Last month we introduced the Carolina Rig and it’s variations: Heavy Carolina, Finesse Carolina and the Splitshot Rig. This month we will study the finer detail of how to fish them and some of the tackle options that you might consider.
Cast out and let the rig sink to the bottom. I like to keep the line fairly taught. You should feel the weight on the bottom, ticking over rocks. I keep the rod tip at a 45-50 angle so that while you feel through the rod, you can also watch your rod tip jump as the weight bounces over the bottom.
The rig is then basically ‘dragged’ over the bottom, along the ledge or up the submerged hill behind the boat as the boat moves. Your boat’s path is controlled by electric motor, a wind assisted drift or by drifting with the current. This technique is ideal for windy days.
If you are fishing from a stationary object, such as the bank or anchored boat, then gently sweep the rod tip away from the lure and to the side (rather than upwards) after you have cast it. As you let it settle, the movement will drag the lure towards you. Be sure to wind up the slack line very gently after each drag as you drop the rod tip back so it is pointing directly at the lure again. A golden rule is to avoid reeling at the same time that you sweep the rod tip. You need to focus on feeling the difference between a bite and a bump on the bottom and the turning of the reel prevents this. At the end of each sideways sweep, before I start winding, I like to pause for a second or two and then slightly lift the rod tip upwards to see if you can feel any extra pressure.
Remember, this is a slow presentation – if you think you are working slowly enough, slow down even more.
My biggest tip is to stay alert. As with most finesse presentations they are created to target finicky fish, so quite often the strike is a slight ‘tick’ or just an added pressure to your rig. This is called a pressure bite; some say it is like slowly stretching a rubber band.
Strikes can even happen right after splashdown, when the lure is wafting down after the weight, so watch your line. There could be a reasonable belly in it if you are using a heavy running weight as the sinker falls much faster than your lure. If you even think for a second that your line ‘flicked’ or you feel some added pressure, set the hook with a steady sweep of the rod tip. As they say ‘hook sets are free, take as many as you like’. This is fine for the Heavy Carolina approach, but you need to be a little more cautious with the lighter options of Finesse Carolina and Splitshot.
Finesse Carolina fishing is ideally a light line technique that is used with small hooks. It’s like fishing with circle hooks; you almost let the rod just load up and carefully lean back to apply that additional bit of pressure to set the hook.
If you get a hit and no hook-up, leave the weight rest on the bottom and don’t move it. Sometimes the fish will come back and pick it up. Some anglers like to gently shake the rod tip in order to shake the lure, but my preference is to keep it still.
If you get hung up on a snag or on the bottom, usually it’s the weight as opposed to the hook that is stuck. Give it plenty of slack and forcefully jiggle the rod tip. Most of the time it will come free, especially if you back up to the obstruction and jiggle from the other side.
Another trick to help focus on the job at hand in feeling for bites is to use your imagination. Imagine that the weight is just ticking over the rocks and rubble on the seabed (this feeling will be clearly transmitted from your tungsten weight and up through your braid) and a big squire is patrolling just off the bottom. The fish sees a small puff off the rubble created by your weight. It swims over to investigate and notices a small tasty critter floating along behind. Gotcha! Now tell me that won’t keep you on your toes, even on long fishing days.
Your two biggest assets will be patience and confidence. Admittedly the concept may seem a little boring if you are used to casting, but dragging is a proven fish catcher and can be an integral part of any arsenal. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be surprised that you didn’t try it sooner.
For the Splitshot Rig and Finesse Carolina, opt for a softer tipped spinning rod. This will allow you to feel the mushy bite and your weight working over the bottom. For example, with the combination of my Pflueger Medalist Dropshot rod, Platypus super braid and tungsten weight, I can feel every pebble or piece of weed that comes near my lure. This rod also has plenty of guts to give to the fish if required.
When angling at the heavy end of the Carolina spectrum, either a stout baitcaster or punchy spin rod will do fine.
High modulus graphite is very important for feeling the bites and the longer the rod the better as rod length helps in casting the rig. With short rods you just don’t seem to be able to slowly load them up easily enough to lob the weight and longish leader out there. So, long rods with a length of 2m or more preferred. The long rod also helps you to pick up line quickly as you sweep the rod sideways to set the hook if the fish runs towards you after it picks up the lure.
A size 35 or 40 threadline is perfect for the Finesse Carolina and Splitshotting outfit. The smoother the gearing and the more ball bearings – the better. You’d hate to have a little hiccup in the reel and keep thinking that you’d had a bite. I’ve seen that happen, which is one of the reasons why you shouldn’t wind the reel when you are feeling for a bite. For Traditional Carolina or ‘do-nothing’ rigs with heavier weights, go for a baitcaster reel/outfit.
My friends at Alvey would be jumping up and down as they read this, they’d be saying all that feel is just like you get normally with a sidecast or centrepin outfit, and with a direct drive Alvey there’s none of those gears to lose the feel like you mentioned in the article. Well they are right, the sidecast is a very good option when dragging.
For the finesse Carolina, I opt for 8lb Super Braid with a 10lb or lighter fluorocarbon leader. Or for traditional Carolina and do-nothing rigs I go for 20-30lb braid with a 10-17lb leader. With the heavier leader I’ll use mono if I want to float the lure a little higher, or fluorocarbon if I think reduced visibility is required.
I really love the versatility of these dragging rigs, as you can use so many different soft plastic options on the hook end of them.
You can use curl-tail grubs (a favourite), t-tail grubs, straight-tail worms, cut-tail worms or curl-tail worms, even very small creature baits like crawfish imitations. The soft plastic lizard has traditionally been the favourite but for finesse fishing the smaller grubs and worms get the nod. I prefer worms and lizards in the 4” (10cm) bracket and curl-tail grubs around 3” (7.5cm), but you can experiment with larger or smaller options. Make sure that your small hook correctly matches your bait. The idea is to downsize and have your lure sink slowly, wafting down after the weight.
Some of these riggings are suitable for bait fishing also. All you have to do is substitute a real bloodworm or strip of squid instead of the plastic worm. It might give you the confidence to then give a few soft plastics a try on your next trip.Reads: 600