Whether you fish for bass in a quiet pond, fight catfish on a muddy river, or work the surf hoping for a bull red, the right rig can make all the difference.
More than just a way to attach terminal tackle, fishing rigs are designed for different purposes and techniques. And the best of them have earned cult-like followings among anglers for the dependable performance.
If you’re new to fishing, or just need a refresher, we’re here to help.
Today, we’ll discuss the seven best fishing rigs, covering pretty much any situation you might find yourself in.
Want to know more about the best fishing rigs for both fresh and saltwater?
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 The Texas Rig
- 2 The Carolina Rig
- 3 The Drop Shot Rig
- 4 The Slip or Sliding Sinker Rig (A Modified Carolina Rig)
- 5 Slip Float Rigs
- 6 The Three-Way Rig
- 7 The Fish Finder Rig
- 8 Final Thoughts
Related: Best Fishing Knots
The Texas Rig
What is a Texas rig?
A Texas rig is a way to hook a soft plastic bait such that it casts accurately, punches through heavy weed mats and lily pads with ease, and runs weedlessly through grass and other heavy cover.
Soft bait options like Strike King’s Rage Tail Craw, Culprit’s Original Worms, Zoom’s Magnum II Worm, Zoom Bait’s Brush Hog, Yamamoto’s Fat Ika, Zoom Bait’s Magnum Lizard are popular choices for a Texas rig, but there are countless others.
Why use a Texas rig?
Among bass fishermen, there’s no rig more popular than the ubiquitous Texas rig.
Excellent for techniques like pitching and flipping, as well as working weedy bottoms with plenty of cover, the Texas rig can be weighted to fall quickly, punch hard, and cast well.
Providing excellent action for your soft plastics, it’s a sure thing any time the bottom is thick with vegetation cover, or when the bass are holding in the nasty stuff and need to be teased out for a strike.
Tackle for a Texas rig
Your best bet with a Texas rig is a medium-heavy to heavy-power rod with a fast action. You’ll need that power and stiffness to set that single hook with authority, and while lighter rods can be used, you’ll miss fish pretty much guaranteed.
Most bass anglers use a dedicated worm rod for the Texas rig, whether they’re flipping or pitching or pulling a creature through the grass.
Where line-shy bass are a problem, or when more shock absorption or abrasion resistance is necessary, add a length of strong mono leader.
The Carolina Rig
What is a Carolina rig?
The Carolina rig is essentially a modified Texas rig that separates the bullet weight and the hook by a length of leader. The result is that you can use a very heavy sinker to get you to the bottom quickly, while the trailer will move and dance naturally behind it.
The action it allows your soft bait is impressive, and because your trailer is never deadened by the weight, it can elicit strikes almost as if it were a finesse technique.
You create a Carolina rig by first feeding a bullet or barrel weight onto your line. Follow this with an 8mm bead and a barrel swivel. Then tie your leader to the other end of the swivel, attach an extra-wide-gap hook and add your trailer of choice.
Popular soft plastic trailers for the Carolina rig overlap significantly with the Texas rig, although some options, like flukes, are better suited to the Carolina.
Why use a Carolina rig?
The Carlina rig is custom-designed around fishing a hard, flat bottom that’s clear of vegetation.
That heavy, forward weight gets you to the bottom now, while leaving the trailer free to hug the bottom and bounce or glide gently as you drag it.
Ideal for working deep water, it’s a must-know option for bass anglers.
Tackle for a Carolina rig
Much like the Texas rig, a medium-heavy to heavy power rod is your best bet for hooksets. That single hook isn’t going to drive itself home, and you need a rod with some authority to guarantee a solid connection.
That combination will provide excellent hook-setting power, plus plenty of shock absorption and abrasion resistance if you're fishing around rocks or stumps.
The Drop Shot Rig
What is a drop shot rig?
A drop shot rig is a finesse presentation for bass that keeps your soft plastic trailer off the bottom and in the strike zone. Formed from a drop shot hook , a Palomar knot, and a cylinder weight at the bottom, a drop shot rig can be altered to keep your trailer at a precise distance from the bottom, allowing precision fishing.
Why use a drop shot rig?
Keeping your soft plastic trailer moving naturally increases the number of strikes you’ll get, and making sure that it’s not buried in muck, mud, or vegetation keeps it where sight-oriented hunters like bass can find it.
Great for flat bottoms or heavy vegetation, the drop shot rig is tremendously versatile.
They provide a simply fantastic finesse presentation that will create bites that other naglers miss, making them an excellent choice for highly pressure lakes and ponds.
Tackle for a drop shot rig
Drop shot rigs demand ultra-sensitivity from your rod, and the heavy tackle you use with worms just won’t cut it. Instead, you'll want a medium-light to medium power rod like the St. Croix Premier.
Good braid like Sufix 832 is a solid choice with a drop shot rig because the added sensitivity really pays off when you need to detect the gentle suck of a bass swallowing your trailer.
The Slip or Sliding Sinker Rig (A Modified Carolina Rig)
What is a slip sinker rig?
A favorite among catfish anglers, the slip sinker rig is pretty much a Carolina rig redesigned for live bait.
Slip sinker rigs are designed for live or cut bait like small fish or chicken breast marinated in garlic powder. The circle hook guarantees good hooksets, and instantaneous attention to your rod on a bit simply isn’t necessary with this rig.
The heavy barrel weight casts like a dream, allowing you to put your bait where it can do the most good, and that weight also helps to keep your rig locked to the bottom in a current.
Why use a slip sinker rig?
The slip sinker rig solves several problems simultaneously.
Catfishermen often need long casts to reach the channels where big cats roam the bottom. They also need a setup that can stay put in a current. And because a lot of catfishing happens with rods in a holder, they need a rig that can self-hook.
The slip sinker rig delivers on all three fronts, making it the most popular catfish rig by a mile.
Tackle for a slip sinker rig
You’ll also want a reel with some serious torque and a drag that can pressure big fish in hard fights.
Slip Float Rigs
What is a slip float rig?
Perhaps the most versatile rig we’ll review today, a slip float rig is a simple idea with complex consequences.
A slip float is a buoy for your terminal tackle, whether that be a hook with a live minnow on it, a Marabou jig, a fat leech or anything else.
Slip floats lide up your line, allowing for long, accurate casts while still holding your terminal tackle at a precise depth, making them vastly superior to standard “red and white” bobbers.
As its name suggests, the heart of a slip float rig is a special bobber. These range from large cylinder floats designed for catfish and walleye to tiny balsa floats that are murder on bluegill and crappie.
Slip floats use a float stop and a bead to arrest the movement of the sliding bobber, allowing you to control the depth of your terminal tackle of choice.
Bluegill are caught by the dozens with nothing more complicated than a worm on a baitholder hook suspended beneath a slip float.
And catfishermen throw slip floats with large minnows and small fish under them, specifically to target blue and flathead cats.
Why use a slip float rig?
Slip float rigs are easy to cast, fast to rig, and tremendously effective on species as diverse as crappie and catfish.
Ideal for suspending your bait at a known and precise depth, they’re simply a deadly way to present a jig, soft plastic, or bait right where you want it.
Tackle for a slip float rig
Your rod, reel, and line choice have more to do with the species you’re after than the rig itself.
The Three-Way Rig
What is a three-way rig?
A three-way rig is a bottom fishing rig that splits your main line into leader and dropper lines. With a heavy sinker, it can be cast a country mile and stays put in currents and tide. And its leader line can be tough - even metal - enabling it to catch fish like walleye or bluefish that have lots of teeth.
Hook choice is dependent on the species you plan to catch, but I’d opt for a circle hook to improve my odds.
Why use a three-way rig?
Three-way rigs are versatile options, and they’re as useful off the pier and beach as they are on a river or lake.
Excellent choice for any species that hunts the bottom, including walleye and catfish, as well as a large array of saltwater species, the three-way rig has a few decided advantages over similar options.
First, the weight of the sinker can be easily adjusted to improve casting distance or hold it more securely on the bottom.
Second, in situations where hang-ups are an issue, you can intentionally tie your dropper line with weak mono to allow the rig to break free if you get snagged.
And third, the three-way rig allows you to use very tough leader material, enabling it to be used on fish that would destroy simply mono.
Tackle for a three-way rig
That three-way swivel allows you to use different main, dropper, and leader lines, enabling you to customize your rig for the conditions you face.
For instance, when high shock strength is needed, run superior mono like Berkley Trilene Big Game as both main line and leader. When exceptional sensitivity is needed, switch to braid for the main line, but keep mono as your leader to improve shock absorption and offer a tougher connection to your hook.
And as I mentioned above, metal leader is always an option for walleye, pike, and other fish with a mouth full of razors.
The Fish Finder Rig
What is a fish finder rig?
The fish finder rig is the premier surf casting and pier fishing option, and you’ll find it anywhere you can fish saltwater.
Designed to cast long distances and hold the bottom like it owes the rig money, a fish finder rig uses a large pyramid sinker on a slider to achieve these awesome goals.
A fish finder rig starts with a sinker sleeve that allows the heavy weight to move along the line, enabling excellent casting. Adding a large bead cushions the connection between your main line and leader, stopping direct impact on the knot. A length of leader tied off to a good hook completes the fish finder rig, and all you need to do is add cut or live bait!
Why use a fish finder rig?
Pier and surf angling often demand very long casts to reach the areas fish are actively hunting.
The fish finder rig allows you to use very heavy pyramid sinkers, and with the right rod and technique, that enables truly impressive casting distances. It also holds well on sandy bottoms, resisting the force of tide and current.
Useful on species as diverse as croaker, flounder, red drum, bluefish, and snook, the fish finder rig isn’t a one-trick pony.
Tackle for the fish finder rig
My reel choice varies a bit, but generally, I’ll be using a quality spinning reel in an appropriate size, typically a 3500 or 4500, and know that I’m ready for pretty much anything that takes my bait.
Not for the first time in this article, I’m going to recommend a sharp circle hook like the Mustad. It’ll help you connect better, and it’s self-hooking really makes a difference when you’re working a rod in a sand spike.
For croaker and spot, I like 15-pound Big Game as my main line. While that’s more test strength than you need, you never know what’s going to hit your line, and I don’t want to lose a nice red because my line couldn’t take it.
If I’m chasing flounder on a sandy, shallow flat, I’ll swap the mono for Sufix 832 in 20- to 30-pound test. But if pilings or a pier are nearby, that’s a bad bet as the barnacles will cut braid pretty much instantly.
For mackerel, snook, reds, and blues, I almost always use 20-pound mono, unless I’m certain the bottom is clear of debris. If it is, and if I’m not near a pier, I’ll run 30-pound braid.
Two leaders make the cut for me when I’m fishing for species with teeth: either Big Game in the neighborhood of 50 pounds or a prefabricated stainless steel leader.
While there’s no one rig to rule them all, this list gives you options to cover pretty much any situation you might find yourself in. And from bass to catfish, crappie to croaker, you’ll find the right choice for you in this article.
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