A fishing lure attached to a fishing line

The Carolina Rig: Basic Set-up and Usage (2021)

Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.

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The Carolina rig is a bass fishing basic that all anglers should have in their fishing technique arsenal.

I used to wonder what the top anglers used to catch what seemed like endless amounts of bass in their time. I learned about their secret that was hidden in plain sight: The Carolina rig.

The day I started using the Carolina rig, I caught more big bass than ever before, so if you’re a fisherman who hasn’t tried it yet, now is the time. 

Join me as I run through everything you need to know about Carolina rig fishing from what it works, when to use it, to how to build the rig. 

What is a Carolina rig?

The Carolina rig is a kind of search bait that is used predominantly in bass fishing. It’s built with a weight above a swivel to help get your bait down further into the water while providing a great swimming action that bass tend to love.

How is the Carolina rig unique?

What makes the Carolina rig different from other rigs like the Texas rig is that the weight is kept separate from the bait by a swivel and a length of leader. 

This gives the bait a different action compared to a Texas rig and you can use a much heavier weight to catch more fish in deeper water.

Do Carolina rigs work?

Carolina rig, or the C-rig as it’s often referred to, does catch fish, like a lot of fish. The reason the Carolina rig works so well is that it allows you to use a range of different sinker weights to fish different depths, and the action it gives your bait is impossible for fish like bass to ignore. 

Fish being picked out of the water
Man fishing out a bass by hand

Every time your bait hits a current or has a depth change, it moves in a circular motion which fish love. Also, the way the C-rig is built means it makes some noise to grab the attention of more fish.

What is a Carolina rig best for?

The Carolina rig is one of the best rigs for bass fishing when you need to find fish. You can adjust the weight of the sinker to fish it in every depth of water so you can search for fish in large spaces of open water. 

TIP

You don’t just have to use a C-rig for bass either, you can also use it for catfish and other species that feed near to the bottom.

When should I use a Carolina rig? 

The C-rig is a great rig to have ready, as when nothing else is working, as it somehow does the trick. Many anglers prefer to use a Carolina rig in certain situations which I will run through below, and these are times when dragging a C-rig around is most effective and, albeit rarely, less time consuming.

When The Water Is Cold

During the winter months, late fall, and early spring when the water temperature drops, the fish tend to go deep to find warmer water and their metabolism drops, making them lethargic. This is when the Carolina rig comes into its own. 

With a heavy weight sinker and the circular motion, your bait or lure will swim in, you can get your bait/lure right in front of fish holding deep. They can’t help but want to taste soft plastic bait or creature baits that are swimming so temptingly in front of them.

When It’s Cloudy & Windy 

Just like us, when the weather is bad, the fish tend to retire deep into the lake or river and hold around the bottom and structure. Again, the Carolina rig is one of the best methods of casting your bait/lure down in front of them and you will feel confident catching more fish using it than with anything else.

When You’re Searching For Fish 

To catch fish, you have to find them first and when you’re bass fishing in a huge lake, you’re going to need to cover a lot of water efficiently to find them and strike before the day is out.

Silhouette of a man fishing on the beach at sunset
Don’t let the day pass you by!

Some anglers prefer using a spinner or lure in this situation rather than a Carolina or Texas rig. But, the great thing about the Carolina rig is that it can be fished quickly over a range of depths, which helps you cover ground quickly, knowing if there was some fish in the area, they would have seen it and snapped at it. 

When You’re Targeting Specific Cover 

Bass fish are opportunistic feeders and they will hide in cover and then leap out to surprise and eat anything that comes past.

When you find a bit of cover on your boat, like isolated brush piles in the middle of a lake, you can put the Carolina rig right in front of it thanks to the sinker and tempt a big bass to come out and eat. 

Pre Spawn Time

After a long and hungry winter, bass will move into shallow water as soon as it starts to eat up and begin feeding ravenously to build themselves up for reproduction. When this happens, you can put a light sinker on your Carolina rig, fish shallow, and wow, will you catch fish. 

This is because as the bass move to shallower areas, they are hugging the bottom and the Carolina rig stays nearer the bottom than any other, keeping your lures in the strike zone.

A school of fish underwater
A school of fish close to the lower depths

When Not To Use The Carolina Rig

While the Carolin rig works most of the time, there are moments when another rig will work better. 

  • If the bass are feeding near the surface, you’ll want to use a surface lure, not a Carolina rig, as it sits near the bottom, not near the top. 
  • Also, when anglers are fishing in areas with dense brush or weeds, the Carolina rig will snag the bottom and you’ll end up having to cut the line, and lose a hook or two. 
  • This is also the case when there is a rocky bottom, as the hook will be near the bottom and will happily snag every time it needs to. 

How to tie a Carolina rig

Now that we know how effective the C-rig is for anglers to catch fish with, it’s time we discussed how to tie the rig so you can have the perfect setup. Here is a list of the gear you’ll need to start Carolina rigging. 

  • Fluorocarbon leader line between 15-25 lbs 
  • A 1/0 to 3/0 worm hook for your lure/baits 
  • Soft plastic lure/baits 
  • Egg sinker and/or bullet sinker up to 3 ounces in weight
  • A glass or plastic bead 
  • A swivel 

To tie the Carolina rig, follow the instructions below

  • Take your Carolina rig rod and put the reel on and thread the main line through all the eyes of the rod
  • Take the main line and slide the sinker onto it
  • Now slide the plastic or glass bead on the same line
  • Tie the swivel onto the end of the main line with the bead and sinker above it with an improved clinch loop
  • Take the end of your leader line and tie it to the other end of the swivel with an improved clinch loop
  • Cut off the short leader line from the spool (not the swivel) so it’s 2-3 feet in length 
  • Tie on your hook to the end of the leader line with an improved clinch loop
  • Slide on your plastic baits to the hook, like a soft plastic worm

Here’s an instructional video if you’re more of a visual learner. This guy has some great content as well.

How to tie a carolina rig

How much leader do I need for a Carolina rig? 

Anglers tend to find around 1-3 ft of leader on this kind of setup works best. You don’t want it to be longer than 3ft from the swivel as it will affect the swimming or circular motion of your bait and you might not get any bites.

Also, if the leader is longer than this, you have more chances of snagging the bottom and there will be some delay before you notice a bite, giving a bass enough time to spit out the hook. 

TIP

You then need to adjust the leader length to the depth you’re fishing. If you are in shallower water, then switch to a 1ft leader to avoid snags as you drag it off the bottom. When in deeper waters a 3ft leader is best to allow the bait to stay near the bottom.

Plastic Beads vs Glass Beads – Which is better? 

While plastic beads are more affordable, glass beads make more noise in the water. As the sinker slides up and down the line, it hits the bead and swivel, making a sound the bass can hear and come to check out. When using a glass bead, the noise is much louder and will attract more bass and more bites to your bait.

Lead vs Tungsten Sinkers – Which is better? 

A tungsten sinker will cost you a lot more than a lead one but since tungsten is more dense than lead, your weight will be a lot smaller, sit deeper, and make more noise when it hits the beads and swivel. 

Lead sinkers and fishing accessories laid out on a surface
Lead sinkers and fishing accessories

I would suggest having both lead and tungsten weights to choose from. You can then use the lead weight in areas where you might get snagged on the bottom, costing you less if you lose your rig. Then use the tungsten weight when you have your boat in an area that is less risky. 

What rod for fishing a Carolina rig?

You’ll want a heavy fast action 7ft pole for fishing a Carolina rig. The extra length gives you more control over the weight and the strength makes it easy to lift the weight, especially when a big bass is attached to it.

What reel for fishing a Carolina rig? 

The key you need your reel to do is pick up line quickly when fishing this rig, which means you need a high gear ratio reel. 

TIP

You can use a baitcaster or spinning reel, whichever you feel most comfortable with, but make sure the reel has a 6:1 gear ratio or higher. 

How To Fish A Carolina Rig For Bass 

When you are fishing a Carolina rig, you are fishing the weight not the bait, as the weight is what you’ll be in direct contact with on your line and fishing pole. Once you have grasped this concept, there are quite a few different ways to fish a Carolina rig, depending on the area you are fishing in.

Sandy Bottoms With No Snags 

When you’re fishing an area with, say a sandy bottom with no snags, like a sandbank or a red clay point, you should fish the Carolina rig by dragging it along the bottom. 

Aerial shot of a man fishing on the beach
If only all fishing spots were as crystal clear

Cast your line out and let the rig sink to the bottom. Then begin dragging the weight along the bottom by making a sweeping motion with your rod. Every time you sweep and drag the rig, sweep back and pick up the slack line, then repeat. 

The weight will be stirring up sand/clay along the bottom and making a lot of noise which the fish will be attracted to. Then your leader will sit behind it with a baited hook ready for a fish to eat. 

TIP

When the rig is close to the boat, jig it up and let it drop a few times, if a bass is following, it will take the bait as when the bait rises, it looks like it’s fleeing. 

Deep Areas With Snags 

In deep areas with snags, you can’t drag the setup along the bottom as you’ll end up hooked on the bottom on sand or gravel and lose your rig, so you have to keep the rig moving.

The idea is to cast the line out and let the weight sink. As soon as you feel contact with the bottom, start sweeping your rod and winding the retrieve in fast enough to keep the leader and hook from snagging, but slow enough for a fish to catch the bait.

There is a fine balance to ensuring the rig fishes slow enough and deep enough without getting snagged, but with some practice, you’ll get the hang of it. 

Shallow Brush Areas

When fishing in shallower brush areas, the key is to not get snagged which means, again, keeping the rig moving and knowing the composition of the water bottom, like any rocks.

While casting your rig over the shallow brush and as soon as you feel the weight touch the brush, jerk the rod tip from 10 o’clock to 12 o’clock and wind in fast. Continuing this jigging/jerking motion gives your bait a rising and falling motion as it makes its way over the brush or structure where the bass will be hiding.

NOTE

Again, this method requires a balance of moving the rig fast enough not to get snagged or give too much slack but slow enough to make your bait look enticing to potential catch.

Bottom Bouncing 

When fish are sticking near the bottom of a lake or are around a specific point like a structure or drop-off, bottom bouncing a C-rig can be very effective.

Fish gathering in water under a rock ledge
Fish gathering under a rock; as above, so below

This involves dropping the rig to the bottom and then slowly lifting it and winding, then letting it hit the bottom again, and repeating. The idea is that this gives your lure / lures a motion of consistently rising and falling which fish can not stand to let pass by and must bite.

FAQs

Is a Carolina rig good for surf fishing?

The C-rig is excellent for surf fishing as it puts your baits where they need to be, on the bottom where fish like bread, reds, and flounder feed. 

It also presents your Carolina rig baits naturally with no weight around the hook, there is just a piece of fluorocarbon that the fish can not see.

Another great thing about it is that it works with the current. As the current moves the rig around, it gives the baits a good action and it makes lots of noise which attracts fish to come and take a look at it. 

What knot to tie on a Carolina rig? 

You can use a lot of different knots on a Carolina rig. I personally use an improved clinch knot as I like how neat it is and that it’s very secure, but this only works well on lighter mono/fluoro lines.

When using a heavy mono line of 40-50 lbs, a standard clinch loop will do fine, as the improved version doesn’t cinch down well with heavier lines.

If you’re using braid as your line, then you should use a Uni Knot, as the other knots will tend to slip a bit.

Rigging Out 

Thanks for reading my article, I hope you found it useful and now know everything you need to know about the Carolina rig. It’s extremely effective and something that every angler should have in their book of fishing tactics. It’s a great contrast to the Texas rig for bass fishing!

If your friends haven’t started using the C-rig, please share it with them too so they start catching as many fish as you will.

Three types of small lead sinkers by Raboe001 – licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

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Lance Wilkins
Lance Wilkins
Editor @ CallOutdoors. Outdoor gear-head and adventure addict. I fish, camp and enjoy to writing about my adventures.
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