When summer’s temperatures go high, largemouth bass go low. Whether you’re working the wide, open waters of Tennessee River impoundments or fishing local lakes and ponds, it’s a safe bet the big bass will be as deep as they can get throughout the majority of the day. Topwater action is confined to the day’s very first and last minutes of light. The rest of the hours call upon one of two strategies to get to the very bottom of the matter.
The top two techniques for tackling deep water bass involve either super deep-diving crankbaits, or the long and lanky workings of the Carolina rig. Most dedicated bass fishermen prefer one over the other, but it’s important to be fluent with both for the best and most consistent results.
Deep-running crankbaits are best for quickly targeting precise spots, provoking strikes around structure that’s been confirmed through the use of electronics to be holding fish. Carolina rigs are better for covering wide swaths of territory, for exploring shell and stump beds and for tempting finicky strikes through great finesse. Each have their strengths and weaknesses, but any dedicated bass enthusiast should be equipped and prepared to do both.
Carolina on my mind
A Carolina rig is the plastic worm fisherman’s solution for getting after bass that are camped out next to the bottom in water 20 or more feet deep. Typically, a Texas-rigged worm is fished with a small, bullet-shaped weight right in front of the hook. The weight is just heavy enough to get the worm to the bottom in a reasonable amount of time, and it’s bullet-shaped to help it bump along in a tempting way. The weight slides up the line when a fish strikes, depriving the fish of the lead’s mass for momentum in attempts to throw the hook. In deeper waters, like those favored by bass in the high summertime, the small weight on a standard Texas rig isn’t heavy enough to carry the worm to the bottom quickly enough to suit anyone. It takes a plug of lead the size and shape of a robin’s egg to do that. If the worm is fished with that much weight right on its nose, it won’t behave in a natural-enough way to attract fish well, though, so the Carolina rig is the compromise and solution.
Standard construction of a Carolina rig begins by slipping onto the main line an egg or pointed sinker in the three-quarter-ounce range, following it with a bead, then tying on a barrel swivel. Use a lighter weight in calm, shallow water and a heavier weight in deep water or high chop. The bead, which sits between the weight and the reel-side of the swivel, protects the knot from the weight and, with the weight, can create a clacking noise to help grab the attention of fish. Onto the hook side of the swivel is tied a leader one to four feet in length and a very sharp hook with a wide gap.
One variation in this construction puts the weight on a wire, as opposed to the line, above the swivel, preventing it from rubbing against the line and creating abrasions that can cause the main line to break when fighting a fish.
In either case, the main line should be heavier than the leader so that, when the hook does get irretrievably hung up, the line breaks off below the swivel rather than above and doesn’t require rebuilding the whole rig from scratch.
Roaming far, deep
The Carolina rig lets fishermen cover wide expanses of deep water, feel what’s on the lake bottom and tempt less-aggressive fish. It also allows the use of a heavier weight than the Texas rig, since the weight is positioned away from the bait and doesn’t make it feel unnatural to the fish. That heavier weight gets the bait to the bottom quickly, even in deep water, and holds it there. This means larger areas can be covered more quickly and effectively than a Texas rig would allow. It’s ideal in situations that require more finesse than a crankbait could present, and it keeps the bait on the bottom over a longer distance as well.
Part of the value of the Carolina rig is the way it lets the user know what’s on the bottom of the lake. Vibrations from the weight dragging along are easily interpreted between mud, gravel, shells, rip rap or stumps, and the fisherman can easily picture where the bait is behind the weight and know it’s in the zone.
Sweep into success
Carolina rigs are best fished with a sweeping motion, moving the rig along with the rod then reeling down to sweep again, keeping the line tight at all times. Experienced Carolina rig fishermen advise users never to set the hook as they would with a jig, but rather to reel a little faster until the rod loads up and sweep into the fish. A standard hook set may just jump the sinker off the bottom without transferring the energy to the fish. Increasing the length of the leader increases the finesse at the expense of feel. A shorter leader may make strikes easier to feel, but a longer leader may make more strikes happen. Finding the best middle ground is a matter of experimentation and personal preference, but a leader three feet long is a good starting point.
Traditionally, big bass can be found holding close by specific deep water points in the summer. When they can be so located through the use of electronics, super deep diving crankbaits can out-perform Carolina rigs, provided the bass are in the mood to strike.
Crank it down
Everything about fishing a big, floating lure 30 feet deep in a lake is a struggle against physics, and so the trigonometry of fishing these baits calls for special gear. Needed is a rod designed to load and launch as far as physically possible, and a reel geared to pull the steep downhill to put a deep diver into the cover where the fish are found. That means a long, medium- to medium-heavy action rod and a reel geared in the zone of 5.4:1. Line of the narrowest diameter capable of the strength the job requires is also a plus because, at these limits, the resistance of a large-diameter line against the water adds to the load. Fluorocarbon in the 12-pound test world is just right.
Casting far beyond the located structure and fish, cranking the bait as deep as it will go and pulling it through the fish-bearing zone makes for exciting times, but it’s best deployed against specific targets rather than sent to whom it may concern.