Top 10 rigs to welcome you to Florida fishing
Here’s the essential tutorial on basic bait rigs, from Capt. Rick Ryals, Florida Sportsman Projects Editor. The Jacksonville-based Ryals, a popular writer and seminar speaker, led our most recent revision of the classic fishing how-to book, Baits, Rigs and Tackle, originally authored by the late Vic Dunaway. The book is available in Kindle edition at the Florida Sportsman Shop https://floridasportsman.shop/.
1) Panfish: Float Rig
Keep this light and you’ll never go hungry. You’ll need a sliding float with a stopper on the lightest rod, or even better, a flexible “bream buster” pole. The advantage of a pole over a rod and reel is the ability to pick up your cricket, worm or small minnow straight up from one hole in the lily pads, or one side of a fallen branch, and move the bait without attempting to cast.
The secret to success with this rig is to use very light line. That helps you fool those sharp-eyed bream and speckled perch. With a tiny float, and a small sinker pinched on the line above your hook, your bait will move freely on the fall, if you use 4- or 6-pound test.
Ingredients: Flexible 16-foot bream buster poles or ultralight spinning rod, with 4- or 6-pound-test monofilament line. Number 6 or 8 Aberdeen style hooks, small slide thru floats, and 1/16- to 1/8-ounce pinch-on weights.
2) Bass Fishing: Texas Worm Rig
The Texas-rigged worm is very effective in the grassy waters typical of Florida lakes and rivers. It is rigged so that the point of the book is shielded by the body of the bait, where it will not snag vegetation. Two keys to fishing it effectively: choose the right size slide on “bullet” weight, and prick the hook back in the worm so it’s weedless but poised to pop free when a fish strikes. If you’re fishing still, open water, a 1/8-ounce bullet weight will allow your worm to sink slowly and seductively. Move up in weight, perhaps to a full ounce, if you’re trying to sink a worm through eelgrass or other heavy cover.
Note: Quickly catching up to the Texas rig, in terms of popularity and effectiveness in Florida waters, is the simple wacky rig, with the hook positioned at the midpoint of a straight worm. Salt-impregnated Senko-type worms are very popular here, and many fishermen use rubber O-rings to affix the small hooks which are most effective with the rig.
Ingredients: Classic Texas rig is best fished on 20-pound braided line with optional 20-pound mono leader. Medium spinner, or bait caster with rod tip stout enough to drive hook home. 1/0 to 4/0 offset shank worm hook, an assortment of 1/8- to 1-ounce bullet weights to slide on mainline in front of hook. I’d also suggest you buy a box of the old wooden toothpicks. If fishing eelgrass or heavy cover, stick toothpick in head of bullet weight and snap off to make weight stationary, and reduce getting snagged in weeds.
3) Bottom Fishing, Fresh or Salt: Fishfinder Rig
The most versatile rig in Florida, the fishfinder can be used for everything from freshwater catfish to offshore grouper. If it lives on the bottom, it can be targeted with a fishfinder rig. The secret lies in the style and size of the sinker you use. Simply slide the sinker on your mainline, tie on a swivel that won’t slide through sinker, and add an appropriate leader to the swivel.
Fishing this rig in an area where you want it to stay put (freshwater catfish, in heavy cover) may require a flat sinker. Fishing it to roll with the current requires an egg sinker heavy enough to stay on bottom, but light enough to roll naturally. Using this rig with finger mullet for redfish or flounder requires a short 10- or 12-inch leader to keep the bait from rising too high in the water. Fishing in deep water, using a 30-foot, 40-pound-test fluorocarbon leader, with an 8-ounce egg sinker can fool the wariest mutton snapper. Just remember to drop your long leader slowly to avoid bait wrapping around the mainline during the descent. When your rig hits the bottom, just keep letting it roll back with the current.
Ingredients: Appropriate egg, or flat sinker for area you’ll be fishing. Appropriate swivels. Leader from 1 foot to 30 feet. If you’re fishing in a heavy cover area consider using a leader lighter than your mainline. For flounder (which commonly live around rocks and other snaggy bottom) I often use 30-pound monofilament fishing line and a 20-pound leader. Better to break off a hook, than lose the whole leader.
4) Surf Fishing: Multi-Hook Rig
Almost every big box store you visit will have heavy braided cable “surf rigs.” They may be the ultimate in “too much tackle” for the job. You will be more effective if you start with a 5-foot piece of 20-pound test. Tie a triple surgeon’s loop (basically overhand knots) using a loop that ends up about 9 inches long. Pull knot as snug as possible, and clip one end, leaving a 16-inch “branch” off main line. If you want to fish a double rig, just repeat the process toward the other end of leader. By the time you’re done, you’ll have two 16-inch branches to tie 2/0 circle hooks to. Make a third surgeon’s loop on one end to hold a sinker, and tie a swivel to the other end and you’re ready to slay some whiting. Pompano anglers often slide a pink bead above the hooks to imitate sand flea eggs.
Note: Many surf fishermen use a specialized inside dropper loop knot to form the branches, and simply push the loop through the eye of the hook and hitch around the bend. Having the doubled section of leader stiffens the branches, minimizing tangles. The extra line is unlikely to deter bites in cloudy, roily surf.
Ingredients: Five feet of 20-pound mono, appropriate swivel, 2 to 2/0 circle or kahle hooks, 3-ounce pyramid sinkers for calm days, up to 4-ounce “Sputnik sinkers” for fishing a big surf. Tie a snap swivel to the bottom of the rig, or finish with a surgeon’s loop knot and slide loop through the eye of the sinker and hitch tight.
5) Bottom Fishing: Chicken Rig
Also known as partyboat rig, this is almost like a surf rig for bigger fish. I prefer tying it with 60- to 80-pound mono. Instead of tying surgeon’s loops, use stronger three-way swivels. You’ll need to use a uni knot to tie two three way swivels about 36 inches apart. Cut two 18-inch branches and tie 4/0 to 8/0 circle hooks to one end, while tying the other end to a second eye of the 3 way swivel. Add a 6-foot surgeon loop to the third eye of one swivel and your main line to the opposite end. The beauty of this rig is, the ease of changing sinkers depending on depth and current. You’ll feel the bites better on braided line with as small a teardrop sinker as you can hold bottom with. The rig is superior for schooling bottom fish like sea bass and vermilion snapper.
Ingredients: 60- or 80-pound mono. Three-way swivels (at least 100-pound breaking strength), 4/0 to 8/0 circle hooks. A selection of 4- to 12-ounce teardrop or bank sinkers.
6) Bottom Fishing: Knocker Rig
Big snapper and big grouper didn’t get big by being dumb. If you drop a live bait, or even a big dead bait down and it stays still while the rest of the ocean moves around, the biggest and smartest of the reef figure out “what’s up” pretty soon.
By connecting an appropriate swivel to the end of your mainline tying a 20- to 30-foot piece of 60- or 80-pound mono leader on, just add your egg sinker to the leader, before tying the hook on. The rig becomes deadly when you allow the bait to swim away (or drift away) in a heavy current. A pinfish swimming with 20 feet of slack makes a much more natural presentation than a bait trying to swim away on a 3-foot tether.
Ingredients: Appropriate swivel, 20 to 30 feet 60- or 80-pound mono. 6/0 to 9/0 circle hook with 4- to 8-ounce egg sinker, between sinker and hook. Best used with live grunts, pinfish sardines. If current isn’t very strong, try hooking your bait near the tail. It will instinctively swim away from the resistanve of the sinker and the line.
7) Inshore Drift Fishing: Popping Cork
Redfish, trout, snook and flounder all cruise the edges of grass beds, oyster bars, and docks. Dropping a jig or live shrimp in front of a cruiser, and then calling his name with the snap of a popping cork is a deadly method in 3 to 6 feet of water. Popping corks have evolved from cup faced fixed Styrofoam floats to a torpedo shaped cork that slides on a wire with beads at each end. The click they put out, is supposed to perfectly mimic the snap of a shrimp. The beauty of the rig is, it not only appeals to the fishes sense of hearing, but weighing down your live shrimp or mud minnow with a tiny split shot while leaving it in the strike zone as it drifts along an area, calling up a strike every time you sharply pull on the line just enough to “pop” or “click” the cork.
Ingredients: Popping cork, 2 to 4 feet of 20-pound-test mono leader, 1/16- to ¼-ounce split shot (set 8 inches above the hook) and 3/0 live bait hook or ¼-ounce jig head with soft plastic tail.
8) Offshore: Drift Line Rig
So good for so many species. Whereas South Florida drift boats may provide you with a triple hook rig, using a little stealth will catch you the biggest and best fish on the spot. If you are seeking mackerel or sharks, you’ll want to tie your hook on with titanium wire or stainless cable such as AFW Surfstrand 40-pound-test cable. Using a figure eight knot will secure your hook on one end and a swivel on the other with a ¼- to ½-ounce egg sinker in between.
I can attest to the fact that the biggest snapper and grouper on a spot will watch the smaller fish get hooked, spit out the bait on the way up, and then gobble what is falling back to the bottom. The more vermilions and grunts you hook, the more chum you put in the water. Take a half sardine or cigar minnow and place a 5/0 livebait hook in his mouth, out his gills and then thread the hook through and bury it through his back. Slide the ¼-ounce sinker and shove it into the bait’s mouth. If the sinker won’t stay put, place a wooden toothpick in the hole through the sinker and break it off. If you’re kingfishing, lose the sinker, and drift the wire rig in a whole bait. Clip off the tail to keep the bait from spinning in the current. Use 40-pound test and a ½-ounce weight for a bottom rig, and titanium or cable with no weight for kings.
9) Offshore, Slow-Trolling: 30-Second Kingfish Rig (BRT pg 145)
Maybe you moved to Florida with an offshore boat, or maybe your neighbor has invited you fishing for king mackerel. Knowing the 30-second kingfish rig will make your day easier and more productive. Number 4 4x-strong treble hooks are standard, but the rigs can be wrapped the same way with twin trebles, a single lead hook and trailing treble, or two singles. Looking at the shanks of a treble hook, you’ll notice one side is flat, and one side has two shafts welded together. Place the end of the cable through the eye on the flat side of the treble, barely extending beyond shaft. Hold the wire down while you make six tight wraps of the cable around the shank of the hook, starting at the eye. Run the entire rest of the cable up through the eye and pull to snug. Slide the second hook on and repeat the process, making sure you consider bait size while deciding how far apart you want your hooks. You’ll want a lead hook through the bait’s nose, and a trailing hook near his dorsal. Tie on a small swivel with a simple figure eight knot, and you’re done. Slow troll or drift this rig with a frisky live bait.
Ingredients: 36-inch pieces of 40-pound AFW Surfstrand. Two 4x number 4 treble hooks or 3/0 single live bait hooks. Use the smallest swivels you can effectively tie a figure eight to.
10) Offshore Trolling: Circle Hook Ballyhoo
Circle hook rigs may well play a role in your first Florida sailfish (they are also deadly on blackfin tuna). There are many variations on this rig, but for this discussion we’ll use my favorite, the O-ring rig. Start with a tube of 14-inch copper wire rigging pieces. Without removing them from the tube, wrap the end of each piece through a #3 rubber O ring (if it’s hard to see it in your hand, it’s the right size). Put a pencil or wooden dowel of similar size through the eyes of a dozen small to medium ballyhoo. Clip off the bills so they protrude approximately 1 inch out from the head. Take a rigging needle and bore a hole through the head of a ballyhoo, right where his “lip” is attached. Thread the copper through the hole out the bottom and slide on a ¼-ounce weight. Wrap under one gill and across ballyhoo’s back, behind the other gill. Wrap twice through eye sockets, one in front of the weight and one behind. Wrap the rest of the wire out the bill and you’re done. Change them by simply pulling the hook in and out of the O ring.
Ingredients: Tube of 14-inch copper rigging wire. Number 3 rubber O-rings. 6/0 to 8/0 circle hooks tied to 60-pound mono leaders.