The Alabama rig exploded in popularity in October 2011 when Paul Elias, a former Bassmaster Classic champion, dominated an FLW Tour event by landing four consecutive five-bass daily tournament limits to finish with a whopping 102.5-pound aggregate. Also referred to as an umbrella rig, this unique offering consists of a shad-like hardbait trailing five wires with swivels. On those swivels, anglers can attach any number of lure combinations. Theoretically, an angler could literally win a bass tournament with a single cast.
“An Alabama rig looks like a school of minnows or shad,” explained Gerald Swindle, a bass pro from Warrior, AL. “For years, we’ve fished single baits. A bass is programmed to feed more on schools of baitfish than on single minnows. Baitfish are normally in schools and rarely alone, so when bass see a school of baitfish they react.”
It’s fun to watch bass hit it. The shallower the water, the faster the retrieve. The deeper the water, the slower the retrieve.
For years, saltwater anglers have been using dredge teasers to troll multiple baits to tempt dolphin, wahoo, king mackerel, billfish and other pelagic species. The multiple bait rigs mimic baitballs and often send fish into a feeding frenzy. The same concept applies in freshwater by provoking a competitive feeding instinct. Frequently, aggressive fish try to steal baits dangling from the mouths of hooked fish. Even on single stickbaits equipped with multiple trebles anglers sometimes catch two bass at a time as one fish tries to steal the bait from the other.
“I’ve been throwing an Alabama rig since late May 2011,” said Jimmy Mason (jimmymasonbasspro.com), a bass pro and guide from Rogersville, AL. “I’ve caught hundreds of doubles and a few triples. It’s actually possible to catch five bass on one cast. When the first fish hits, just continue to fight it slowly. Other fish jump on the remaining baits.”
Although several companies make various configurations, an Alabama rig usually consists of five spreader arms to present multiple baits. With five places to try different baits simultaneously, anglers can rig any number of combinations including jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and crankbaits. However, most anglers attach swimbaits, grubs, flukes or similar soft plastic shad and minnow imitations.
“I’ve caught bass over eight pounds on it,” Swindle said. “When bass want it, they hit it like a freight train. The most effective combination for me has been swimming flukes with paddle tails. I always put junior flukes on the outside with a big fluke in the center. About 90% of the time bass focus on the bigger baits. Additionally, I never use all five baits in the same color. I’ll put a shad color with green metal flakes on the outside and on the inside I’ll use a white bait.”
With an array of baits, an Alabama rig primarily attracts fish through visual enticement, making it a great choice for fishing the clear water prevalent in many Florida lakes. However, it can also provoke strikes in stained water, such as on the St. Johns River or the Harris chain of lakes. To make baits stand out in discolored water, add color to the outside arms or use baits that create greater silhouettes such as white or black. In water with limited visibility, anglers may opt for baits with curled or ribbon tails to create more vibration. Some anglers attach spinnerbaits to the center wire to create even more commotion.
Florida anglers can fish Alabama rigs all year long, anytime bass focus on shad. “I throw it over shallow, submerged grass and watch it,” Swindle said. “I can see it coming back to the boat like a spinnerbait. It’s fun to watch bass hit it. The shallower the water, the faster the retrieve. The deeper the water, the slower the retrieve.”
Many anglers fish Alabama rigs around deep ledges, creek channels or humps like those found at Rodman Reservoir, Lake Seminole or Lake Talquin. Let the bait drop just below the desired depth and then pull it up through the school. Anglers can also slow roll it along the bottom.
“It catches fish around grass, rocks and riprap, but it’s highly effective in open water when bass are chasing baitfish,” Mason said. “I usually employ a slow, steady retrieve, keeping it near the bottom. If I’m fishing really deep, I might rip it off the bottom and let it flutter back down. A swimbait has its own action. If an angler tries to add erratic action to a single swimbait, it lessens the chance that a bass will take it. It’s the same with an Alabama rig. Just keep the bait coming in with a steady retrieve at the same rhythm.”
For best results, throw it on a medium-heavy to heavy 7 to 8-foot rod loaded with 50 lb. braided line. A day spent casting a big Alabama rig on a heavy rod can quickly wear out even the most physically fit angler. Many fishermen first search lakes with their sounder and throw spinnerbaits and crankbaits. Once they find fish they thoroughly work over the area with Alabama rigs.
“It’s a very effective lure, but it’s not a miracle bait,” Swindle explained. “People need to be patient when fishing it. They shouldn’t go to the lake thinking they will catch two fish on every cast. What I like to do is find fish with something else. When I get one or two strikes in an area I’ll pick up an Alabama rig and wear them out.”
Since Elias won his tournament, many other anglers have won events at various competitive levels by using Alabama rigs. You, too, can release a ton of fish quickly with the right baits attached. The trick is finding the perfect combination.