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Fish a Finesse Carolina Rig for Spring Bass

A downsized version of the iconic Carolina rig plays a critical role in Jimmy Mason’s spring bass strategy. Use this rig to catch more bass from the pre-spawn through the post spawn period.

largemouth bass on finesse Carolina riglargemouth bass on finesse Carolina rig

Carolina rigs are bite getters. Most bass fishermen know that. However, Carolina rigging is normally associated with baitcasting tackle and 1 ounce or larger sinkers for working the deep ends of points, ledges and other summer spots. Tennessee River guide and tournament pro Jimmy Mason has discovered that a lighter version of this bass fishing standard produces fabulous spring action and provides a great way to target bass in all phases of the spawn.

Mason sort of stumbled onto the total effectiveness of this approach. He began experimenting with it when he had inexperienced anglers aboard who had trouble keeping a light Texas rig on the bottom or controlling a weightless rig and feeling bites.

“It provided means for them to make the right casts, keep the bait where it needed to be, get bites and feel the bites,” he said. Soon he realized they weren’t just getting some bits. They were catching a LOT of fish – with the finesse Carolina rig often outproducing his go-to approaches – so he started experimenting with it more himself and putting it in the hands of his more experienced clients. Now it is one of his go-to rigs throughout spring.

The presentation prompts bites from pre-spawn bass, spawners and post-spawn fry guarders and allows Mason to cover water, working areas that hold fish through all stages of the spawn.

Finesse Carolina Rig

fighting bass on spinning rodfighting bass on spinning rod

Mason’s finesse rig is like other Carolina rigs in its basic structure, with sliding weight, bead, swivel, leader and hook and the bait rigged weedless. Everything is just smaller, and he fishes it on spinning tackle, with 15- to 20-pound Vicious Braid as the main line.

Mason weights his rig with a 5/16- to 3/8-ounce bullet weight, generally staying at the light end unless wind makes it hard to keep the weight on the bottom and maintain good contact. He’s working shallow, so not much weight is needed. A bullet style weight typically works better than the egg style commonly used with larger Carolina rigs because it does better sliding through the vegetation that is plentiful in many shallow areas. Lacking vegetation, he sometimes uses a small egg weight.

The leader is short – 12 to 18 inches of 12- or 14-pound fluorocarbon. A 3/O or 4/O Owner Cover Shot or Cover Shot HD hook completes the rig. It’s a straight-shank hook with a keeper barb to keep baits in place even as they come through vegetation, and is super sharp, so little hook setting is required.

Mason mixes up baits and gauges the fish’s responses. His three primary baits, each of which offers a different profile and action, are a YUM Dinger, Spine Craw and Lizard. For Dingers, he uses both 4- and 5-inch models. Either offers a sleek, enticing profile, and with faster presentations, the Dinger darts and glides from side to side, suggesting a baitfish swimming just off the bottom. A Spine Craw’s crawfish profile and quick, tight claw action make it ideal for this presentation. The YUM Lizard is a spring classic that that bass can’t ignore.

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Finesse Carolina Rig Presentations

bass fishing with spinning rodbass fishing with spinning rod

Similar to lure selection, finding the best presentation is a patterning game. Mason mostly uses a couple of core technique, but little distinctions within each can make a big difference in how many strikes a bait triggers. He varies things like speed and lengths of pulls and pauses and pays carful attention to what he or his clients are doing every time a fish bites.

Like traditional Carolina rigging, one presentation relies on repeated measured pulls with the rod, followed by reeling to take up line when the rod returns to its starting position. Instead of long sweeping, sideways pulls, Mason sweep upward, moving the rod from the 9:00 to 12:00 position, keeping the movement slow enough for the weight to drag bottom.

An alternative presentation that can be highly effective is what Mason dubs “counting rocks.” It involves steady reeling at a pace that keeps the weight on the bottom and trying to feel every rock and contour. Mason finds a fast version of this presentation with a Dinger extra effective when many bass have already spawned and are guarding fry.

Whether using short pulls or reeling steadily, the most critical aspect is keeping the weight in contact with the bottom at all times, according to Mason. That means the bait is moving just off the bottom, which is the primary zone.

Spring Fishing Locations

Despite stereotypes, not all bass spawning occurs near the bank and in the backs of pockets. In fact, many bass in most lakes spawn away from the bank, whether out on a broad flat, or atop some type of high structure, which could be a long point, a gravel or sand bar, or a roadbed. And even shoreline spawners use these structures before and after the spawn.

Mason sets up his mapping to highlight everything that is less than 5 feet deep, which paints a clear picture of how all the structure sets. He positions the boat just off the structure so casts to the top or across the high part keep the bulk of every presentation in the prime zone.

Many of the structures Mason works during spring have hydrilla, eelgrass or other vegetation on them, except in the shallowest zone, which tends to be open. He has found that the inside grass line – where the water gets a bit too shallow atop a bar or other structure – is a key area during spring.

Dependent on the stage of the spawn and how fish are positioned, Mason might go back and forth on a specific bar or flat, continuing to find fish and entice strikes, or it could be a more mobile approach, working many different structures and keeping the boat moving. Once again, it becomes a patterning game. He knows that this approach is productive through the spring, so he lets the fish reveal how they are positioned and where they are biting.

finesse Carolina rig largemouth bassfinesse Carolina rig largemouth bass