It was 2012 when the “Alabama Rig” first started being widely used by bass fisherman. But, as the old testament verse reminds us, there is really nothing new under the sun, and, as it turns out, what Paul Elias used to win a high-profile Guntersville bass tournament was not as revolutionary as many were thinking. It was a modification of a saltwater trolling rig fishermen were already using for striped bass- the “Umbrella Rig”.
As fishing lore has it (oh yes, pun intended) the first group of anglers to extensively use the ’Bama rig was the “Bass Pack” fishing team from N.C. State University. The college boys often fished Lake Gaston on the Virginia-North Carolina border and it was there that they adapted the striper rig to largemouth fishing, often astonishing observers with their catches. Typically at local tournaments on the 20,000 plus acre lake, 15 pounds for a five fish limit was the average. The Bass Pack members however, were regularly weighing in 20-pound plus limits. Soon, other anglers were winning tournaments on the Roanoke River impoundment with the umbrella rig, and before long, local tournament anglers fishing the rig had amassed winnings of over $75,000!
The Alabama Rig has been patented by designer Andy Poss in 2011. It was originally exclusively licensed to Mann’s Bait Company. They spent months testing and refining this rig, trying different materials, wires, swivels etc. to come up with just the right performance features. The Alabama has been designed as a system, optimizing the type and diameter of the wire in combination with the swivels, snaps, and heavy gauge light weight jig heads. There are similar rigs on the market that incorporate spinnerbait components. The rig offers flexibility. Early winners used lures such Strike King’s soft-plastic Shadilicious paddle-tail minnow rigged on an extra wide gap hook jig head – choices and combinations can be as varied as the hatch being matched.
The Gaston fishermen fished the Alabama Rig by casting it toward shore and reeling it back with enough speed to let the lure tick across the top of the grass. The key they said was to develop a feel and vary the speed because not only are the weeds sometimes found at different depths in a lake – depending on water clarity – sometimes the same grass bed drops away resulting in the need for your lure to run deeper. The rig can be effective as far as 10-12 feet down. Just make sure you don’t reel too slowly as you’ll get the lures snagged in the grass leading to an untangling mess.
In terms of rigging the Alabama Rig there are a number of instructional videos available on the web each advising to start by spreading the wires far enough so as not to tangle during rigging. Most recommend starting out using 1/8 ounce jig heads on the two top outside wires, a heavier 1/4 to 1/2 ounce jig head on the inside center wire, and 1/4 ounce on the two bottom outside wires to balance everything out. Experience and listening to other fishermen will be your best teacher as to what is most effective for you. Most fish are caught either on the middle jig or one of the two bottom jigs.
Once you have the rig set, the options for soft plastic are endless. www.keitechusa.com If you are fishing smooth bottoms, shell-mounds or pea gravel bottoms, rig with the hooks exposed. If you are fishing heavier cover like a stump field, standing timber or grass-beds then rig in your favorite weedless method. When fishing the Alabama, you will need a medium to heavy rod- somewhere in the 7-8’ range. A high speed (6.3:1 to 7.0:1 ratio recommended) 18-20 pound fluorocarbon. Keitech Ball head
1/4-1/32 ounce jigs with 2/0 3/0 hooks I also like the Keitech soft plastic, using the Easy Shiner and Fat Impact..
When bait fish are schooling, using your electronics to locate active pods is going to be perfect for the Alabama Rig. Search for ledges, mounds, drops, stump fields etc. with “Down Imaging” can lead to a big day. Once you locate the fish, drop a marker buoy to get a reference point for your casts. Note the depth as this will give you a reference on retrieve speed to get to the depth where the fish are feeding. You will have to determine the speed the fish want the lures. Sometimes slow, sometimes fast and sometimes just a steady retrieve is the ticket.
Believe it or not, sometimes you fish the Alabama just like a regular spinnerbait- pausing the retrieve to let the rig flutter back to the fish before picking up the retrieve. The pause and drop can really turn on the bite. I rarely worry about setting the hook with this rig as I have found that the typical strike on an Alabama is more aggressive than on other lures. Sometimes changing the angle of retrieve- such as bringing it upwards to the boat- will cause the bass to just crush it.
If you are faced with muddy or stained water, Remove the top two willow leafs and add two Colorado style for some extra thumping vibration. Also consider removing finesse style plastics and adding curly tail grubs or paddle tails to also add to the vibration. Depending on the conditions and structure you could also try a chatterbait in the middle.
This will certainly add a lot of vibration to the rig. Whether clear or stained, when you cast the rig, let it settle to the desired depth. Start out with a slow steady retrieve and about every ten to fifteen feet let the rig flair and sink back for just a second- following fish will often grab the bait as it changes direction.
Not everyone has embraced the Alabama Rig. Some question its “legality”- a lot of tournaments restrict fishermen to one lure at a time. However, pros have used topwater baits with “droppers” regularly, and the “Front Runner” has been a popular bait in front of topwater plugs for years. I know for me, fishing them is just plain fun.
If you set everything up right, and choose the right conditions, you can have a lot of fun getting your arm ripped off with the Alabama Rig. The Alabama is not for every day or every situation, but it is another tool to add to your arsenal to help you Live the Passion!