Whether you are a freshwater or saltwater angler, one who targets channel catfish or speckled trout, there is one live bait rig that will increase your chances of getting hits and putting fish in the cooler. It is very easy to make, and more effective than anything you’ll buy in the store.
It’s called by most people a fishfinder rig, and is also known as a Carolina rig. Since those terms are applied to a lot of rigs, including some that sell for up to $5 in the tackle shops, you should not go looking for one. Instead you should make them yourself cheaply at home and stock them in your tackle box in small plastic bags for when you go fishing.
The Carolina rig is a universally superior set-up for most inshore saltwater gamefish as well as freshwater fish, like catfish, that feed on the bottom. It will catch almost any fish that comes near it, as it presents the bait in its most natural form while offering that fish less resistance from the sinker you use to puts the bait in the feeding zone. In addition, the rigging on a simple Carolina rig makes it easier for the angler to detect bites.
The idea behind a Carolina rig is to let the weight sit on the bottom while the live bait moves about on its own, reacting to the presence of nearby predators. This makes the rig perfect for any kind of minnows, as well as other live baits that move around a lot like shrimp and crabs. The bait will move on its own and also dance in the current (if there is any). The key is to use as little weight as possible to keep the rig in touch with the bottom. It is not ideal for surf fishing, since the sinker will roll around too much, but perfect for inshore waterways and freshwater lakes and ponds.
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To make a Carolina rig you first thread an egg sinker to the line running from the rod and reel. The size of the sinker depends on the conditions you are fishing and how much weight it will take to get to the bottom. Go with the smallest sinker you can get away with. For inshore saltwater fishing, I rarely use more than about an ounce of weight, and sometimes less than that.
Then tie on a swivel, which serves as the stopper for the egg weight. Use a small swivel, black if you are in saltwater and slashing bluefish may be around. To the other free loop of the swivel you tie on about 12 to 14 inches of leader material. You can regular monofilament line (I do) or one of the fluorocarbon braids.
I find 20 lb mono line works in about every situation I fish, but if you are casting in saltwater to bluefish or Spanish mackerel you might want to upgrade to 30 lb strength. Don’t use wire unless you after really big blues or sharks, or something with very sharp teeth. Wire leaders cut down on bites for almost every species.
Then you tie on your hook. Again, the size of the hook depends on what you are after and the conditions where you are fishing. Don’t use a hook that is too large. If you are using a minnow, for instance, you want him as lightly encumbered as possible as he swims around, flashing for all the predators to see.
Having the egg sinker threaded through the line allows the bait to roam, and allows you to know exactly what is going on at the terminal end of your rig, since the weight sits on the bottom and you can feel the live bait moving. For some fish that take their time to gulp down a baitfish, like saltwater flounder or black drum, this can help you detect bites far better than many of the store bought bottom rigs.
The test of the line and leader you use, and the size of the weight and hook, can be adjusted according to your situation. Carolina rigs are cheap to make, very easy to tie (since you don’t have to know any complex knots) and they work great on a wide variety of fish. In freshwater I have used them for all kinds of catfish as well as largemouth and striped bass, and in saltwater they are great for redfish, black drum, speckled trout, bluefish, and flounder.
You can also use cut bait with a Carolina rig, and although the bait won’t move on its own, it will still dance in the current and you will still have a great feel for what is going on around your hook. This is a particular good rig for casting cut bait to redfish or catfish. It can even be a nice rig for sharks, if you use larger materials to make it.
Don’t spend your money on expensive store bought rigs for live bait fishing. Just get a few materials together and tie your own simple Carolina rigs. Not only are they cheaper, but you’ll have more success with them and have the satisfaction of catching fish on your own home-made rigs.