They’re Not Just For Black Bass...
These Multi-Lure Rigs Nab Multi Species
By Gary Nelson
Earlier this year Frank Saksa and I boated to an inviting, quiet little cove on Arkansas’/Missouri’s massive Bull Shoals Lake to start a half day of mixed-bag fishing—which proved to be extremely enlightening. After a little crappie action in the cove, we eased over to a rocky point at the cove mouth. Here my friend would begin demonstrating the effectiveness and versatility of a rather new freshwater fishing tool: the “Alabama rig.” While the rig was more or less designed for bass fishing, Frank had been experimenting and wanted to prove to me the rig can be adapted to catch several species of gamefish and even big panfish.
The rig is similar to the “umbrella” spreader rig long-used by East Coast bluefish and striped bass fishermen. But this new freshwater version is smaller; the rig has five wire arms, each about seven inches long, to which you attach lures of your choice. You can cast or troll up to five jigs, in-line spinners, or other lures at a time.
(The arms are flexible, allowing you to bend them and accommodate lures of different widths.) Usually you catch one fish at a time with it, but with so many hooks, it’s not uncommon to catch two or more on a single cast. And the fish caught are often heavier-than-average.
Mann's Bait Company began producing the Alabama rig in 2011 based on a design developed by Andy Poss. The rig helped anglers win some major bass tournaments, so it quickly became very popular with bassers. (Other companies later started making their own versions. And, Mann’s has more recently designed a smaller-yet version, about two inches shorter, for crappie fishing.)
Of course, the rig when fished with all five lures is not legal to use in every state, so an angler needs to check his regulations book before he heads to a fishing water. (If not legal, a partly “loaded” rig may well be legal to use. See the accompanying sidebar.)
For a while, due to its tournament success, the Alabama rig was hard to find in a lot of tackle shops. That was the case in Frank’s area, so he was using a handmade rig the day we fished. He had it pre-rigged with five jig heads, each dressed with a soft plastic swimbait. As he retrieved it over the rocky point, the rig looked like a small group of forage fish to a hefty spotted bass here
The bass nailed one of the jigs, and Frank worked the fish to the boat. While many spotted bass (“Kentuckies”) are panfish-sized, this one definitely wasn’t. Frank released the fish, approximately three pounds, back into Bull’s clear water.
When Frank Saksa, of Mountain Home, Ark., isn’t guiding trout anglers on the White River, he’s probably guiding fishermen to assorted Bull Shoals Lake species, or just out fishing for fun. The past several months he’d been doing considerable experimenting with the five-lure rig and found it so effective that he appeals to those who use it to do what he’d just done with the spotted bass—practice a lot of catch and release.
A little later, we boated to a large, wind-hit bay to fish it until sundown. Here we wanted to see if any white bass were present and if they would hit the rig. Frank cast the five-lure rig, while for comparison I stayed with a more-or-less standard single two-inch white-bass jig.
His fish, including one of just more than three pounds, turned out to be larger than the white bass I caught. Yes, the multi-lure rig appears to attract and catch bigger fish. Perhaps the larger fish have learned that it’s more efficient to attack a group of baitfish (as imitated by the multi-lure rig) than to attack a single baitfish?
Frank wanted to finish the half-day outing by casting for several minutes at a main-lake point to prove that the five-jig rig could account for even more species. In probably less than 10 casts, he felt a hit and set the hook. He indeed brought to the boat another variety—a nice walleye, one of about four pounds.
Frank says that during the past few months he’d caught several species, including walleye, whites, and three black bass species (largemouth, smallmouth and spotted.) He’s also caught big crappie with the rig—the bass-style one. He’ll likely catch larger numbers of them when he starts using the smaller version of the Alabama rig more. At this writing, it had just recently hit the market.
The Alabama can be fished at various depths and speeds to match a particular species’ location and feeding mood. Frank targets a species by going to its special habitat at the right time of day, and by changing the rig’s lure type and lure size.
For walleye or black bass he might choose to put on swimbaits, such as five 3-1/2-inch Yum Money Minnows (in the color patterns of hitch, hologram shad, or pearl/chartreuse back) or five Northland Slurpies (in a pattern like sexy shad.) He attaches the swimbaits to 1/16- or 1/8-ounce lead heads featuring hooks of about size 4/0.
For white bass, Frank might instead use five, three-inch Bobby Garland Swimming Minnows in a shad hue such as pearl white. For crappie, he might use the same baits, but in the two-inch size and use them with the smaller, five-inch-arm rig.
Frank casts the larger size rig with 50-pound-test braid loaded onto a Curado B5:1 reel and 7'6" Flippin Stick. (For the crappie, he of course goes with slightly smaller gear.) Heavy line is necessary to prevent losing the rig and all of its five lures at a single snag. With so many hooks on the rig, snag-ups are common, so Frank always brings along a pair of pliers to straighten out hooks. He also notes that, to make the swimbaits last longer, they can be super-glued to the jig heads.
Since these freshwater versions of the old saltwater umbrella rig have only been out a short period of time, the long-time guide says there’s still a lot of experimenting yet to be done with them. But they’ve already proven to be effective on not just bass, but other species too.
For more information, call guide Frank Saksa at (870) 421-4500 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep The Rig Legal For Your Particular Water
In many states the Alabama rig is generally allowed when used with five lures attached. In other states, or at least in particular waters, the fully-loaded rig is not permitted because it has so many hooks. It might still be legally used, however, by attaching fewer lures. For example, if the hook limit is three, an angler might attach small, hook-less spinner blades to two of the arms; or clip off two of the arms. Or if only one hook is allowed, an angler can attach spinner blades to the four outside arms. Then, attach a good-sized lure on a several-inch leader to the center arm’s snap. The rig will look like a small school of forage fish and, as often is the case, a fish may well nab the lure that’s trailing a few inches or a foot behind it.