This month I will be discussing how and where to drag Carolina rigged plastics across the seabed floor to tempt bottom-feeding species. This will be a two part series as there is too much information to squeeze into one article.
The Carolina Rig is just a fancy name for a standard baitfishing rig with the sinker above a swivel then a trace that connects to the hook. I guess the only difference is that you can put a soft plastic onto the hook instead of a bait. When choosing your hook you may wish to use a ‘Z’ bend weedless style hook or stick to the standard type hook that leaves the barb exposed when you rig your soft plastic. Dropshot hooks are also worth considering for the finesse variations.
The idea with the Carolina Rig is that the soft plastic wafts around a bit more on the trace than it would on a jighead and the sinker doesn’t have a hook on it that could get caught on the bottom. In theory you are less likely to get the rig snagged and more likely to attract a fish.
The traditional Carolina Rig uses a fairly heavy sinker, such as a 30g (1oz) egg sinker. This is called a heavy Carolina Rig. At the other end of the scale is the splitshot rig that has a very light sinker crimped up the line, which might only weigh a few grams.
Somewhere in between the two is the more modern Finesse Carolina Rig, which is my favourite for dragging. This rig combines the best features of a splitshot rig and a traditional Carolina Rig.
I began using the Finesse Carolina a few years ago and have used it in many different fishing situations. It meets all the major criteria I look for when fish are quiet or have shut down. Its light line finesse presentation remains in the strike zone and lets me cover a lot of ground. It is the perfect solution for an angler dragging a lure from the back of the boat. In Australia it works well on bream and bass but I think squire like it the most.
The splitshot rig and the Finesse Carolina uses light line and smaller profile, skinny soft plastics to tempt cautious fish.
I attach up to a 10lb fluorocarbon leader to 8lb Super Braid or lighter mainline via an Albright connection. I then slide a 1/4oz or 1/2oz tungsten weight onto the leader and peg it in place with a rubber toothpick or a standard wooden toothpick. You could use lead ball sinkers instead of the tungsten weight if you wanted to. I leave 30-60cm between the weight and the lure, any longer and it doesn’t cast well. Then attach the hook (a dropshot hook works well) to your leader, rig on your soft plastic and you’re ready to go.
If you are breaking off at the weight, you can change your rig so the weight is free running on the mainline above a swivel. Attach a leader below the swivel and the problem is solved. Some anglers may even put a bead between the weight and swivel. Pretty much the same rigs as shown, just a lighter version.
The traditional version of this rig uses 6lb mainline straight through to the lure. 8lb line is used for heavy cover and 4lb for open terrain. Round splitshots, around the #4 or #5, are used 45-60cm above the bait. Anglers generally steer clear of the removable types that get caught on cover and weeds.
The traditional Carolina Rig has a free running weight, usually 3/8oz+ on the mainline, which is tied to a swivel. The leader, which is usually 30-45cm of lighter breaking strain is then attached to the other ring of the swivel. As far as weight is concerned I like a 1oz. The weight is used to keep the bait wafting just off the bottom whilst attracting the fish, so it’s not necessary to keep the weight as light as possible. The hook is then tied to the leader.
This system allows the angler to use a heavier mainline while keeping the bit the fish sees light. A popular combination is 12-17lb mainline with a 6lb leader. My rig uses 20-30lb braid with a 10-17lb leader depending on the area I’m fishing. I usually use larger profile baits when I am fishing with this rig so bigger hooks are required.
Pretty much the same as above but a bead, be it glass or plastic, is added between the free-running weight and the swivel. It adds a little extra attraction to the rig and makes a clicking sound when it bumps with the weight, almost like a crayfish. Many anglers like this option because the bead cushions the knot from being constantly bumped and rubbed by the weight.
As the weight ticks over the bottom it creates interest for the fish, ticking over rocks and creating little ‘puffs’ off the bottom. The fish then see the tasty morsel flailing along behind. Even the after splashdown from the cast, the soft plastic slowly falls behind the weight creating an inviting action. The soft plastic imitates the darting and pausing action of a baitfish, while also resembling the swimming/crawling action of a crustacean.
The weight serves many purposes: attracting the fish, keeping your lure down in the strike zone, keeping you informed of depth changes and providing information on what the bottom is. Keep an eye on your sounder as this will back up what you’re feeling through the line and rod.
Your sensitivity with the rig is heightened by your selection of weights. Tungsten is a little on the expensive side but it is highly sensitive. It is also tough, won’t scratch when dragged against the rocks or deform like lead, which is too soft like lead. Tungsten also has the smallest profile to weight ratio.
Other options are brass, steel, lead or bismuth for Carolina rigs. In the case of splitshots it is generally a choice of pre-moulded tin or lead.
There are also a number of weight shapes that you can use for Carolina rigs such as the standard bullet weight, the egg sinker or the barrel sinker. If you want your weight to be free running chose one with a big hole down the middle that is less likely to get clogged with mud or sand particles as you drag it along. If you want your weight fixed then either peg it in place or use a rubber-core type sinker. Egg shaped steel weights are the most practical and available for the heavy rig, and the smaller steel bullet weights work fine for the Finesse Rig.
Next month we’ll look at the techniques on how to fish the Carolina in more detail and study the tackle used.
Sketches (to go with part one) – Heavy Carolina, Finesse Carolina, Splitshot.Reads: 1295