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When the Free Rig Shines for Inshore Fishing

It's like a drop shot, but with more options—including for the Florida salt.

When the Free Rig Shines for Inshore Fishing

Chunky flounder caught on a free rig with saltwater-grade components.

What’s now widely called the free rig was created by Japanese bass fishermen as a hybrid of the drop shot. Both systems are anchored by a cylindrical sinker, normally tungsten, which compacts more weight in a smaller size than lead. Tungsten is also harder than lead. This makes it more sensitive to hard bottoms and slippery through grass cover.

There are differences between the two weights. The drop shot has a wire pinch clip that holds the weight in place whereas the free rig weight has a small, compact swivel inside the weight with only the ring exposed. The free rig weight slides freely up and down the line. The free rig was created to get the most action out of small finesse-style soft plastics.

With buoyant plastics, I have used Carolina, splitshot, and knocker rigging. My goal was to get the most action out of a lure without having the constriction of the weight directly connected to the lure. I had success with all, but the free rig became the game-changer in my everyday fishing.

fs-inshorerigs-freerigs
Light-wire kahle hook with soft shrimp bait in free rig configuration (top); Octopus hook with fluke—and selection of cylinder weights as used in drop shot or free rig systems (middle); Wide-gap worm hook, rigged weedless as needed for grassy or structure rich zones (bottom).

The free rig, used with the cylinder style weights and 20- to 80-pound-test fluorocarbon leaders, is my go-to. The cylinder weight acts as a keel to keep lures swimming straight. Heavier weight doesn’t hinder the action of the soft plastic lure. This new style of rigging has me using not only small finesse plastics but even large curly tail soft plastic lures. What I quickly found is that I could burn a lure, twitch a lure, hop a lure, slow drag a lure, and sight-fish a lure all in one rig.

The presentation of the plastic lure begins the moment you cast and the rig hits the water. The weight falls straight down, pulling the lure quickly. When the weight hits the bottom, the lure changes speed to a slow, appetizing dance. This is where the magic begins. No matter how much weight you use, the attractive slow fall is never hindered.

Why use this rig for saltwater? Sure, there are some presentation qualities, but what about the hooks? This is where the free rig shines for inshore saltwater applications. An angler can use any kind of hook in a free rig.

If you are saltwater fishing, you probably understand that when it comes to fish like sheepshead, flounder and tarpon, you can’t use just any hook. If the hook wire is too thin, it will bend or break. If the wire is too large, it will take more power to penetrate the fish’s jaw. If the shank is too long, it will bend or break. Once you find the right hook wire thickness, type and size, then sharpness is key.

The free rig gives you unlimited options in hooks. Because the weight can slide away from the hook, this allows for better hookup percentages. I prefer a short shank hook for open water fishing. I nose-hook my plastics, whether they are paddle tail, curly tail or straight tail.

If plastics need to be weedless, any conventional offset worm hook will work.

If you are looking for something new to try and want to catch more fish, the free rig is for you.





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