Customizing the basic bottom rig for different conditions.

mutton snapper bottom rig

Captain R.T. Trosset hoists a Key West mutton snapper as Rick Ryals brings another one topside.

I don’t think any bottom rig is more used, and less understood, than the classic “fishfinder” rig. In its most basic form, it’s an egg sinker on your mainline, tied to a swivel, leading to a leader, with a hook on the end. It’s been used for everything from croakers to grouper, and has possibly fed more Florida fisherman’s families than any other rig.

It certainly sounds simple enough to build, but expert fishermen know that the basic rig is only the beginning. My first exposure to a variation on the rig was flounder fishing in Jacksonville. My buddy Roger Walker had fishfinders on his flounder rods, with only about ten inches between the swivel and the hook. I soon learned the reason he wanted them so short. Mullet was his bait of choice, and the longer you make the leader the higher off the bottom your mullet will swim. Keeping the bait within 10 inches of the bottom made it easier for the flounder to catch it.

bottom rig sinker location

How close the sinker is allowed to slide to the hook is controlled by swivels, and may depend on many factors.

My education of fishfinder rigs was advanced again one day when we were dropping live pinfish for grouper. I climbed the boat’s tower to try and make out something floating on the horizon, and looking down I was shocked to see one of the pinfish we had hooked for bait. He was still within sight, long after the sinker had settled to the bottom in 100 feet of water. A baitfish’s instinct is to pull against what’s pulling it, and the shoulder-hooked pinfish was frantically trying to get back under the boat. The answer is to add a second swivel, so your sinker will slide 12 to 18 inches between the swivels but no more.

When you check the fishfinder rigs of the best snapper and grouper fishermen in your area, chances are you’ll see what makes them successful. Where I fish in Northeast Florida we are “blessed” with less than clear water, and relatively light fishing pressure. We can get away with a 3- or 4-foot leader of 60- or 80-pound mono. In the clear, heavily fished waters of South Florida, a totally different tactic: Fluorocarbon is required and leaders may be up to 50 feet long. Captain Bouncer Smith helped teach me the reason. The ocean is constantly moving. If your dead bait is only on a 3-foot leader it will often stay unnaturally still in a moving ocean. If you’re using live bait, it may well not be able to move around enough to attract attention. If it has 50 feet of slack between the sinker and the hook, the bait will lay more naturally, or swim in a bigger circumference. A big, keen-eyed mutton or grouper isn’t going to fall for the same rig he sees every day. If you snell your hook (size determined by bait and target species) to a long piece of fluorocarbon, you just may be showing him a bait he can’t resist. FS

Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2020

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