Nothing tempts fish to strike faster than a fresh natural bait, particularly when water and weather conditions are not optimal for angling. These four species-specific rigs fit that description. When they’re used with quality baits, they can be counted on to dupe bass, trout, walleyes, and panfish when other presentations don’t.
1) Quick-Strike Tandem Pike Rig
Prime time: Late winter through early summer
Best baits: Live chubs, suckers
What you’ll need: A strong, good-quality black barrel swivel; 1 to 2 feet of single or multi-strand wire (size 2 to 5; 27 to 44 pounds, depending on the size fish you’re chasing); two plastic beads; two wire sleeve crimps; two high-quality treble hooks (size 4 to 8, depending on bait size and pike sought).
Why it works: This rig can easily be modified for use with nearly any size live chub or sucker bait. Large treble hooks are used to facilitate quick hooking of gamefish, so that bait is not swallowed. The forward wire sleeve is not crimped with pliers, so the wire loop can be lengthened or shortened. The forward hook is positioned in the bait’s nose or mouth; the trailer goes behind the dorsal fin.
2) Air Largemouths
Prime time: Late spring through midsummer
Best baits: Crayfish, live shiners, small bluegills
What you’ll need: A brightly colored balloon; a 1/8- to ¼-ounce bullet weight; a small plastic bead; a good-quality black barrel swivel; a 1- to 4-foot-long fluorocarbon leader (10- to 30-pound-test); 2/0 to 5/0 bait hook (Kahle, circle)
Why it works: Using a balloon instead of a standard bobber allows for a lot more versatility. First, balloons can be conveniently stored, and they’re inexpensive. Also, a balloon can be matched to the size of the bait. A big balloon can be used to help move a bait along the surface if there’s wind or current. When a fish strikes and the balloon is taken under, it usually pops and doesn’t interfere with the fight.
3) Split-Shot Trout Drift
Rig Prime time: Spring through autumn
Best baits: Nightcrawlers, nymphs, grasshoppers, minnows
What you’ll need: A small black barrel swivel; 3 feet of 6-pound-test fluorocarbon leader; 2 feet of 4-pound-test fluorocarbon leader; six small split shots; a bait hook (No. 6 to 1/0, depending on bait size)
Why it works: This rig is designed for drifting bait deep, near the bottom, and at the same speed at which the current is delivering food to trout holding in a stream or river. When cast up- and across-stream and allowed to drift on a taut line, the bait dances near the bottom and appears as a natural food to trout waiting for a meal. The key to the rig is using just enough split shot to get a bait near the bottom but not make it stationary. The natural drift and swing of a bait is important to success.
4) Slip-Float Bobber Walleye
Rig Prime time: Late spring through summer
Best baits: Leeches, small shiner minnows
What you’ll need: A slender slip float, like the Thill Big Fish Slider (4- or 5-inch); a small plastic bead; a short length of 12-pound-test monofilament fishing line; small split shots; a No. 2 to 6 short-shank bait hook (finesse style)
Why it works: This slip-float setup allows walleye anglers to fish baits at nearly any depth, since the stop knot determines how much fishing line slides through the bobber to position a bait in the fish strike zone. It’s as deadly in 40 feet of water as it is in 4 feet. The rig is best used in current, although it works well in lakes where wind pushes a float into productive walleye water. Isolated small and shallow lake humps can be fished well with slip floats from long distances.