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Carolina Rigging Basics

Learning to fish a plastic worm is serious business because it is the most productive and consistent way there is to catch bass. The angler who is just starting out usually goes through a long and difficult period of trying to develop the 'feel' of the slowly fished worm, with every rock and obstruction on the bottom causing him to want to set the hook.
In reality, 'the only way to learn to fish the plastic worm is to fish the plastic worm'.
Actually,this statement holds true for learning how to fish any new lure or technique! That statement is not meant to be funny, but to make the point that worm fishing takes a lot of practice to master. However, there is an easy way to fish the worm.
It is just as productive as any of the other methods (often better), is simple, and provides an excellent way to develop that 'feel' of the lure and the strike of the fish. What's this fantastic secret, you ask? Why, none other than the 'Carolina rig'.

Basic rules:

Texas rig in cover or where an open-hook worm (if that's what you were fishing) would get hung. Carolina rig anywhere it can be fished; normally clean hard (hopefully rough) bottom. C-rig CAN be fished in cover, even light weeds IF you downsize the sinker and get a really buoyant worm on a long leader and fish s-l-o-w. C-rig has more feel and more control. Best bet when deep application is in order. Sinks faster and easier to feel. These are basics and everyone sorta finds ways to adapt it to certain other conditions. The way to learn to fish a C-rig is to fish a C-rig.
This particular method of rigging the plastic worm apparently had its origin with Carolina fishermen, hence its name. Research on the subject indicates that North Carolina anglers devised it in the tidal waters of Pamlico and Currituck Sounds as a way to keep the lure out of the grass. South Carolina bassers indicate, just as strongly, that it had its start on the deep water ledges and drops in Santee Cooper Lake. Regardless of the historical rivalry, the angler who was the first to wet a line with this lure configuration did you and I a great favor and made many of us utter that old expression, "Now, why didn't I think of that?" Let's cover how to set up the Carolina rig and then we'll go into detail on how to use it.

Place a one-half ounce slip sinker (that is plenty big enough unless you are going below 25 feet) on your line, add a plastic bead, and tie on a good swivel. The bead should have a GOOD SIZE HOLE in it. The intent is to keep the weight from beating on and wearing the knot through. Forget all that stuff about noise-making rattles and sounds from the beads. That big sinker makes all the noise you need as it rubs on the bottom!!
To the swivel, add a 36 inch piece of leader. Add a very sharp hook to the end of the leader 1/0 for 4 inch worms; 2/0 for 5 inchers; 3/0 for 7-8 inchers). This hook should have a couple of barbs on the shank to hold the worm in place, or be a Southern Sproat style (double 90 degree bends below the eye). Select a plastic worm that you like. A straight-tail worm seems best. The 4 incher will get a lot of attention and help you find fish faster. Thread it on the hook in the normal manner of a 'Texas' rig and you're in business.

The heavy slip sinker is essential, in that it keeps us in firm contact with the bottom and allows for maximum 'feel' of the lure. This also permits us to stay in contact with the lure when fishing it on deep structure. Logically, if we are fishing shallow grass flats, a somewhat lighter sinker should be used to prevent constant hanging up. However, it is my experience that the Carolina rig is best when restricted to use on fairly clean, hard bottom areas. In those situations, always go with a heavy sinker. An excellent 'rule of thumb' is to always double the size of the sinker in comparison to what you would use if fishing a conventional 'Texas' rig.

The length of the leader can vary from 20 to 48 inches. Normally, the leader should be of less pound test than the main line, so it will break off when snagged and not the whole rig. Most any type of plastic worm or lizard works well with this lure configuration. I have, personally, found that the 'swimming tail' types produce more bass than any other in the 6-inch and above sizes. A grub-size plastic lure is also extremely effective, especially when used in an area of current flow. Again, it is much better if it has a twister tail to give it more life-like action.

But, the most consistent, deadly Carolina Rig worm is the 4-inch straight version (the Slider or Power Worm Finesse style) rigged with a small #1 or #1/0 hook. Fishing the Carolina Rig is the simplest part of all. You do not need to do any of those exotic, 'fishy' things like twitches and jerks.

Simply cast in out, let it sink to the bottom and then reel it back very s-l-o-w-l-y. The heavy sinker will allow you to feel every irregularity on the bottom and to stay in intimate contact with your lure. The only retrieve variation required is an occasional pause, if you are fishing in an area of moving water. Other than that, keep the lure moving. As with any plastic worm configuration, a lot of strikes will come on the fall as the lure is sinking to the bottom, so watch your line closely for that tell-tail twitch.

As you are slowly moving the lure across the bottom, the strike of a fish is easy to detect, much more so than with the "Texas" rig. Because the worm is off the bottom a bit, the bass will normally inhale the lure and turn away. This presents the only problem with the Carolina Rig, in that if you are a dedicated 'catch and release' angler, you are going to kill more fish, simply because the majority will be hooked rather deep, in the back of the throat. Careful handling and a good pair of needle-nose pliers will save a good number, but, if they are hooked deeply, it will be best to simply cut the line and let the fish's body processes eject the hook.

The prime application of the Carolina Rig is deep water fishing, but it also effective in the more shallow zones. Few of us venture into deep water, simply because it is a pain in the tackle box. Our lures take forever to get to the bottom and then it is difficult to feel and stay in contact with them. The Carolina Rig solves all that and even makes working deep water structure as easy as the shallow areas. This is one of the secrets of the 'pros' and an essential tool of their trade.

Regarding the use of a bead on a C-rig, it would seem logical that the sinker against the bottom would make more than sufficient noise to attract attention. Especially with the Carolina Rig. While it would also seem logical that using a bead as well does not hurt anything, I can see no real advantage from a noise viewpoint. HOWEVER, if you will use a bead with a LARGE opening (but not so large the hook eye can go up in it), you will find the knot will cradle up in that opening and the weight will not beat the knot to death. That is the REAL advantage of the bead , but only if you use the one with the right size opening. Again, I don't think it hurts, but also don't think it helps. So, it is like most other things - sort of what you feel most comfortable with and will keep in the water the most. Because - 'Dry lures are gonna catch darn FEW bass!!'

A little trick is to add a bead in front of the weight to inhibit the sliding of the heavy weight up the line when casting. This will make casting the long leader much easier!
If you really want the optimum Carolina rig sinker, you need to know that you've had access to it all the time. Sort of like Dorothy and her 'go home' shoes in the Wizard of Oz. This one: It won't twist your line

It is easy as the dickens to thread; no closed holes, no tiny openings, no line getting stuck half way through It rarely gets hung up, and when it does, it is pretty easy to get loose because it doesn't wedge itself with a tapered body It makes a lot of noise on a hard bottom; much more than a slip sinker weight You don't need a bead because the opening for the line is large enough to fit over the knot and not beat it to death It has been around for years and is tried, true, tested and proven It will not normally cause line twist The application it is normally used for is JUST LIKE Carolina rig fishing, EXCEPT those fishermen usually use live bait If you haven't guessed by now (and I'll bet 99.9% of you haven't because it's so obvious; I sure didn't think of it, either), it is the 'Walking Sinker'.

For you young guys who never Walleye fished and never heard of this classic piece of gear, go to the Bass Pro Shops catalog and find it. It will solve all your problems. Al Linder and his brothers have been marketing them for years with the application of slow trolling 36 or so inches of line on the bottom with live bait for Walleye. Their rig is basically a Carolina setup and the sinker is perfect.

Recently, we experimented a good bit with the walking sinker. I also was trying to find ways to stop break-offs of the C-rig. (Retying is a pain!! I have to cut another leader, thread that line through a new sinker (I use braid; what a pain to thread through that small hole), get a bead, tie a swivel, tie on the leader, and finally tie on the hook. One cast, I get hung, and it may start all over again.) Well, I fished rip-rap with the C-rig for 2 days, only got hung TWICE, and DID NOT have to retie once. How, when I usually lose 5-6 rigs on that rip rap every day?? It sounds like magic. But, it was the walking sinker. And, that is its primary application - rough bottom areas where sinker snags are frequent. But, if you have grass or such on the bottom, go back to a bullet sinker. It will pick up much less vegetation.

The real beauty of the Carolina Rig is its simplicity. It allows the newcomer to quickly master the mysteries and intricacies of plastic worm fishing.
And, it also happens to catch a LOT of bass!!!

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