Sometimes called the idiot rig, something so easy a child could use it, the Carolina-rig is probably the most underrated technique in today's bass fishing arsenal. True, the rig is easy to use, but it becomes more complicated when you expand on its capabilities. Not only is it one of the most productive rigs I have used, it is also the most versatile. I will show you the different rigs and when to use them, different retrieves for both active and inactive fish, and a variety of lures that work best in several situations.
There are several different ways to rig a Carolina-rig for different situations. For deep, rocky areas my favorite rig consists of a 1/2 oz. - 1 oz. egg sinker, a glass bead, swivel, and a 3-4 foot leader followed by the hook. The reason I prefer the egg sinker is because of its round fat shape it doesn't wedge in between the rocks as much as a bullet sinker will. This will save many rigs from being lost, and will save valuable time by not retying all the time. I have also experimented with the walking type sinkers normally used for drifting or trolling for walleyes. The stand up design is virtually snag resistant, but whenever possible I still prefer the egg singer. The shorter leader I have found produces more strikes for me, especially from smallmouth, which like to suspend about 4 feet off the bottom. If I'm targeting largemouth that are very active I will increase the leader to 6 or 7 feet. The lure tends to have more action with a longer leader to entice strikes from these active largemouth.
In the early spring, when the bass start making their transition from their winter homes to the flats to spawn is perhaps the best time to utilize the Carolina-rig. At this time of the year the fish are still relatively deep, more than 12 feet, and are not fully active. A slow, subtle presentation is in order to draw strikes. I like to use a small, action-less lure at times like this. Good choices are a 4" ring worm, a french fry, or a small 3" crawfish imitation. One lure that I have started experimenting with this past fall with great success is the Lunker City Spanky. This is a "wacky" style 5" worm, where both ends are thicker than the center. When texas-rigged, the thick front of the bait prevents it from hanging in rocks and brush, and the thick rear of the bait gives it a slight action as it deflects of the bottom structure. Try sticking with dark natural colors at this time, black, brown, pumpkinseed are all good choices. Also, my leader will tend to be short, 3' at most, to keep the lure right on the bottom. My retrieve is also slow, utilizing the rod make VERY slow drags, about a foot at a time, and pause at the end of each drag to allow the bait to sit motionless. While making the drags it's a good idea is to hold the line in front of the real between your thumb and index finger. This helps increase the sensitivity, so you can feel the weight drag across every small piece of structure on the lake floor. It also aids in detecting subtle strikes. You must maintain contact with the bait, taking up the slack after every drag, again to detect strikes. As soon as a strike is detected, reel down until you just start to feel the weight of the fish and then set the hook using a sideways sweep utilizing your hips to turn your whole body. Remember, this fish can be in 25 feet of water at times, and monofilament has a great deal of stretch, so you must take up a lot of line in order to get a firm hook-set. To ensure a solid hook-set, I use a 7' medium heavy Lamiglas 4 power rod, which has a limber enough tip to give you the sensitivity to feel the weight bounce across the bottom. On the business end of the rig, I always use a 3/0 or 4/0 Gamakatsu light wire round bend worm hook. With the light wire, I do not need as much force to drive the hook through the bass' mouth. I feel that the straight shank and round bend also increase my hook up ratio. Once you set the hook you'll know you have a fish, this technique has produced numerous smallmouths over 4 pounds for me, not too mention the quality largemouths that have also succumbed to this.
After the fish have spawned, they become very inactive, and not willing to bite for a week or so. All their energy has been spent doing their yearly ritual, and they're tired. They will usually retreat from the flats to the first drop off. At this time of the year an even more subtle presentation is needed, this is when I use what I call a "finesse Carolina-rig". It consists of an 1/8 oz or a 3/16 oz bullet sinker, in front of a glass bead, and a short 18" leader. Try using small baits such as a 3" tube jig, 3" grub, or a 3" Lunker City Hellgramite. I have found the Hellgramite to be quite effective, due to all the many tentacles that just sway with the underwater currents. The retrieve for this rig is very, very, slow, and requires a great deal of patience. Targeting the 6-10 foot range, simply cast out, and allow it to settle to the bottom. Keep the rod up high at about the 10 o'clock position, and gently begin shaking the bait. You should be able to feel the sinker and glass bead collide with every shake, if your doing it right. Do this until your rod is at the 12 o'clock position, then reel up the slack and repeat. What this does is create a constant noise while keeping the bait in the same general area, to the point that a bass gets so aggravated he has no choice but to strike.
By early summer when weed growth has begun, I probe the deeper edges for largemouth. When fishing in the weeds I modify the rig slightly. Instead of an egg sinker, I switch to a bullet weight, which has a more aerodynamic shape. This helps the rig come through the grass beds, with minimal resistance and catches less weeds. The size of the weight will vary, according to the thickness of the grass, and the mood of the fish. If the grass is very thick, with the fish in a neutral to active mode, usually suspending at the top of the grass, I will use weights in the range from 1/4 oz to 1/2 oz. In this situation I want the rig to ride on top of the grass, not really burying down into it. I will use about a 5 foot leader, with a more active lure, something like a 5" lizard or a 7" worm. My favorite colors are black, pumpkinseed, and grape. With this situation a different retrieve is also called for, just a simple steady medium retrieve using just the reel to move the lure will entice some vicious strikes from these fish.
Whatever season, whatever conditions or mood of the fish, I always have a Carolina-rig tied on to one of my rods. It is the best tool I have seen for really getting an idea of what the bottom is like. It does even better than my $800 depth finder in giving me a visual picture of the structure below. With this rig you can dissect a piece of structure, and learn where the drop's exact location is, and what the bottom composition is like. Within a few casts from different angles I can tell the exact shape of the piece of structure and the sharpest drop-offs on it. I may not use the rig to catch the fish relating to the structure, but I will use it to familiarize myself with each specific part of that structure. By doing this I have found small brush piles, or areas that change from fist size rocks to gravel, and little things like this is what will hold concentrations of fish. Most anglers will also over look it, so you can have it all to your self.
The next time you're on the water, whether it be your favorite lake, or somewhere new, give the Carolina-rig a try. It will open your eyes to what is really below the surface, and it will catch you some fish, I guarantee it. The next time some tells you the Carolina-rig is an idiot bait, tell them it is, because you're an idiot if you don't give it a try. Trust me, you will not be disappointed.