By Jonathan Manteuffel
Special to BassFan

The Alabama Rig is unbeatable when conditions are right for it. Paul Elias proved that with his FLW Tour Open win on Lake Guntersville last October, slamming more than 102 pounds over 4 days and forcing practically everyone else who was in contention to also use it.

A week later and four reservoirs downstream, Dan Morehead couldn't get anything going on Kentucky Lake at the EverStart Championship until he started casting the Alabama Rig.

After that, the size of the bass he was catching went up while the numbers stayed pretty steady. Fourth-place finisher Jim Tutt also used it, as did several others who ended up near the top.

Kentucky Bassmaster Elite Series pro Mark Menendez has watched it happen over and over.

"Local tournaments here on Kentucky Lake are being won with 28 and 29 pounds for 1-day events," he said. "Normally you'd expect maybe 18 to 20 pounds to be enough. And they're all catching them on that darn chandelier."

When it's Lights Out

Fall bass are keyed in on shad and in a feeding mood. Anything will work when they're in a schooling frenzy, but it's often difficult to trigger a bite from bigger fish lurking below the schools in between feeding sprees. The Alabama Rig somehow flips the switch on them, though.

Elias and Morehead both won in late October on the Tennessee River, and they both targeted that nemesis of bass anglers – suspended fish. Elias caught them from bridge pilings when nothing else he threw would entice them. Morehead caught them hanging off drops, when they weren't back in the coves chasing shad. "Nothing triggers suspended fish quite like this rig," Morehead said.

So the A-Rig may become the go-to bait for that situation. But what about other times of the year?

Alabama Elite Series pro Randy Howell is anxious to find out.

"The A-Rig is very versatile from what little I've seen of it," Howell said. "I've only used it for a couple months and I was just starting to learn more before the (Elite Series) rule change (banning it)," he said.

One Elite Series angler on the B.A.S.S. rules committee, explaining why he voted to ban the A-Rig, said: "It doesn't matter how you work it. The fish can't help themselves." Elias thinks that's a ridiculous statement, noting he has seen situations where they wouldn't bite it and other lures worked better.

Howell has, too.

"I have fished it without catching fish and I have fished it and caught several big stringers on it," he said. "It's still a technique that requires work to find the fish, but once you find them in the suspended mode or on the bottom in cold water under shad, it will catch them more effectively than any other technique that I've ever seen.

The Alabama Rig has proven that it can "flip the switch" on fall bass that are between feeding periods.

"It has been proven to work in areas when nothing else is working, but that's all been in late-fall and early-winter fishing," Howell continued. "We will have to wait and see if it's as effective in spring and summer. My opinion is that it'll work great year-round and I will be playing with it between Elite events and hopefully get to catch some good ones on it for fun, if nothing else."

Why Does it Work?

Traditional approaches such as deep crankbaits, spoons, and stroking or swimming jigs occasionally get fish fired up, but more often just haul water. A single lure may get a fish's attention, and it may even follow the lure to the boat, only to turn back without striking.

Howell believes there is strength in numbers – numbers of baits, that is.

"These umbrella-style rigs seem to attract the larger fish in a school due to the large profile of a school of shad," he said. "There's something about it that can turn follows into strikes, and often those fish are in the 4- to 6-pound class.

Dr. Keith Jones, director of research at the Berkley Fish Research Center in Spirit Lake, Iowa, offered his opinion.

"I define reaction strikes as those intended for a non-feeding purpose, such as curiosity, pure aggression, territorialism, or reflex," he said. "With that definition, I agree that the rig likely evokes both feeding and reaction strikes.

"The more important question is whether multiple-bait rigs like the Alabama Rig are more effective than single baits. In both cases – feeding and reaction strikes – the answer will be yes in some instances, no in others. The primary determining factor, I think, will be the mood of the bass."

He postulated that a multi-lure rig would be more effective than a single lure when presented to aggressive fish. He gave examples of low-aggression fish – those that are partially satiated, cold, or stressed – and high-aggression fish, such as bass with strong reactivity, active feeders and spawning males. "Aggressive bass are less size-sensitive to attack objects," he noted.

"The secondary determining factor will be the bass’s environmental conditions, notably the prevailing levels of visual and/or acoustic 'noise'," he added. "I would reason that as environments get noisier, it becomes more difficult for a bass to locate and fixate on an attack object of interest, due to a diminishing signal-to-noise ratio. Larger objects such as a multi-rig will always have a higher signal-to-noise ratio than do smaller objects like single rigs, and hence a detectability advantage."

Photo: Berkley

Dr. Keith Jones, director of research at the Berkley Fish Research Center, says the Alabama Rig is capable of evoking both feeding and reaction strikes, but it won't always be more effective than a single bait.

He also noted that, while technically not acoustic noise, a visually “noisy” environment may make larger presentations easier to find.

"Muddy water, stained water, or water with a lot of suspended algae would have a similar effect (to acoustic noise) in that it prevents a bass from easily seeing the attack object of interest," he said. Examples of acoustically noisy environments include flowing water, wind-agitated water and areas with high human traffic.

In summary, as the aggression level of the fish goes up, and as the environment gets noisier, the Alabama Rig would tend to become more effective – in theory.

Gearing Up with the A-Rig

Regardless of why the A-Rig works, it requires stout equipment to throw it. With a main head, five jigheads from 1/4- to 1/2-ounce each and five swimbaits, it can get pretty heavy – and expensive. For those reasons it's a good idea to use heavy braid and a heavy rod

Inventor Andy Poss, on his website, recommends a 7-foot medium-heavy rod and a good, high-speed baitcasting reel spooled with 80- to 100-pound braided line. For smaller fish and fun-fishing he suggests light-wire hooks that can be pulled free if the lure gets snagged, but heavy hooks for big fish and tournaments.

"I think this year you'll see a lot of variations in lures and styles with these rigs and I'm looking forward to seeing how guys use it in shallow-water applications," Howell said. "I think these rigs can be a staple in the fishing industry and it'll be interesting to see if they cool down after more people start fishing them.

"That has always happened with every new lure or technique, so we'll see how it goes this time."


> Both Poss (on his website) and Morehead said if a steady retrieve isn't catching fish, a stop-drop-and-go can trigger some hard strikes.