Basic Rigs for Natural Bait
Natural bait is hard to beat for it's fish catching ability. Most commonly used natural baits include minnows, nightcrawlers and leeches. However, there are times where crayfish, frogs, insects, insect larvae [such as helgramites], roe or dead bait are the better choice. What bait you choose will depend on where, when, what and how you're fishing. There are an inordinate number of rigs and methods to present bait to fish across various habitats. Some are better suited for specific structure like weeds or rocks; and others for deep or shallow water. The basic rig requires a barrel swivel, a hook and usually a weight of some sort.
There are a variety of bait hook styles that can be used in these rigs, but Octopus hooks are very popular for rigging natural bait. The hook size will depend on the size of the bait, but in general, sizes 6, 4 and 2 are good for most. Keep in mind that the physical hook size is not necessarily consistent across manufacturers either. This is primarily due to variation in the style of the bait hooks. They all have their own flavor of "Octopus" hooks and often multiple variations of that.
What results in the various types of rigs are generally the type and size of the weight used; and where it is placed relative to the hook or swivel. When used for casting and drifting, split shot [or BB shot, clam shot] and bullet/worm weights are commonly used; while for trolling, usually larger more streamlined weights are used like the rubbercore, in-line or clip-on weights.
I have depicted several basic rigs for fishing with natural baits.
A) The simplest rig is a baited hook. This would be a finesse approach, but difficult to cast out very far. Probably best used under a float or pitching a very short distance from the boat. The slow fall of an unweighted worm is often irresistible.
B) Simply adding a small weight, such as a split shot/BB shot/clam shot, before or after a barrel swivel allows the basic rig to be cast further but also results in a faster drop rate through the water. The distance the weight is from the hook will affect the drop rate of the bait.
C) Alternatively, instead of a bait hook, a floating jig head can be used to raise your bait up off the bottom.
D) Basic rig with a Helgramite hooked under the hard collar of the larvae. A great rig for those times fish are feeding on insect larvae.
E) A worm rig in which the hook is rigged weedless, or Texas style, with a split-shot fastened to it.
F) Another worm rig that uses a bullet sinker placed just before the hook and a bead. The worm is also rigged weedless. This setup is designed to be fished in the weeds and is commonly referred to as a Texas Rig.
G and H) Similar to the Texas Rig, is this rig, called the Carolina Rig. However, in this rig the bullet sinker is placed before the barrel swivel and often a glass bead. When the bullet sinker hits the glass bead it makes a sound as an added attractant. The bullet sinker is a type of slip sinker in which the line can slide freely through so when a fish strikes the bait there is little resistance. This is a very versatile set-up and can be fished with any type of natural and artificial bait; and can be used in cast and retrieve, drifting and trolling applications. The bullet sinker can also be replaced with an egg sinker.
I) A long thin in-line chain weight creates a perfect trolling rig. When trolling with minnows they can be hooked up in a several ways. Two of which are through the lips or head; or passing the hook through the mouth, out the gill and hooked through the "shoulders".
J) Similar to I but with a standard in-line trolling weight.
K) Similar to I but with a rubber-core sinker. These weights come in a wide range of sizes, so they can also be used in place of split-shot weights for casting or drifting applications.
L) This is a basic worm rig with one twist, a special bent hook that causes the worm to spin when trolled. There are several manufacturers of these hooks - Blakemore Tru-Turn, Mustad Slow Death and Matzuo Death Roll. A half of a nightcrawler is threaded onto the hook and the rig is slowly trolled either using a fixed weight or a bottom-bouncer.
M) Another trolling rig that uses a clip-on weight to get the rig down deep.
Basic Rigs for Artificial Bait
There are also plenty of ways to rig up artificial baits. In general, rigging up a hard crank bait is simple - just tie it directly to your line. However, it's a good idea to use a good quality in-line barrel swivel, or a snap swivel to attach the crank bait, to reduce any possible line twisting. This is especially true when trolling. To get the crank bait down deeper you just have to add on some weight. The type and amount of weight will obviously depend on what type of crank bait you're using, how deep you want it to run and if you're casting or trolling.
There are plenty more options when fishing with artificial soft plastic baits. After all, these are designed as natural bait substitutes. So, any of the natural bait rigs can be used with artificial baits. The benefit of course is their resilience in tough environments like weeds, timber and panfish infested water!
A) A basic in-line rig with a crank bait tied directly to the line. An in-line barrel swivel, or a snap swivel attached to the lure, can be used to reduce line twist.
B) A basic in-line rig with a soft plastic bait hooked onto an Octopus bait hook. An in-line barrel swivel will help prevent any line twist.
C) A Texas rigged soft plastic bait on a Extra Wide Gap (EWG) worm hook. An in-line barrel swivel will help prevent any line twist. The plastic is rigged onto the hook to make it weedless (i.e., Texas rigged).
D) Rig A with some added split-shot weight to get the crank bait to run a little deeper.
E) Rig B with some added split-shot weight for better casting and faster sinking rate. The distance between the split-shot weight and the hook will affect the drop rait of the bait.
F) Rig C with some added split-shot weight for better casting and faster sinking rate. The distance between the split-shot weight and the hook will affect the drop rait of the bait.
G) similar to C and F, but with a split-shot weight attached directly to the hook shaft. This provides a different sinking profile compared to E or F;
H) A Texas Rig with a soft plastic worm. A bullet weight sinker is placed on the line before the hook, but after the barrel swivel, if used. A bead is often used to prevent the weight from sliding over the hook and as added protection for the knot. Often a EWG Worm hook is used, but any bait hook will work. The bullet sinker is also a slip sinker, so when a fish strikes the bait it reduces any resistance the fish might feel from the weight. This is a very versatile rig and is excellent when fishing thick weeds.
I) A Carolina Rig with a Gulp Minnow. This rig is similar to a Texas Rig, but the bullet weight is added before an in-line barrel swivel instead of directly in front of the hook. A glass bead is also placed before the barrel swivel to add sound, when the bead and sinker make contact, as an added attractant. The bullet sinker is also a slip sinker, so when a fish strikes the bait it reduces any resistance the fish might feel from the weight. This is a very versatile rig and works well with any plastic bait.
J) A Carolina Rig with a creature bait. Similar to I, but this particular set-up shows a brass bullet weight sinker with a glass bead and brass clacker that provides additional sound to attract fish.
K) A trolling rig that uses a streamlined in-line chain weight, tied directly to the line, to get the artificial bait, lure or plastic, deeper.
L) A trolling rig similar to K, but using a rubbercore sinker and a barrel swivel. The rubbercore sinker is twisted onto the line instead of being tied on as in K.
M) This is a basic rig that uses a special bent hook that causes the bait to spin when trolled. There are several manufacturers of these hooks - Blakemore Tru-Turn, Mustad Slow Death and Matzuo Death Roll. A plastic bait, such as a Berkley Gulp Fry,Sandworm (half), Pinched Crawler or Killer Crawler, is threaded onto the hook and the rig is slowly trolled either using a fixed weight or a bottom-bouncer.
N) A trolling rig similar to K and L, but this style of in-line weight is tied directly to the line and requires an in-line barrel swivel or snap swivel to reduce line twist.
O) Another trolling rig, but a snap weight is used. Snap weights come in a range of sizes and clip directly onto the line with clamp. Snap weights allow for easy adjustment of weight and position.
Wacky Worm Rigs
Wacky rigs are a simple finesse technique where, in a typical rig, a cigar shaped artificial worm is hooked centrally onto a larger 1/0 to 5/0 Octopus or EWG worm hook. When the rig falls through the water the ends of the worm flutter creating a very attractive and effective presentation. This rig is primarily used for Largemouth Bass fishing, but can also be very effective for Smallmouth Bass and Northern Pike.
There are various ways to set-up a wacky rig depending on the type of hook used and how it's attached to the worm. The most straightforward is to take an Octopus or EWG worm hook and hook the plastic worm through it's center (A). Alternatively, you can cut up a plastic tube jig into small rings (B) or use commercial O-rings (C), slide the plastic worm through the ring and slip the ring over the hook. The advantage to this is your worm does not get damaged by the hook and should last longer. This approach was likely thought of because this technique often used Gary Yamamoto Senko cigar worms, which are formed with a very soft plastic and prone to tearing. Other inexpensive alternatives to O-rings include electrical shrink wrap tubing and small electrical wire ties.
Instead of a standard hook there are plenty of other options. Really, almost any hook can be used. If the rig needs to go deeper or you want to change the rate the rig falls through the water you can use a jig head. A standard round head jig should work just fine, but there are some jigs developed specifically for wacky rigging (D and E). A weighted swimbait hook would also work and if you need to go weedless and there are plenty of wide gapped weedless hooks available as well (F).
If you need to get the rig down deeper, or you simply want to alter how the rig reacts when it falls through the water, you can also add worm weights to either the end (G) or the center (H) of the bait. There are commercial weights available that stick in or twist into the plastic worm or you can just simply stick the shaft from a nail into the end(s).
Don't get caught up in thinking that only the plastic cigar worms are for wacky rigging either. You can also use any plastic worm or artificial bait including creature baits, tube jigs, finesse worms and plastic swimbaits.
Jigs with Natural Bait
Jigging typically involves bouncing a baited jig off the lake bottom with your rod tip. The jig is simply a top weighted hook that is baited with natural or artificial baits. You can also drift with a jig setup, just simply twitch your rod tip occasionally to allow the jig to raise up and fall to the bottom again. Alternatively you can cast out the jig and twitch it off the bottom as you retrieve the slack line; or you can simply just cast it out and reel it back in.
You can use all types of natural bait with a jig setup. Minnows (live, dead, salted, just the head or tail), nightcrawlers (full or half), leeches, crayfish or cut bait all work great.
There are also a variety of jig types available:
A) Stand-up jigs are angled such that when they sit on the bottom the hook is at a 45 degree angle and raises your bait up;
B) and C) Standard round head jigs.
B) with a long shank hook or C) short shank hook.
C) Some have an extra loop for adding a stinger hook as well.
D) Jigs can also have fins or wings that provide an erratic side-to-side action when jigged.
E) Some jigs also have propellers or F) spinner blades for added attraction.
Weight Forward Spinners
Weight forward spinners are similar to standard jigs with spinner blades, however the difference in this case is that the weight is not directly attached to the hook. This allows more free movement of the hook, which should allow easier inhalation of the bait by the fish, and likely helps prevent snagging to some extent. This is a great rig for natural bait fishing and is excellent for casting, drifting and trolling. Definitely a great rig for targeting suspended fish.
There are many different brands commercially available, but they basically all follow a similar design, either a round lead head (A) or a more streamlined minnow head weight (B) with a French spinner blade and a long shaft Aberdeen hook attached. Alternatively, there is also a model that more resembles a crawler harness attached to a fixed weight (C). This style is more like a basic rig, and compared to the standard weight forward spinners, increases the distance between the hook/bait and the lake bottom. Additionally, since the weight is no longer part of the bait, the fish can also inhale it much easier which also allows heavier weights to be used.
Jigs with Artificial Bait
Next to natural bait, a plastic 2” to 5” grub on a jig is a typical go-to rig when targeting most fish. It's simple and incredibly effective. The bonus to using artificial bait that it usually works just as well as natural bait but more resilient. You can fish them in areas where live bait wouldn't remain long on the hook. Similar to natural bait, there are numerous varieties of jigs that can be used with artificial soft plastic baits. There are some jigs, like tube jigs and shakey head jigs, that are specifically designed for artificial baits as well. Also, at times when using a soft plastic is just not enough you can always tip the hook with some natural bait, like a full or partial minnow or a worm.
Shown below are some commonly used jig set-ups for all types of sports fish.
A, B) Standard round head jig with a long (A) or short (B) shanked hook, depending on what sized bait you're are using.
C, E) Stand-up jigs that can rest on the bottom while keeping your grub at a 45 degree angle.
D,I) Jigs with extra attractions, like spinner blades (D) or propellers (I).
F) Jigs with weedless hooks.
G) Darter or minnow shaped jig heads for more streamlined action through the water and weeds.
H) The added attraction of a grub tail to a bucktail jigs is a great enhancement to an already excellent bait.
J) A football head jig is great for fishing a double tailed hula grub.
K) Grubs are great, but you can also use other artificial plastic baits like Gulp Minnows.
L, M) Tube jigs are also excellent when fishing for Smallmouth Bass, Lake Trout and Northern Pike.
In addition to the standard lead head jig, soft plastic grubs and tube jigs you can use all forms of artificial soft plastic baits on jigs such as plastic worms, leeches, creature baits, paddletail baits and plastic jerk baits.
Shown below are some rigs more suitable for artificial plastic worms, creature baits, swimbaits as well as some Panfish specific versions.
A) Shakey head jig with a shakey worm.
B) Bullet head jig with a curly tail worm.
C) Texas style weighted worm hook with a trick worm.
D) Darter jig with a Gulp Leech.
E) Darter jig with a soft plastic leech-like bait.
F) Paddletail swimbait and a weighted swimbait hook, with an added spinner blade.
G) Paddletail swimbait and a weighted swimbait hook.
H) Plastic jerkbait and a weighted swimbait hook.
I) Paddletail swimbait on a darter jig.
J) Jig'n'Rig with a creature bait.
K) Panfish versions of all the various jig and soft plastic combinations, including some unique for panfishing.
There are no shortage of methods to rig up natural and artificial baits nor techniques to fish them. Some are better for natural bait and many are more suitable for artificial soft plastic baits; while some are ideal for pitching and others for trolling or drifting. Luckily most rigs required similar components so you can fish a variety of rigs and methods without overloading on gear.