Carolina Rig Guide: Everything You Need To Know

Caroline Rig Guide Thumbnail
Dale Shetler
By Dale Shetler
Updated March 5, 2020

If you’re sitting on the shore or in a bass boat and nothing seems to be biting, it might seem like all your go-to tricks and strategies are failing you. If you’re dying to get that big bass it might be time to break out the Carolina Rig.

How to Setup a Carolina Rig

Carolina Rig Setup Guide Infographic

A Carolina Rig is made by putting a slip sinker and bead on the line before your swivel and leader. Your bait is attached to the leader and you’re ready to go. The best Carolina Rig worms are soft plastic lures instead of live bait. Placing the sinker above the swivel causes the bait to spin in a circular motion.

A major advantage of the Carolina rig is the ability to adapt the rig based on the equipment available. With the most basic setup, a sliding bead is used along with the sliding sinker and both slide into the swivel. If line damage is a concern, a fixed bead can limit it. A neoprene stop attached to the swivel will eliminate line damage.

A 3-foot leader is usually recommended for all situations but like all things with this rig, that is not a concrete rule. If fishing in shallower waters, a shortened leader will also work. If fishing in deeper waters, it is still recommended to stick with the 3-foot length.

A rotating swivel is the most important part of the rig. If the swivel snags, it will keep the bait from spinning as it should. Tying to a spinning swivel ring can be difficult so Palomar knots are recommended to hold everything together.

One of the reasons this rig is so popular is because it can be set up in a few minutes.

Why do Carolina rigs work so well?

Bass have two different feeding patterns: opportunistic and aggressive. When in their aggressive feeding mode, the fish will attack anything that looks like food. The rig works well during this mode, but it really shines in during the lazy feeding mode. During this feeding mode, the bass stay in one spot and lazily look for food when they get hungry. With the Carolina lure, you can drop the bait right in front of the fish and it can decide if it wants to go for it or not. If it decides not to, the circular motion will bring the bait back around until it decides it does want to test it.

The sliding sinker keeps the rig low in the water and bass are more likely to bite. Many professionals will use this rig to find where the fish are before switching to another rig, but this isn’t always the best option.

When should I use a Carolina rig?

While the Carolina Rig is a very versatile tool, it performs best in certain circumstances. The best time of year to use the rig is during the winter months when bass are staying toward the bottom of the water.

On windy, overcast days, bass tend to swim around more than on sunny days. Using the rig on days like this gives it a chance to work in a larger area. The heavy sinker puts the rig on the bottom of the body of water and in the path of the fish.

How do you use a Carolina rig?

The rig works best with a stiff rod 7-foot or longer. It is recommended to use a baitcasting reel with a high-speed reel to quickly take the slack out of the line and set the hook once the bass bites.

After casting, hold your rod parallel to the water and move it from the 12 o’clock to the 2 o’clock position and back as slow as possible. When you keep doing this motion, the bait spins in the circular motion that attracts the fish. The lure should dance on the bottom.

How is the Carolina rig unique?

The Carolina rig is very close to the Texas Rig. Both rigs use a sliding sinker and a bead. The main difference is that the Texas rig doesn’t use a swivel and leader. This means that the hook itself sinks to the bottom. The hook placement is more important in the Texas rig than the Carolina rig. Instead of spinning in the water, the lure on the Texas rig “swims” through the water. Because there is no circular motion, the lure doesn’t cover as much area as with the Carolina rig.

Another popular rig is the dropshot rig. This rig uses a Palomar knot to attach a dropshot hook on the main line and a weight on the end of the line 10-12 inches below. This setup can anchor the hook in one spot or drag it across the bottom. The big difference between the Carolina Rig and the Dropshot Rig is the motion of the lure while you finesse it with the rod. A Dropshot rig twitches the bait right in front of the fish, enticing it to test it. The Carolina Rig dances around a larger area and could attract multiple bass or one specific fish at a slower pace than the dropshot.

When NOT To Use The Carolina Rig

While the Carolina Rig is extremely useful in most situations, there are some situations that a different rig should be used.

If you’re fishing in dense brush or other thick vegetation, the Carolina Rig tends to snag because of the long leader. Using a Texas Rig or Dropshot Rig will allow you to fish right up against or even in the brush.

Fishing with many rocks along the bottom could cause issues if the rig snags while rotating or dragging.

Options to Make the Rig Better

Many professional bass fishers recommend using tungsten weights with the rig. Tungsten is denser than lead, so the weights are smaller and sit on the bottom better and harder, so they make more noise on the line. They are more expensive so it might not be the best idea to use them in risky situations where you could need to cut the line.

Another option is to use glass beads instead of plastic. Plastic beads are cheaper, but glass beads are louder when they make contact with the tungsten sinker. If you need even more noise, two glass beads and a brass weight will make a solid sound.

Changing your leader line could also make a difference. Most professionals prefer a fluorocarbon line to get the sensitivity you need to detect a fish, but others recommend braided or monofilament line. It’s important that the leader is undetectable when it’s in the water.

Using the Carolina Rig for Other Fish

While the Carolina Rig is effective for bass, it can also be used for any other bottom-feeding species just by changing out the bait. It is a very common rig to use when trying to catch flounder or catfish.

When catfishing, the rig is called slip sinker rig and the tackle is much bigger than a rig used for bass. Instead of a typical 12 to 15-lb leader, catfish need a 40 to 50-lb leader (also read: best catfish rods).

When using the rig for flounder, a slightly heavier leader should be used.