we are after usually share their main lake hideouts with white bass and many times you will feel a good strike, set the hook, miss the fish and reel in only to see no teeth marks on your lure. Usually these phantom strikes are white bass either hitting your weight or swivel or your glass bead. Making these items black will help minimize these problems.
I almost forgot to talk about the soft plastic lure to use on the business end of this rig. I usually use a Berkley Power Lizard in some variation of pumpkinseed or watermelon with a chartreuse tail. Some days the bass prefer a smaller, subtler bait and I will use 4" Berkley Sqwormers Paddler or Tournament Strength Power Noodle in the same colors. Try this Power Noodle bait if you get a chance. It looks like a small hunk of plastic about the size of an old fashion crinkle-cut french fry, no wiggly tail, no legs, no whiskers, no claws but for some reason the fish really seem to like this bait above all others at certain times.
I usually use a 7'6" heavy action Fenwick flipping rod (model GTC 775-2 or GTC 906) for all of my Carolina Riggin'. Also, I use like to use a quality, high-speed baitcasting reel with a thumb bar release like an Abu Garcia 4600C4 or 4600C5.
I sincerely hope that at least some of the information that I have provided was enlightening or maybe entertaining but most of all helpful and educational. If you would like some first hand instruction on black bass fishing on Lake Livingston or Sam Rayburn, I guide full time on both of these lakes and can be reached at (936) 563-5454 or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you get a chance, check out my web site at www.detnet.com/fairbanks or www.livingston.net/fairbanks and let me know what you think. Between now and next month, catch all you can and release all that you catch. Good luck, be safe out there and may God bless.
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