December 13, 2021
We’ve all got our favorite rigs when it comes to bottom fishing for tasty species like snapper and grouper. But bring those rigs inshore and you can find just as much success on drum, snapper, sheepshead and more! Here are three of my favorites.
The simplest of the three, the knocker rig is just an egg sinker on your leader. This weight moves freely, essentially “knocking” into your hook. Everything is compact, making casting this rig very easy. Once on the bottom, the bait can drift (if dead) or swim away with the current until the mainline connection (knot or swivel) reaches the egg sinker, allowing the bait some movement. I like a knocker rig when fishing areas such as docks where a precise cast may be necessary to get your bait in front of the fish but give a little more movement to your bait over something like a jig head.
A fish-finder rig is similar to a knocker rig, but instead the egg sinker is positioned on your mainline, above a swivel. This allows your bait to get far away from that weight, if necessary. The more line you let out when that weight is pegged to bottom, the further your bait will go, which may be required in certain situations, such as fish hanging in a depression on the bottom. Casting upcurrent and allowing all your terminal tackle to stay in front of the school of fish but letting your bait drift back into the strike zone can be deadly, especially when fish are spooky. This rig excels in deeper water and often with more current. General rule is, stronger the current, the longer the leader. Casting is a little tricky, as the weight is positioned above the bait. Also, let the rig sink with some tension on the line, to prevent twist.
The chicken rig, often referred to as the dropper-loop rig, is a “grocery getter” as my colleague Capt. Rick Ryals once said. It’s a favorite of mine when targeting black sea bass and vermilion snapper. Because what’s cooler than catching one fish at a time? Catching two at a time!
This rig consists of a bank sinker at the bottom and often two hooks staggered up the leader, usually 10 inches or so apart. These can be tied on by three-way swivels or with the no swivel knot method. Less terminal tackle the better in my opinion, so I opt for the knot method and connect my hooks via a loop-to-loop connection.
This rig shines when fishing vertically around structure, as your weight stays on the bottom and your baits are above in the current. I don’t necessarily like fishing live bait on this rig inshore, but it is very effective when rigged with pieces of shrimp and squid for sheepshead. As these fish often feed on barnacle-laden pilings and the crustaceans that call them home, it can be hard to get a bait in front of them when they are up in the water column. With this rig, cast very close to the upcurrent side of the structure and allow your weight to sink to bottom. Do it right, and your baits will essentially lie on the face of the structure, right where the sheepshead is looking for its meal. Also, this direct connection (no slack in your line) makes it easy to feel those very subtle bites. You may notice that one bait is getting more bites than the other, take note of that, as it may show the depth the fish are hanging. If you notice the spare hook is getting no action and is snagging up, don’t hesitate to snip it off, I will often fish this rig with just one loop if necessary.
Secure that Sinker
I often see folks hooking their fish-finder rig to the bottom eye or hook keeper on their rod when moving spots. This puts a bend in the rod and allows the weight to swing back and forth violently, often beating up against the boat or the rod blank, even cracking it at times. Instead, grab your hook and go down and wrap your leader around the reel foot (if spinning reel) or side plate of a conventional reel and go back up and hook onto the frame (not the ceramic insert!) of the first eye from below. This will allow your weight to slide down to the lowest point next to the reel and not let it bounce around everywhere, a much safer and secure way to transport! FS
Florida Sportsman Magazine April 2021