Umbrella Rigs: The Most Effective (and Controversial) Technique to Target Cold-Weather Bass

When Andy Poss invented the Alabama rig in 2010, downsizing the umbrella rigs commonly used to troll for tuna and bluefish inshore, he unleashed controversies as loud and as far-ranging as a pack of dogs.

Now banned from many major bass tournaments and illegal in many states, the A-rig or umbrella rig has lost some of the shine that attracted anglers after Paul Eliass’s F.L.W. win in 2011.

If this rig is legal where you fish - and you should be aware that the laws are constantly changing - it can be an amazingly effective technique to target bass in cold, deep water where schools of baitfish like shad are common.

Indeed, in the right conditions, the A-rig is almost too good to be true.

If you want to know more about umbrella rigs and how to fish them, keep reading!

Related: Most Popular Fishing Rigs For Fishing Success

What Is an Umbrella Rig?

what is an umbrella rig

An umbrella rig is nothing more than a stiff, wire harness that allows you to cast and retrieve as many as 5 jig heads sweetened with soft plastic trailers. 

Designed by Poss to mimic a small school of bait fish, the multiple swimbaits, and sometimes the addition of blades, can excite bass like nothing you’ve ever seen. It’s not unusual, for instance, to have several bass hit your A-rig more or less simultaneously, and you can have legions of chasers following your rig back to your boat.

A-Rig Controversy: What’s Wrong with Umbrella Rigs?

There are basically two bones of contention.

First, many pro anglers feel that the umbrella rig is so effective that it’s practically cheating. That has led to these rigs being banned from the vast majority of tournaments, placing the A-rig in the same category as live bait.

David Precht, speaking as a representative for B.A.S.S., concedes that “It’s a legitimate and ethical way to catch fish, but we hold professional anglers to a higher standard.” Emphasizing that most pros wanted the rig banned, he explained that “Their argument — and I want to emphasize it’s not our argument — the anglers feel that sometimes it can be too effective and it takes away some of the skill in what is a traditional tournament.”

David Lefebre represents the position of most tournament anglers. “I would argue to my death, when they are biting that thing, there is nothing you can do to compete with it... I’m a fan before I’m a competitor; anglers have been my heroes. My reasoning is to protect the sport as I know it.”

Second, the A-rig injures a lot of bass.

Think about it: an umbrella rig holds 5 sharp hooks about five to six inches apart. Whichever swimbait a bass strikes, it’s likely to contact at least one other bait, too, and while fighting, perhaps more than one.

Pros in B.A.S.S. and F.L.W. noticed that injuries to bass were common with these rigs, “result[ing] in wounding bass in several spots on their bodies in addition to the hook in the mouth.” In short, “they were bad for conservation.”

Many states have strict rules about the number of hooks that can be deployed on a rig, necessitating that anglers modify their A-rigs to run fewer baits, or run some of the baits without a hook. In others, these rigs are perfectly legal.

The relevant laws and regulations are constantly changing, and before you cast an A-rig, you need to be sure that it’s legal where you’re fishing.

legality of umbrella rigs

 A-rigs are easy to come by, and there are awesome choices available for anglers willing to give one a try.

5 Arms makes an excellent rig that’s loaded with silver willow blades and ready for your jig heads and swimbaits. And companies like Fishing Vault supply pre-rigged options that are ready to cast and fish.

There are also more expensive - and very durable - A-rigs from Hog Farmer Baits, with and without added blades.

Hog Farmer Baits

Umbrella Rigs: When and Where to Fish Them

Reread what Lefebre said: “when they are biting that thing, there is nothing you can do to compete with it.” 

But notice that “when.”

An umbrella rig isn’t going to turn you into a tournament pro overnight, but when the circumstances are right, nothing is more effective.

That’s a strong statement, but it’s also true. That’s the basis of the ban from tournaments: it’s just too easy to catch lots of big fish with an A-rig.

A-rigs are at their best in colder, clear water, starting in the fall and continuing all winter.

When the water temperatures start to drop as summer ends, bass will feed aggressively on shad and other baitfish, chasing schools across a lake. Over winter, bass retreat to deep water, preying on clustered bait fish as they wait out the cold. 

The A-rig’s ability to mimic a small school of baitfish is simply unbeatable when that’s the only game going in your lake.

And because you can cover a lot of water quickly, grabbing tons of attention from bass, umbrella rigs are both efficient and effective.

Deep water is ideal for umbrella rigs, and you want to use your fish finder to identify bait clusters with active bass preying on them.

How to Fish Umbrella Rigs

Tackle

A-rigs are heavy, and they create a lot of drag with all those swimbaits and blades. That makes the right tackle essential.

You’ll want a long, extra-heavy rod capable of casting an A-rig that weighs at least several ounces. That’ll demand a lot from your stick, so don’t skimp on blank quality.

One option that’s great for umbrella rigs is Abu Garcia’s Fantasista X Casting Rod. At 7’11”,. It has the length to load properly with a heavy rig and chunk those writhing swimbaits into the next county. Rated for lures between ¾-ounce and 3 ounces, it has the backbone you’ll need to fish an A-rig successfully.

You’ll want to pair that powerful rod with a reel that can really pump out the torque.

My choice is the amazing Abu Garcia REVO Winch. Offering a gear ratio of 5.4:1 (22” per turn), its solid-brass precision gears are smooth, powerful, and torque-y, providing the cranking power you need to pull an A-rig full of bass back to your boat. And with a smooth, consistent drag delivering a maximum of 24 pounds of tension, you can effectively run the heavy braid needed for this technique.

Line

Braid is probably the best option for umbrella rigs, and test strengths in the neighborhood of 65 pounds are common.

You’ll want that strength when a big bass inevitably hits your rig, or when two or more bass strike it simultaneously. 

And whether you choose Sufix 832 or Power Pro, you can count on low stretch, high sensitivity, and pulling power that rivals a winch cable.

Jig heads

Most fans of an A-rig like to use ⅛-ounce swimbait jig heads.

I’ve had reliable performance from Strike King’s Squadron Swimbait Jig Head, especially in “pearl,” but I also like Reaction Tackle’s Tungsten Swimbait Jig Heads in “chartreuse.”

Strike King (SSH1-844) Squadron Swimbait Head Fishing Lure, 84 - Pearl, 1 oz, Wide-Gap Black Nickel Hook

Amazon 

Reaction Tackle Tungsten Swimbait Jig Heads - 3D Realistic Eyes Attract Bass and More- Swim Bait Jig Head for use with Freshwater or Saltwater Fishing (5-Pack) - 1/8oz - Chartreuse

Amazon 

Trailers

Much of the magic of an umbrella rig comes down to trailer choice, and the good news is that there are tons of awesome options out there.

Paddle tail swimbaits are probably the best choice for A-rigs, and the 5-inch Z-MAN DieZel MinnowZ is a proven performer, offering the right shape, color options, and action to drive bass wild.

Z-Man DMIN5-57PK4 Elaztech Diezel MinnowZ Swimbait, 5' Smoky Shad 4 4

Amazon 

Keitech’s Fat Swing Impact is another legendary paddle tail that makes an umbrella rig work like it should. You can size up or down a bit from 4.8 inches with these Keitechs, and whoever size is right for the bass where you’re fishing, you can be sure that these swimbaits will ring the dinner bell.

Keitech FS48476 Fat Swing Impact Pro Blue Shiner, 4.8'

Amazon 

In deep water, especially on overcast days, I like to run bright colors that really stand out from the background. Whites, pearls, chartreuses, and other hues that provide lots of contrast are perfect for getting bass interested at a distance.

In shallow water, realistic colors are the clear winner.

Remember, bass are predominantly sight predators. An A-rig mimics a school of baitfish, and in low-light conditions, bass need to see it to find it. Make sure that your swimbaits offer long-range visibility.

By contrast, in clear, shallow water where there's plenty of light, bass will shy away from bright, unnatural hues and focus on realistic colors present in prey items. In conditions like this, your best bet is to match the hatch and go with shad or bluegill look-alikes.

Technique

To cast an umbrella rig, you need to think more like you’re fishing on a beach than in a boat.

Use the length of your rod to gently load under your A-rig. As you cast, use two hands, employing the reel seat as the fulcrum of your movement.

Your dominant wrist will definitely thank you!

Your retrieve should be slow and steady, though changing cadence and direction can trigger strikes. When bass hit your umbrella rig, they’ll be thinking it’s a school of bait, and they’ll tear through, hoping to kill one or more of your lures.

That violent strike shouldn’t be matched with a hard hookset. If you rip for all your worth, you’ll probably miss that bass!

Instead, you want to let the bass take the hook, and when you feel its weight, just give the rod a bit of pressure to gently drie that hook home.

For a great tutorial, check out this video:

Umbrella Rig Tips: Pay Close Attention to the Details

Unpacking your Umbrella Rig

This may seem self-explanatory, but it’s anything but!

If you expand your new rig in the wrong way, not only will it shorten its lifespan, it’ll also decrease its effectiveness.

You want to gently bend each wire about 1 inch from the central hub, directing your peripheral wires diagonally from the center. The central wire should remain straight.

Done right, this will leave your central wire trailing four peripheral wires.

A great explanation of this technique is offered by Matt from Tactical Bassin’:

Vary the size of your swimbaits

One tip that can really invite bass to turn on to turn on to your A-rig is to run a larger swimbait in the center of your rig.

For instance, if you’re running 5-inch Z-MAN DieZel MinnowZ around the periphery, you might think about placing a 7-inch DieZel Minnow in the center. Those changes in size can trigger bass to strike.

Z-MAN DMIN7-267PK3 Elaztech Diezel MinnowZ Swimbait, 7' Houdini 3 Pack Pack, Multi, One Size

Amazon 

Vary the color of your swimbaits

The same idea is true for color. 

By changing the color of your swimbaits, even subtly, you can trigger more strikes.

For example, if you’ve got a few Keitech Fat Swing Impacts in “Sexy Shad,” a few others in “Rainbow Shad” can increase interest in your rig.

And of course, you dye the tails colors like red or chartreuse, increasing visual interest at a distance.

Know where to rig jig heads if you can’t use all five

If you’re fishing an A-rig in a location that doesn’t allow you to use all five jig heads, you’ll want to attach your lures to the bottom and back of the rig.

Otherwise, your umbrella rig will constantly try to flip over, ruining your presentation.

Use your fishing electronics 

While the cast and retrieve isn’t complicated, knowing what depth to run your A-rig is essential.

You’ll need a good fish finder to help you locate bass, and when you find them holding deep, you’ll want your rig to creep slowly just above them, whether that’s way down deep or in 10 feet of water.

Bass feed upward, and you definitely don’t want your A-rig running beneath them!

Final Thoughts

Umbrella rigs are controversial. So effective that they threaten the very idea of “skill,” they also tend to injure a lot of bass (and anglers!).

If you decide to fish with an A-rig - and it’s legal in your location - they can be simply amazing in cold water, especially in fall and winter. With dedicated A-rig tackle and a bit of practice, we can all but guarantee the effectiveness of this technique.

As always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have, so please leave a comment below!

About The Author
John Baltes
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.