Create basic fishing rigs
A fishing rig is whatever you tie on the end of your line to hold and present your bait. It’s a combination of hooks, sinkers, floats, snaps, swivels, leaders, and the knots that tie everything together.
Fishermen use many different rigs for special fishing situations. There are rigs for live bait and artificial lures. There are rigs for fishing on the bottom, on the surface and in between. There are rigs for trolling, drifting and staying in one spot. There are rigs for fishing in current and still water. There are rigs for using more than one bait at a time. Beginners don’t need to learn a lot of complicated rigs, for now, a few basic rigs will provide the means for catching most popular species in many settings.
Fishing Knots: Holding the Rig Together
One thing all fishing rigs have in common is knots, so learning to tie knots is the logical starting point in a discussion of rigs. You will have to tie knots several times on each fishing trip, so learn this lesson well!
Tying a knot in a fishing line weakens it. An improperly tied knot can reduce line strength by more than 50 percent. But a properly tied knot will retain up to 95 percent of line strength.
Following are instructions for tying six fundamental knots. The first three are used for tying line to hooks, sinkers, swivels, etc. The fourth knot is used to tie a loop in the line. The fifth knot is the one I use to tie two lines together when I’m adding line to my reel. And the sixth is a good knot for adding line to an empty reel spool.
When tying any of these knots, I always follow two rules: before snugging a knot tight, I always spit on it to lubricate it. Saliva reduces line-weakening friction and heat buildup as the knot draws tight. And I always leave 1/8 inch of line when I dip the tag end. This allows for some slippage in the knot without it coming undone.
Trilene knot-This is the knot I use for 90 pecent of my fishing. I tie it almost every time I need a line-to-hook or line-to-lure connection. It’s a very strong knot, and it takes only a small amount of practice to master. I highly recommend it. To tie the Trilene knot, run approximately 4 inches of line through the hook eye, loop it around and pass it through the hook eye again. Pull the line to draw the loop down to a small diameter (1/4-1/2inch). Now catch and hold this loop between your thumb and forefinger to keep it open. Wrap the end of the line around the standing line 5 times. Last, pass the end back through the loop, and snug the knot tight by pulling the standing line and the hook in opposite directions. ‘trim the tag end.
Palomar knot—This general-purpose knot offers maximum strength and versatility. The palomar knot is dependable and easy to tie, and is a good alternative to the Trilene knot.
To tie the palomar, bend the line back on itself to form a double strand 6 inches long. Pass this double strand through the hook eye, and tie a loose overhand knot, leaving a loop deep enough so the hook or lure can pass through it. Pass the hook through the loop, then tighten the knot by pulling the hook with one hand and the double strand of line with the other. Trim the tag end.
Improved clinch knot— This is a third general-purpose knot. It’s slightly weaker than the Trilene or palomar knot, but is strong and easy enough to tie to be the choice of many experts. To tie the improved clinch knot, thread the line through the hook eye 3-4 inches. Wrap the end of the line around the standing line 6 times. Then run the end back through the opening between the hook and the first wrap. Last, turn the end up and thread it through the long loop between the wraps and the downturned line. Hold the end and snug the line by pulling the standing line and hook in opposite directions. Clip the tag end.
Surgeon’s loop—When you want to tie a loop in your line, this is the knot to use. The surgeon’s loop knot is easy to tie, and it won’t slip.
To tie the surgeon’s loop knot, bend the line back to double it. Then tie a simple overhand knot. Instead of snugging this knot tight, make another wrap in the overhand knot. Now snug the knot tight and clip the tag end.
Blood knot—The blood knot is good for adding new line to old line on your reel. To tie the blood knot, overlap the two lines 4-5 inches end to end. Wrap one around the other 5 times. Next, wrap the second line around the first line 5 times in the opposite direction. Last, pass both ends back through the center opening in opposite directions. While holding these tag ends, snug the line up tight. Then trim the ends.
Line end knot—This knot is used for tying line to an empty reel spool. Its simple and allows the line to slide down snug against the spool. Begin by looping the line around the reel spool. Then tie a simple overhand knot around the standing line to form a slip knot. Last, tie another over-hand knot in the end of the line to anchor the slip knot when the line is drawn tight. Snug the line tightly around the reel spool and trim the tag end.
Hooks, Sinkers, Floats
Hooks, sinkers and floats are basic components in many fishing rigs. Different combinations of hooks, sinkers and floats produce rigs that can be used on everything from small panfish to large and agressive gamefish. These items of terminal tackle come in many different sizes and designs for a wide variety of applications and purposes.
Hooks: Getting to the Point
Hooks run the gamut from tiny wire hooks for trout to giant forged hooks for such saltwater brutes as sharks and marlin. Hooks also come in different thicknesses, temper (springiness), barb configurations and other features. Different styles of hooks bear different names: Aberdeen, 0 Shaughnessy, Carlisle, Limerick, etc. With so many variables, it’s easy to understand how a beginning angler can feel intimidated when faced with choosing just the right hook Making good hook selections, however, is easy if you follow a few basic guidelines. First, buy quality hooks, stick with popular brand names that are most widely advertised and distributed. Second, pay special attention to hook size. The simple rule is to use small hooks for small fish and big hooks for big fish.
It’s important to understand the system manufacturers use to label hook sizes. Smaller hooks are “number-sized,” the larger its number, the smaller the hook For instance, a #32 hook is tiny and used in small flies. A #10 hook is much larger and might be suitable for bluegill or perch. A #1 hook is larger still and a good size for crappie, walleye, small bass and catfish.
At this point, numbering switches over to the aught system and heads in the other direction. After a #1 hook, the next largest size is a 1/0 (pronounced one-aught), followed by 2/0, 3/0 and so on. These larger hooks are used for bigger bass and cat-fish, pike, muskies, stripers, lake trout, etc.
Sinkers: A “Weighty” Matter
Sinkers are weights that pull the bait down to the level the angler desires. Sinkers are molded —typically from lead—in many different designs and sizes. The type of sinker you use and how you use it depends on what rig and technique you select for the species you’re after. In terms of size, use a sinker heavy enough to do the job, but no heavier than it has to be. In most cases, the lighter the sinker, the less noticeable it will be to the fish.
The most common sinkers are those that damp directly onto the line. Split shot are small round balls that are pinched onto the line along a slit through the middle of the sinker. Clincher sinkers are elon-gated weights that pinch onto the line. Rubbercor sinkers resemble clinchers, but they have a rubber strip through the center. Line is looped behind this rubber to hold the sinker in place.
Sliding sinkers have holes through the middle so the line can slide freely through them. Three common examples are the egg sinker, the bullet sinker and the walking slip sinker.
Egg sinkers are used with stationary live bait rigs. The most common use for bullet sinkers is with Texas-rigged plastic worms. Walking slip sinkers are used with slip-sinker rigs to crawl live bait along the bottom. Various other sinkers are used with bottom-bumping or stationary rigs. Bell swivel sinkers are bell-shaped and have a brass swivel molded in. The line is tied to the swivel, which prevents line twist when you’re drift-fishing or bottom-bouncing. Bank sinkers are general purpose bottom sinkers which cast well, slide easily along smooth bottoms and hold well in current. Pyramid and inverted pyramid sinkers have sharp edges and fiat sides for gripping in soft, smooth bottoms.
Floats: Visual Strike Indicators
Most fishermen start out as bobber fishermen. They watch a float with a bait suspended beneath it, and they wait for a fish to pull the float under. This is a very simple yet effective and exciting way to fish. Floats actually serve two purposes. The first is to suspend the bait at whatever depth the angler wishes, and the second is to signal when a bite is occurring. A float holds the bait as shallow or deep as you desire. It allows you to dangle the bait just above bottom or suspend it over the top of brush, submerged weeds or other underwater cover. Also, if you want to fish close to the bottom, but you don’t know how deep it is, the float can tell you. If your sinker is resting on bottom, there’s no weight pulling against the float, so it will lie on its side on the surface. But when you shorten the length of line between your float and sinker so the sinker is no longer touching bottom, the pull will cause the float to ride upright. Then, knowing that your bait is a set distance below your sinker (i.e., 6 inches), you know how deep your bait is and its position relative to the bottom. Floats come in many materials, shapes and sizes. Most floats are made from hard or foam plastic, wood, cork or porcupine quills. Float designs include round, tubular, barrel-shaped, pear-shaped, quill-shaped, and combinations of these designs. Long, slender floats are more sensitive to light bites than round ones. Slender floats cast better since there’s less wind resistance. I recommend them over round floats for most small-bait, light-tackle situations. If you’re fishing for larger fish with larger baits, sensitivity isn’t so critical, and round floats will work fine. A good compromise for general use is the combination of a round or barrel float with a quill-like stem passing through the center. The thick part provides buoyancy for the sinker/hook/bait, while the quill adds sensitivity to indicate that you’ve got a bite.
Most floats attach to the line with a small, spring-loaded wire dip. Others are pegged onto the line and a third group slides up and down the line freely. Don’t make the mistake of fishing with a float that’s too large. Select a float that’s the smallest possible size considering the weight of your sinker, hook and bait. You want the float to ride high on the surface, but the slightest tug should pull it under. If a float is too large, smaller fish will have trouble swimming down with the bait. This unnatural resistance may alert them to danger. So keep several different-sized floats in your tackle box to match different fishing conditions and rigs.
Snaps, Swivels, Snap Swivels, Split Rings and Leaders
Snaps, swivels, snap swivels, split rings, and leaders are additional types of terminal tackle for use with various rigs and lures. A snap is a small wire bracket with a safety-pin catch. It’s simply a device for changing lures or hooks faster and easier. Tie the line to one end and snap the lure on the other end. To change lures, simply unsnap the catch, take the old lure off, put the new one on and fasten the catch back. A snap, however, adds more weight, drag and hardware that the fish might see. Also, snaps occasionally bend or break under pressure. A swivel is a small revolving metal link that’s often tied between the main line and other components of the terminal rig. A swivel prevents line twist caused by rotating lures or natural baits. Like snaps, swivels also have drawbacks. The best swivels are ball-bearing swivels that revolve under less pressure than other swivels. The three-way swivel is an important specialty swivel. As its name describes, it has three tie-on rings and is used in some bottom-fishing rigs.
A snap swivel is a combination of a snap and a swivel. Many fishermen use snap swivels with all types of rigs and lures. In most cases, however, they’re unnecessary and even ill-advised. Snap swivels add weight, which can deaden the action of a lure. They can create a weak link between line and hook and increase the chance of fouling on brush or weeds. The split ring is a small overlapping wire ring threaded into the eye of a lure—the line is tied to the ring. This allows the lure more freedom of movement and more lifelike action. A leader is a length of fishing line or thin wire tied or fastened between the main line and the hook/lure. Leaders serve either of two main purposes: they increase line strength next to the hook and provide a low-visibility connection. This keeps visible line from scaring fish and makes the bait look more natural. Leaders can also mean an additional length of line tied into a terminal rig to add extra hooks.
Rigs for Everyday Fishing
Following are explanations and diagrams of nine basic rigs, including how to tie them and where and how to use them. Sizes of hooks, sinkers, floats and lines in these rigs will vary from one fishing situation to the next, depending on size and strength of target fish, water depth, bottom type, amount of current and other variables.
This is the old standby float/sinker/hook rig that catches almost anything. It’s used mainly in calm water (ponds, lakes, rivers or pools of streams). It works with both poles and casting tackle, although it’s awkward to cast with more than 3 feet of line between the bobber and hook.
To assemble this rig, first tie the hook to the end of the line. Next, fasten a split shot, clincher or Rubbercor sinker 6 inches up the line. Clamp or wrap the sinker tightly onto the line so it won’t slip down. Last, attach a bobber onto the line at the desired distance above the sinker. The bobber can be adjusted up or down the line to float the bait at whatever depth you desire. Always balance the size of the sinker and float. Use just enough sinker to take the bait down, then match this with a float barely large enough to hang on the surface. When a fish is nibbling, the bobber will twitch on the surface. When the fish takes the bait, the bobber will move away fast or be yanked underwater. That’s the time to set the hook!
The slip-bobber rig is so-named because the bobber slides freely up and down the line. It allows you to offer the bait at any desired length. The slip-bobber rig is similar to the fixed-bobber rig, with the exception of the free-sliding bobber. Pass the line through the middle of the bobber and run it up the line first. Next, attach a sinker 6 inches up the line. The bobber will slide down and rest atop the sinker. Then tie the hook on the end of the line. Last, a bobber stop is attached to the line above the bobber that gives the depth where you want to fish. For instance, to fish 5 feet deep, tie the bobber stop 5 feet up the line from the hook.
A bobber stop is a short piece of plastic tube with thread tied loosely around it. To use this stop, run it up the line first, then follow with the float, sinker and hook as described above.
When casting with a slip-bobber rig, the bobber, sinker, hook and bait are near the end of the line. When the rig hits the water, the weight of the sinker and hook pulls the line through the bobber until it hits the stop.
This is the basic rig for fishing on the bottom without a float. Bottom rigs are used for bottom-feeding species. This rig is built around a three-way swivel. Tie the main line into one ring of the swivel. Tie a 12-inch leader on the second ring of the swivel, and tie a bank or bell swivel sinker on the other end of this leader. Last, tie an 18-inch leader into the third ring of the swivel. The hook and bait go on the end of this leader.
The bottom rig is highly versatile. It can be used from shore or boat, with light or heavy tackle. Length of the leaders for the sinker and hook/bait may be altered as desired. Typically, though, the hook leader should be longer than the sinker leader.
This stationary rig allows natural action from live bait. It can be used in any type of water and for a wide variety of fish. To tie this rig, run a sliding egg sinker up the line. Clamp on a BB-size split shot sinker below the sinker, 18 inches up from the end of the line. This split shot keeps the egg sinker from riding down on the bait. Last, tie the hook on the end of the line, and bait it with a minnow or night crawler. The bait can swim freely off the bottom and pull the line through the sinker.
Also called the walking-sinker rig, this rig is used to pull live bait across the bottom, either by trolling or casting and slowly cranking in line. This rig is highly effective on walleye, but it can also be used for many other species. Slide a walking-type sinker up the line, then tie on a small barrel swivel. Tie a 3-foot monofilament leader onto the other end of the barrel swivel, and add the hook at the end of this leader. Bait with a night crawler, leech, crawfish or minnow. Most experts troll or drag slip-sinker rigs with spinning tackle. When a fish takes the bait, they trip the bail and the fish can run. When the run stops, they reel in slack line until they feel pressure on the line, then they set the hook!
Bottom bouncers are weighted wire devices used to troll baits along snaggy bottoms. Thin steel wire is bent into an “L” shape. A lead weight is molded around the center of the long arm. The short arm has a ring for tying on a 3-foot leader and hook. The main line is tied into the 90-degree bend of the “L” between the two arms.
The bottom bouncer is mainly used from a boat. It is lowered to the bottom and pulled slowly through likely structure. Enough line should be let out so the bottom bouncer is trailing well behind the boat. The wire holds the weight up off the bottom and the leader and baited hook float behind, just above the bottom.
Two-Hook Panfish Rig
This is a deep-water rig and is fished “tightline” fashion (no float) from a boat. The sinker is on the bottom of this rig, and it’s jigged slowly off bottom while two baited hooks dangle above it.
First, tie a bell swivel sinker to the end of the line. Next, tie a surgeon’s knot 18 inches above the swivel to form a loop that is big enough to stretch 3 inches. Now tie an identical loop 18 inches up from this first loop. Last, add hooks to the loops in the following manner. Pinch the loop closely together so the line is doubled, then run it through the eye of a thin wire hook (#2-1/0). Then open the loop and pull the hook back through it. Slide the hook tight at the end of the loop, and add bait.
Texas-Rigged Plastic Worm
The Texas-rigged worm is the favorite way to use plastic worms. A Texas-rigged worm is weedless and can be crawled through thick cover. Start by running a sliding bullet sinker up the line (1/8-3/8 oz. for depths up to 10 feet), then tie on a plastic worm hook. Insert the point of the hook 1/2 inch into the head of the worm. Now pull the point out the side of the worm, and slide the worm up the shank of the hook until the eye is pulled into the head of the worm. Last, rotate the hook and reinsert the point into the side of the worm, completely covering the barb. Done correctly, the worm will hang straight with the hook in place.
Rigged in this manner, the sinker will slide freely along the line. Many anglers prefer to peg the sinker at the head of the worm. This can be done by using a screw-in sinker or by inserting the small point of a flat toothpick to provide resistance. Then slide the sinker down the line to the head of the worm, and it’ll stay in place.
Carolina-Rigged Plastic Worm
Where the Texas-rigged worm is meant for fishing in heavy cover, the Carolina-rigged worm is designed for open structure fishing and covering long distances of a submerged channel dropoff, sunken point, bank, etc. It’s very similar to the live-bait rig, except it uses a plastic worm for bait. It’s also a very easy rig to use. You simply make a long cast, allow the rig to sink to the bottom, then crank it back in very slowly. There are two basic presentations: dragging—pulling sideways with the rod tip; and small hops by making vertical lifts with the rod tip. To make a Carolina rig, run a heavy bullet slip sinker(-1 oz.) up the line; then tie a barrel swivel on the end of the line. Next, tie a 3-foot leader with a hook and plastic worm or lizard on the end. With this rig, the bait is usually fished with the point exposed. Do this by inserting the point of the hook into the head of the worm/lizard and then threading the worm around the bend of the hook and up the shaft. Last, pull the point out the top of the bait, and pull the bait up to straighten it. The worm/lizard should hang straight on the hook.