Do I Need to Fish an Alabama Rig?

A comparatively recent development in the fishing world, Andy Poss’s invention that uses metal wiring in an umbrella shape to dangle five different hooked baits from a single fishing line, has been popular since it’s invention. The Alabama Rig, or A-rig, enables anglers to catch multiple fish at once without having to cast out and monitor multiple poles. It saves on equipment and it allows for much larger catch rates. Bass and walleye love to attack the lures that are attached to an A-rig, and often anglers are able to catch two or more at one time. 

They are tons of fun and add a new dimension to the sport. Fishermen everywhere are busy crafting or imagining updates of the Alabama rig that feature different set-ups on the rig or additions to the arms of the umbrella, like nets. While anglers have been having a blast with the A-rig for the last 9 years or so, some authorities like competition organizers and states have found the rig to be an unfair finger on the scale in terms of catch rates, and some have gone so far as to say the A-rig could potentially negatively impact species’ population rates. 

It has been banned from competitions and even made illegal in some U.S. states, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a lot to love about the A-rig. They’ve been in high demand ever since they came onto the scene and some crafty anglers have even designed their own DIY or knockoff brands to fill in the gaps and offer a cheaper alternative than the original. It’s a versatile tool that can be pulled behind a boat, cast out, dropped in, and even used in shallow water if the rod angle is lifted and the line is strong enough to hold the hooks up off the ground. 

Now, that being said, it certainly doesn’t mean the A-rig is an unmissable activity in the world of fishing. Frogging, fishing crankbaits, and drop shot fishing are all stellar methods that can be done with or without the involvement of the A-rig. Sportfishing existed long before the Alabama Rig and there’s a whole wealth of techniques and tools for anglers to try out. That’s part of what makes it such a worthwhile investment. However, like all those other methods of fishing, the A-rig has a unique application and using one is every bit as enjoyable as other popular fishing methods. 

Read on for a comprehensive look at the Alabama Rig, including where they came from, how they’re used, and finally an overview of some of the controversy surrounding them.

What is an Alabama Rig?

Also referred to as an umbrella rig or shortened to an A-rig, an Alabama Rig is a combination of lures set up on metal arms that are designed to mimic a small school of baitfish. Anglers all over the world have claimed to be using simple DIY versions for decades or even longer, which is likely true, but the official A-rig that gets so much attention today didn’t come around until a fishing competition on Lake Guntersville, Alabama, in 2011. 

Even though they haven’t been around for very long, there have been tons of modifications and adjustments to A-rigs from manufacturers and anglers alike. The most usual modifications are the addition of extra arms. The original Alabama Rig has five arms but some anglers have added DIY modifications to add arms or add lures to the existing five arms. Some anglers choose to add extra lures or bait to the arms further up from the hook and some add fake arms with hookless lures that are near the main hooked lures, which are in the most optimal position for a strike on the A-rig. 

The most common lures for A-rigs are swimbait, which is a term that describes lures that are designed to look like species of fish that larger fish eat. Swimbait can be hard or soft and may have attachments that are made to look like moving fins. Since their inception near Los Angeles in the 1980s, swimbait has been enormously popular for their ability to hook small and largemouth bass. Of course, some people prefer to fish an Alabama Rig with other kinds of lures, but swimbait remains far and away the most common for now. 

There are some limitations to how many arms you can have on your A-rig that come from the state level or from specific fishing spots. As we’ll see further on in this post, there are many restrictions and outright legal bans on the use of Alabama Rigs all across the United States. However, this has only created an impetus for creativity and improvement in the places where A-rigs are allowed and the same craftiness is on clear display within limitations where they exist. 

How to Fish an Alabama Rig

An Alabama Rig can be fished like pretty much any other kind of lure. The larger size is usually heavier than a single lure so it can be drop shot into the water beneath a boat. If you have the right fishing rod and line you can cast with an A-rig, sending it out to reel it back in to cause the action on the swimbait lures to move. You can also use an A-rig as bait for a suspended fish. In that case, just leave the A-rig suspended at the right level and make sure you’ve chosen bait that looks like suspended baitfish. 

For anglers who like the additional challenge of fishing for bass in the wintertime, A-rigs can also be dragged along on the bottom of a lake to lure those lethargic fish from their winter hiding spots. If you like bank fishing or don’t have regular access to a boat, no sweat; the A-rig can be cast into shallow water just by lifting your rod to an upward angle over the water and leaving a tight line to make sure the rig will stay suspended at whatever level you want it in the water. 

Where to Fish Alabama Rigs

A really important consideration when you’re deciding whether to use an A-rig or not is the location where you’ll be fishing. This has a lot to do with the type of fishing you plan to do as well. As you can imagine, the various arms of an A-rig make them completely impractical for fishing in places where tall grass grows or there are lots of likely snags. They can be dangled near docks and above grasses if you have the equipment to tell how tall the grass is. 

Alabama rigs are most successful in clear water, which isn’t to say that they’re no good at all for murkier lakes, but remember to compensate with the right lures if you plan to use an A-rig in less clear water. If you pick a lure with high action, meaning a lure that has a moving tail or fin function when the rig is in motion, then fishing with an A-rig in a river or off the side of a slow-moving boat can be very successful. An A-rig in motion and a transparent line can look nearly identical to a swimming school of baitfish and all kinds of fish like walleye and bass attack them with a high frequency.

Many anglers use the A-rig on the ocean and tons of people use them on lakes across the United States. Trawling, the act of letting an A-rig trail off the side of a moving boat and hoping to run through some fish, is a popular method in both locations although it has been banned in most competitions. Larger bass love to attack schools of fish more than they like to go after single fish, so anywhere you can find a good-sized bass is a great place to try out an Alabama Rig. 

Fishing Rods and Tackle for Alabama Rigs

If you plan to use an Alabama rig while casting, then you’re going to need a rod that can really launch the whole thing a far enough distance. That means you’ll need a rod with medium to high action so that the tip is flexible enough to catapult the A-rig out as far as you need to hit your target. The action of the pole is also important so that the pole can handle the resistance of the A-rig when you reel it in. The rest of the pole should have enough strength to support the rig, so get one with a sturdy backbone. The heavier your rig is the longer your pole should be. A light A-rig can be fished with a 6-foot or 7-foot fishing pole, but a heavier one may require an 8- or 9-foot pole. 

For those unaware, a gear ratio is a figure that illustrates how many times a reel will rotate when the reel handle is spun 360 degrees one time. For example, a reel with a 6:1 gear ratio will rotate six times every time a complete turn is made on the handle. Pros use reels with really high gear ratios, up to 9.1:1, but a standard bass reel is usually around 6:1 or 7.1:1 and that will do just fine if you’re going fishing with an Alabama Rig. A 7.1:1 will give you enough reeling-in speed to get your A-rig out of the water quickly in case it’s at risk or you have a bite or two on the end of the line. 

One of the most fun things about fishing an Alabama rig is that just about any kind of bait will work. Swimbait, as mentioned earlier, is the most common. Just make sure the bait is lightweight enough to suspend realistically on the A-rig and not weigh down the whole thing too much.

Controversy about Alabama rigs

The Bass Anglers Sportsmans Society, or BASS, has banned Alabama Rigs from their competitions. The opinion of BASS is that they add an unfair lean to fair competition. While some conservation departments at the state level have fish populations in mind the same as they do when they create standard catch limits, BASS is more concerned with the ethics of the competition in their tournaments. The Alabama Rig is so effective that BASS believes it takes away the need for some of the skill normally required to catch lots of fish. For the most part, few people have raised any ethical issues with the Alabama Rig since it operates just the same as normal sport fishing, just with the additional hooks on the same line. 

Many states have limitations on all or some of their waters for the number of poles allocated to one fisherman and catch limits for certain populations of fish such as red snapper are controlled by organizations who want to ensure anglers will continue to have plenty of fish to catch for years to come. It’s this same mentality that has led to limitations or outright bans on the A-rig in many places across the United States. 

These laws are changing fairly regularly so it’s hard to make a definitive list of bans and regulations that will stay up-to-date for long. It’s best to research the regulations in the place where you plan to fish before you go. Keep in mind that there are sometimes limitations within certain parks and lakes, so it won’t be enough to just check at the state level if you want to use an A-rig. 

There’s no absolute ruling regarding Alabama Rigs, their effectiveness, or their fairness. The consensus among professional anglers seems to favor banning them from competitions simply because they are so effective. Essentially, to keep things fair in competitions every angler would have to use an Alabama Rig if any one of them decided to. That’s a fair enough argument in sport, but for everyday anglers, an A-rig can be great fun and catching such a high number of fish is sure to lift the spirits of anybody with an interest in fishing. 

Disadvantages of Fishing an Alabama Rig

While the A-rig is enormously popular, there are plenty of anglers who aren’t interested in catching high numbers of fish at once. The traditional one-hook methods of catching fish have plenty of staunch defenders who don’t see the need to spend extra money on an Alabama Rig. Additionally, even though theoretically and anecdotally the A-rig sounds like a super bass-catching machine, it’s not always going to work like magic. For those who already enjoy sport fishing the way it is or who prefer to try different finesse tactics of new lures without multiplying the number of hooks, the A-rig is certainly not a must-have item. 

For people who eat what they catch and like to feed multiple people with their catch, an A-rig is a great way to catch enough fish for everyone. While manufacturers are always working hard to make these rigs snag-proof, the number of arms makes them really susceptible to snagging and may be an unnecessary bother for anglers who fish in places with lots of grass, trees, or rocks in the water. 

A standard bass fishing reel will work fine with an Alabama rig. 

Final Verdict:

While a testament to their stellar fish-catching ability abounds on forums and videos about fishing, the Alabama Rig is, like anything else, just a tool for sport fishing. If your goal is to catch lots of fish and you want to be able to possibly catch multiple fish in one cast, then it’s definitely worth getting an Alabama Rig. They can be great fun and customizing your rig to make its schooling effect even more convincing is likely to keep tackle-obsessed anglers occupied for a long time. 

Ultimately, they aren’t too much trouble and can be used like any other lure. You can cast, trawl, or drop spot fish with an Alabama Rig just fine if you make the right adjustments to your gear. It’s important to do your research before you go out or you might risk getting in trouble for using an A-rig in a place where it’s banned. There are also bans on the number of arms and number of hooks you can have on an A-rig. If that sounds like too much trouble for you, then sticking to the classics isn’t going to lessen your enjoyment of sport fishing at all. But if you want to try to upgrade your catch rate or just want to see what all the fuss is about, an A-rig is every bit as much fun as any other piece of tackle. 

Bonus tip: Angling for bass? Check out this helpful video for some tips on how to set up an A-rig to catch bass!

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