June 15, 2015 Share

Building The Perfect Carolina Lite Rig

The thing I like about the Carolina rig is its versatility. You can tweak the sinker size, leader length and hook as needed, and there are so many different baits that work on it. -Steve Pennaz

Tweaking the Rig

For the last couple years, I have been tweaking the Carolina Lite rig as I learn more about how it performs in different waters and over different grasses. My first tweak was to switch my mainline from braid to fluoro (15-pound Trilene 100% Fluoro). Unlike braid, fluoro sinks, allowing me to go with extremely light bullet sinkers and still get the fall rate I need.

A fluoro leader also helps. Whether I achieve it or not, I try to replicate the proven action of fall baits like a Flat Dawg, Senko or Yum Dinger, while still being able to cover massive amounts of water. Even a ¼-ounce sinker is enough weight to activate a bait’s built-in action. At the same time I’m not pushing the bait down into the weeds. It hovers just above the weeds—the perfect place for bass to find and eat it.

I dropped the use of the bead as I didn’t want bass in cover to key in on the noise and miss the actual bait. The water displacement of the soft plastic is enough to clue bass into the bait’s whereabouts, even in extremely turbid waters. Plus, the bead is just one less thing to catch debris.


I also switched from a steel barrel swivel to one made of clear fluoro. Called the Invisaswivel and available from Aquateko, I like its slow rate of fall and its silence underwater (no noise from sinker banging into it).

Although I gravitate to tungsten weights for other presentations, I opt for classic lead bullet-shaped sinkers for the Carolina Lite rig. Tungsten sinks faster than lead, not an advantage when you’re trying to keep the rig just above the weeds. The bullet-shaped sinker will still cut through the weeds, but its rate of fall is a little bit slower, which I’ve found to be an advantage. It’s almost like a split shot rig for heavy weeds, yet split shots don’t play nice with weeds.

Next, I shorten the classic Carolina Rig leader to as little as 10 inches. The bait is still “loose” so falls and glides more naturally. When you compare the action to a Texas-rigged bait the difference is truly amazing. The short leader also reduces hang-ups and makes it easier to detect strikes, too.

As anglers we’re prone to obsessing over the latest baits, rods, reels and electronics, but often overlook the importance of terminal tackle. Like knot choice, terminal tackle can make or break a good day on the water.

The one part of the rig equation I haven’t tweaked much is hook size. Because I tend to favor large creature and craw baits, I’m drawn to Texas-rigging the baits with 5/0 EWG hooks, which I’ve found offer excellent hook-up ratios. Still, depending on the situation, you may want to experiment. You can adjust the fall rate of the bait by changing the size and wire thickness of the hook.

Bait Choice

Hands down, my favorite bait for this technique is the Skeet Reese-designed Havoc Pit Boss, which is built like an Alabama linebacker. It’s tough enough to shrug off weeds, yet narrow enough to slide through grass, and stands up well to both pesky bream and bass.

I’ve taken as many as many as nine bass on a single bait. Two other great bait options are the PowerBait Chigger Craw and Havoc Craw Fatty.


Rod/Reel Setup

A medium-heavy casting rod is critical for winching bass out of thick vegetation. For this reason I use longer rods. My favorite is a medium/heavy 7’ 6” Abu Veritas matched to a speedy (geared 7.9:1) Abu Garcia MGX. This combination of power and speed allows me to fish fast and still be able to winch big bass out of the junk.

Cadence & Strike Detection

Cast out and watch for your line to go slack, which will let you know the weight has reached the weed tops or bottom. Then sweep your rod up about two feet using a vertical sweep, then pause to allow the weight and the lure settle. Switch over to a horizontal sweep as you get closer to the boat to keep your bait down.

Bites can be surprisingly tough to detect. Often, because of the slack line you don’t feel the initial strike, but feel weight as you move into the next sweep. The temptation is to delay setting the hook because it feels like a weed. When in doubt, set the hook.

Where It Works

The Carolina Lite is perfect for waters with low visibility—a foot and a half or less—and heavy submergent weed growth, like thousands of waters across the United States. When weighted properly, it’s surprisingly weedless, and can be fished quickly when necessary.

I’ve found the Carolina Lite allows you to fish at the speed of most cranks or swim jigs, but with the finesse and rate of fall that’s made wacky rigging so deadly over the years. Given it a shot on the waters you fish!