A colorful or baitfish-imitating leadhead with typically three, four or five spreadable metal arms anchored in the leadhead, Alabama rigs enable anglers to creatively rig the arms with multiple soft plastics, metal blades, spoons and even stickbaits.
A smaller first cousin to the saltwater umbrella rig, Alabama Rigs can be trolled, and cast and retrieved, from just under the surface, to mid-depth, all the way down to right along the bottom.
Best of all, Alabama Rigs have earned a reputation as a big fish catcher; they’ll also trigger nearly simultaneous strikes from two or even three fish at times!
Fresh to Salt
It’s been six years already since Alabama Rigs made their remarkable debut and started winning a lot of prize money for tournament bass fishermen. Others quickly recognized their promise beyond the bass fishing circuit. An Alabama Rig with its multiple lures and attractors resembles a small school of baitfish, which triggers the predatory instinct in gamefish, including both largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as striped bass, red drum, fluke, hybrid stripers, walleye, northern pike, even crappie and trout.
Those who may be considering including Alabama Rigs in their fishing arsenal need to be aware that there can be significant costs involved, and that a little time at the workbench is needed before they are ready for action. Depending on the size and number of arms, Alabama Rigs can range in price from $8 or $9 for smaller rigs on up to $20 or more for larger versions. That cost does not include the gear needed to fully prepare them for action, which is purchased separately or in kits and includes split rings, swivels and the wide range of lures that can be effectively fished on these rigs.
On some Alabama Rigs, lures or fish attractors such as metal blades are attached only at the end of each arm. On others, lures and/or attractors can also be added mid-arm as well as at the end of each arm, providing extra fish-attracting flash and vibration. A fully-rigged Alabama Rig can contain components that bring its total value to $30, $40 even $50 or more. Take care where and how they are fished to avoid costly snags and lost rigs.
Most Alabama Rigs come with a small metal ring around the rig’s arms. Slide it down near the end of each arm to compress the arms for storage and safe handling. To fish, slide the ring up to the head and spread the arms. Arms are firm but flexible. Using the Alabama Rig’s leadhead as a reference, on a five-arm rig one arm is straight behind the head, then pull and spread the other arms so there’s an arm at the top, at the bottom, and one on each side.
Alabama Rigs come equipped with snap swivels at the end of each arm for attaching the lure, yet some anglers prefer to replace the swivels with split rings. Split rings reduce tangling of lures that can occur during casting (Swivels allow lures to swing more freely, and at times lures can tangle on each other, and the fouled rig will not move through the water correctly on the retrieve.).
When installing soft straight-tail, curly-tail, or paddle-tail soft plastics, thread the soft plastic onto a leadhead, or use soft plastics that come with a built-in leadhead and hook. The jigheads are attached by slipping them onto the split rings (or swivels). Typically, lighter jigheads with smaller plastics and light-wire hooks are attached to the top and side arms, while larger plastics with heavier jigheads and stout hooks are fished down the middle and on the bottom to help ensure the rig swims correctly.
While water depth, current and wind will factor into the weight of the jigheads to be used, many anglers usually carry 1/16-, 1/8-, 1/4-ounce and 1/2-ounce jigheads and adjust as necessary. The arm down the middle, straight back from the head of the Alabama rig, is usually equipped with the heaviest jighead and largest plastic and it usually catches the most fish and larger fish. A good starting point is to install a 1/2-ounce jighead with a stout wire hook and a larger soft plastic on the arm straight back from the head of the Alabama Rig. The jigheads on the top and side arms can be 1/16-, 1/8- or 3/8-ounce with smaller plastics. Use 3/8- or 1/2-ounce jigheads on the bottom. Increase or decrease the weights of the jigheads as needed.
Geared Up for Action
Tackle shops and fishing catalogs are filled with a variety of soft plastics in many different shapes, lengths, and colors and many of them will catch fish when hung on Alabama Rigs. It’s a personal choice as an angler’s experience, familiarity with the water, the target species, the weather conditions, and the time of year will all factor into the decision-making process concerning the plastics to be used.
It is important to make sure each jighead is put on each split ring right-side up in relation to the head on the Alabama rig so the jighead and plastic will swim correctly when cast and retrieved, or trolled.
The choice of lures and attractors to use on an Alabama Rig goes well beyond soft plastics. Metal willow blades and spoons are popular choices. Hair jigs and even small bucktails can be attached. Crankbaits and stickbaits can be fished from the end of the arms on Alabama Rigs. Depending on the length and size of lures used, make sure the rig’s arms are spread wide enough to prevent the lures from tangling on themselves.
Because of their size, weight, relative bulkiness and wind resistance, tackle with some backbone is needed to effectively cast and troll Alabama rigs. Many anglers prefer baitcasting or small conventional reels, and 7- to 8-foot medium-heavy or heavy-action rods for better control and accuracy when casting. Reels are typically spooled with 50- to 80-pound braid, which can be tied directly to the leadhead at the front of the Alabama Rig.
A smooth, steady cast will provide distance and accuracy; attempts to “over power” when casting could very well result in the Alabama Rig spinning and the lures tangling.
It’s violent when a big fish, or multiple fish, smash and thrash on an Alabama Rig, and damage can be inflicted on the arms, which are usually steel, titanium, or heat-tempered stainless steel. After each catch, be sure to check the rig to make sure each arm is still firmly attached to the head of the rig, and that there are no kinks in any of the metal arms.
Give each lure a quick glance to make sure the hooks have not been straightened, the hooks are still sharp, and the lures, swivels or split rings have not been damaged in any way.
|BEFORE YOU RIG: CHECK YOUR REGS|
|Before fishing Alabama Rigs, check the 2017 regulations for the states in which you fish. While some states do not limit the number of hooks that can be fished at one time, other states do have hook restrictions, particularly in freshwater. For example, Maryland regulations allow no more than two hooks per rig. Only two of the lures can have hooks, while all others must be hookless attractors.
Regulations can change from year to year, so do a little research before you hit the water.