The cool thing about fishing Mexican bass lakes is the laidback, casual ambiance. No one’s in a big hurry, there’s never a line at the boat ramp and it doesn’t take a lot of fancy gear to boat some of the biggest bass you’ll ever see.
On the other hand, this distinct departure from modernized bass fishing presents the occasional speed bump on the road to opportunity. Take, for instance, my past trip to Lake El Salto, during which the water release schedule started claiming some of the better shoreline spots of an area we were fishing and pulling bass into deep water. Essentially, the area was a big bowl – very likely with a whole lot of bumpy stuff in the vicinity. Basically, bass heaven.
Only problem was that the guide boats had no electronics and this was a few years before the various Smartphone tools that now make an angler’s job easier. That being said, old-fashion fish-finding skills never need a waterproof case and they never run out of battery.
My partner for this day was former Bassmaster Elite Series pro Marty Stone and it didn’t take long for him to locate the meat pile by using one of fishing’s most underrated techniques – Carolina rigging. For Stone, the task was simple – paint the bottom with a Carolina rig, until he dialed in the sweet spot.
While others continued trying to find shallow bites, Stone whacked big fish after big fish, until word of his success brought half a dozen boats from our group to the new-found community hole. Confident in his methods, he sang the praises of a rig that often gets way too little love, despite its ability to deliver lights-out productivity.
“Your strength may be fishing the bank but if all of those big fish have swum off that bank, you can fish your strength all day long but you’re not going to catch anything except the bank runners,” Stone said.
“Carolina rigs work anytime except during the spawn. The time when I will start my day with a rig is the pre-spawn. Those fish are ganged up; waiting to come in and you can get well in a hurry.”
During summer and winter’s extremes, Carolina rigs excel for dredging the deep stuff. Come fall, when bass follow bait schools back into creeks and coves, probing main lake points and later, those secondary points offers an effective option to cranking.
Now the basic formula of bead-weight-bead-swivel-leader-hook gets the job done in most cases, but here’s a few tips to improve C-rig productivity:
Heavy Thoughts: Carolina rig weights vary from bullet styles similar to flipping rigs, to egg shapes and even cylinders for slipping through persistent snags. Lead sees plenty of action, but the denser and harder tungsten transmits more bottom detail up the line and into your hands. Moreover, tungsten weights are smaller than corresponding lead items, so presentations are more streamlined.
Stone prefers tungsten, as the denser material is essential for “reading” the bottom and deciphering all of those little bumps and rattles.
“If you can’t feel what that bait is doing, you’re just throwing something out there and hoping (a fish) comes up and bites it,” he said. “You’re going to miss structure and you’re going to miss a lot of fish. It’s all about the feel.”
Bait Up: Carolina rigging welcomes a variety of back-end options from straight worms to fancy creature baits. The palette is yours to paint, but don’t hesitate to experiment with bait shapes, sizes and colors – especially when steady action starts to decline. Stone typically starts out with a Zoom 5-inch Magnum Finesse Worm but he’ll work in a 7-inch Zoom Trick worm and a Baby Brush Hog as needed.
“After I have caught a few fish and they slow down, I’ll change baits and give them a different look,” he said. “Normally, if you have a school of active fish, they’ll hit whatever you throw in there. I’ve found that when the bite slows down, by throwing a different bait in there, I can pick up another bite or two.”
When tough conditions find the fish playing hard to get, think finesse and downsize your weight – the smallest size that will maintain bottom contact. Wary fish may be drawn to a big weight’s sound and “mudding”, but a larger profile could spook them.
Tackle Talk: The longer your weight is on the bottom, the longer the Carolina rig is doing its job. Therefore, a stout rod with plenty of backbone and a fast tip enables those long casts that keep your rig in the game. Most C-riggers go with a 7- to 7 ½-foot medium heavy rod and a 6.3:1 baitcaster loaded with either 40- to 50-pound braid or 15- to 17-pound fluorocarbon.
Braid can lengthen casts and complement the tungsten’s sensitivity. But, as Stone notes, fluoro sinks fast and gets the bait down to where the fish are, while adding abrasion resistance to repel tough environments.
As for the long rods, he believes that maximizing his range benefits the overall game: “I stretch it out as far as that weight and fluorocarbon will allow me to throw. Always stay away from the fish. Also, you may come across something you didn’t see before.
“A lot of your bites come on the end of a long cast and with that fluorocarbon and the longer rod, you can really move some line and drive that hook up in there.”
Proper Presentation: Stone notes that a fast reel affords the necessary swiftness for long-distance connections. Especially in deep water, Carolina rig hook sets depend on your ability to quickly transition from a slow dragging motion to a rapid rate of line collection that enables you to drive the hook home.
Stone also admonishes jerking on a slack line. “The fish moves left and you think he moved right; you’re ¾ the way into your hook set before you come tight on the fish. That’s why I keep all the slack out of my line, so when I set the hook, all the pressure goes into driving that hook into the fish’s jaw.”
Maintaining contact with the bottom is crucial to putting on a good show, so keep the rod low and make lateral sweeps, rather than the upward strokes of Texas rigging. Picture an eel or a salamander scooting across the bottom. Theirs is a mostly horizontal track, so nix the hopping stuff.
Intrinsic to effective C-rigging is a slow, methodical presentation. Move the bait with the rod and then gather slack with your reel. Moving your bait by reeling greatly reduces your sensitivity – in terms of reading the bottom and detecting strikes. And don’t sweat the swing-and-miss. If a fish bites and you fail to connect, just keep your bait in the strike zone and if the original bass doesn’t follow up, one of his brethren likely will.