Carolina Rig: The Best Rig for Surf Fishing

The Carolina rig is a common fishing rig used by many anglers in fresh and saltwater. Today, we’ll talk about what it is, how to make one, and how to go surf fishing with the Carolina rig. We’ll also talk about some of the little variations and critiques that some anglers like to make.

Carolina rig for surf fishing
Carolina Rig for Surf Fishing

What is the Carolina Rig?

A rig is just a name for a combination of terminal tackle (hooks, leader-line, sinker/weight, bead, bobber, etc.). The Carolina rig uses a hook, leader-line, a swivel, a bead (optional), and a sliding egg weight. This rig can be customized to fit your needs so let’s talk about using the Carolina rig for surf fishing.

How to Tie a Carolina Rig

Rather than re-writing how to tie/make one, go ahead and watch this video on how to tie a Carolina Rig. I’ll also leave you this link which will go into depth on how I organize my gear and tackle with this rig. But below, I list the bottom line:

How to Tie a Carolina Rig

How Does a Carolina Rig Work?

Three things I love about the Carolina rig: It’s simple, it’s streamline, and it allows for maximal sensitivity. The first two of my three points here are self-explanatory. It’s the third point that I want to talk about. If you’ve never used a certain type of rig, it’s only natural that you might not completely grasp its engineering. The most important aspect of the Carolina rig (I think) is the sliding egg weight. It’s because of this, that we have near-perfect feel for a bite. Since the egg weight is not fixed or tied to your line (like a torpedo, split-shot or other similar “fixed” weights), it lets your line move freely, thus allowing for perfect sensitivity… if tension is kept properly.

To further expound upon this idea, let’s dig a little deeper and give an example. You gathered your sand crabs, baited your hook, and casted out into a nice hole (you were able to find it because you learned how to read the surf), and now you’re waiting for a bite. Let’s think about how your rig is sitting on the submerged sand and how your bait is being presented.

Presentation of Bait

At this point, you have (in order from you to your bait/hook) your mainline, your weight and protective bead, then your swivel, then your leader line, and finally your hook with sand crabs on it. Your weight is sitting on the bottom and your line moves freely through your weight, but only up until your leader. Keeping proper tension means that you tighten up your line (either by lifting your rod tip or reeling in little by little) until you feel the weight of your sinker. When you feel that, you know your swivel is butt-up against your weight, and tension is achieved.

The beauty of the Carolina rig is made clear here. If you had a split shot or torpedo weight, if a fish bites, two things occur that decrease your chances of a hook-up. Firstly, the fish feels the weight of your sinker and may decide to drop the bait. Secondly, the fish might take the bait, but not pull hard enough initially to move your weight. Here, you cannot feel the bite and that moment of slack or non-hook-set causes you to miss a hook-up.

With the Carolina rig, rather than the weight being a point of tension between you and your hook, it does not interfere. If the fish takes a nibble, the hook will jerk your line through the weight allowing you to feel it. At the same time, the fish will not feel any other tension or weight aside from the tension that you create. That way, you can react with a hook set much more seamlessly. Here’s a quick illustration of the presentation.

How to Use the Carolina Rig for Surf Fishing

The Carolina Rig is known for its versatility. It’s used for live bait as well as soft plastics and it can be worked/retrieved or left to soak. For the most part, I use this rig for sand crabs and I let it soak. I’ll find a spot that looks good, bait my hook, and cast her out. With this method (live bait), I’m letting my bait sit in one spot. If it drifts with the current, so be it. Let it soak from 10:30-1:30 or from 1:30-10:30 and then reel in and re-cast.

The tricky part is keeping tension and setting the hook at the perfect time. Take a look at just about any of my videos where I’m using sand crabs or mussel meat, and you’ll get a good feel for how to use the Carolina rig. If I’m using a soft plastic, I’ll be working/retrieving my bait. Sometimes a slow steady retrieve, other times a sporadic jerky retrieve.

Leader Length in the Carolina Rig

The most common question surrounding the alterations that anglers make to this rig is the leader length. Some anglers I know use a 4-foot leader, others use a 2-foot leader, but most are somewhere in the middle of that range. My standard length is between 2-3 feet with 32-inches likely being my average. I think it provides enough distance from your weight to your hook while still providing a clearly depicted vicinity of where your bait is and a good chance for keeping tension. My only real variation I make in length is this: Longer leader for working/retrieving bait… shorter for soaking bait.

If you’re fishing with live bait and you’re leaving your bait stationary, the movement of the water around your bait might be too much to maintain proper tension as your leader line may create slack that you cannot manage. So for soaking purposes, I use my standard 2-3 feet. It’s when I retrieve bait (superslayers, sandworms sometimes, and other soft plastics) that I lengthen my leader. I’ll typically use between 3 and 4 feet for this scenario. Since I’ll be constantly retrieving, I know that tension will be maintained so I don’t need to worry about slack in my leader. I like to go between 3 and 4 feet because most of the time, I’ll rotate between live bait and soft plastics (typically closer to 3-feet than 4).

Why Use a Bead With the Carolina Rig?

The next common question I’ll get about this rig is why we use a bead between the weight and the swivel. The simple answer: It provides protection for the knot. It isn’t entirely necessary. I’ve fished without the bead before and I used to do it all the time. But, I also used to have an occasional snap off on my casts when I didn’t use a bead… so that’s that.

Some anglers think the color of the bead plays a role in attracting fish, but I’m going to leave that theory alone. My Carolina rig is slightly altered in comparison to the standard rig for So Cal’s surf. I use craft beads rather than standard fishing beads. I explain my reasoning in the video above, but either bead should work fine. Just make sure to purchase the proper size.

Surf Fishing Report/Forecast

This past week was rough to say the least. The surf was up to 8-feet at a couple of local beaches in San Diego. I was able to make it out just prior to the rough surf and had some success with one of the biggest bat rays I’ve ever landed (video here), but light tackle was slow. Saturday evening provided some much-improved conditions and a decent light tackle bite with mostly yellowfin croaker and perch.

Look for this week to provide much better conditions with some friendly 1-2’s and 2-3’s across San Diego. Seaweed has been a major issue over the last week which added to the poor conditions. I took a drive from Silver Strand to Solana beach on Thursday checking the kelp conditions along the way and it was ugly no matter where you went. The worst of the bunch was Coronado and Silver Strand, but not much better anywhere else. Hopefully, this week’s mellow conditions get the bite back on track. thanks for reading and tight lines to all!

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