Alabama Rig creating quite a splash in fishing world

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Rig of distinction: The "Deadly 5 Rig" is an umbrella rig similar to the Alabama Rig, but made by Bass Pro Shops at almost half the price, $15.99.

Craze – it is not a word you hear tossed around lightly when it comes to innovations in fishing.

But that is just the term being used since last season when the Alabama Rig took the bass fishing world by storm.

“It’s the most exciting phenomena to hit the fishing world in memory,” said professional bass fisherman Stacey King. “It just got people excited about fishing again.”

Now the rig, a branded variation on the umbrella rig, is nothing new, said King, who lives on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. What is new is how a fisherman named Andy Poss of Muscle Shoals, Ala., took the rig, traditionally used for trolling for the big, saltwater, striped bass, and transformed it for bass fishing on a fresh water lake.

Poss was able to convince professional angler Paul Elias to use it. Elias cleaned up in a tournament in Guntersville, Ala., last fall using his Alabama Rig.

“It made its first big splash there. He caught an amazing stringer of big bass. That started the craze,” King said.

Elias’s success sparked a frenzy of interest not seen before in the fishing world. Anglers were quick to snap up the rig and have been fishing it around the country since late last fall.

“I’ve been fishing ever since I was a little kid,” said King, a 25-year pro. “I’ve never seen anything like this. No (past rigs) hit with such a craze as this thing. It’s phenomenal. It really does catch lots of fish ­— lots of big fish.”

King has been among those working the rig, refining his technique on the 33,000-acre Table Rock Lake.

“We had a very mild winter in the Ozarks. I just caught phenomenal stringers of bass (in early spring),” King said. Things have slowed as the spawning season set in, but he expects to be catching big bass on the rig again once that ends.

The Alabama Rig, or umbrella rig, works by simulating a small school of bait fish that predator fish like bass just cannot seem to resist. The rig has five leads for individual lures, so when the rig is cast and reeled back in, the lures appear to be bait fish swimming in a school. It is not uncommon to catch more than one large bass at a time using the umbrella rig.

Greg Miller, of Michigan City, a professional fisherman and pro staffer at Bass Pro Shops in Portage, said the rig has been making waves across the country and causing quite a buzz among local fisherman, too.

“I don’t think there has been a lure that has come out since the banjo minnow that has caused such a stir,” Miller said.

Using the rig right

More than 30 companies, including Bass Pro Shops, have quickly responded to the demand with umbrella rigs that are their own version of the Alabama Rig. You can also find Poss’s original Alabama Rig, made by Mann’s Bait Co., at Bass Pro Shops. Costs vary as widely as the makers, ranging from about $11 to $35, not counting the lures or bait you put on the end of each of the five wires.

Miller said anglers need to know what type of pole and line to use to properly throw and keep the umbrella rig. The traditional umbrella rig works best with a 7.5 foot long heavy rod with 65-pound braided test line. He likened the rod to the kind used for musky fishing, a far cry from the normal bass fishing setup.

However, newer versions are coming out lighter and are designed to allow anglers to stick with the monofilament and fluorocarbon lines. It’s the heaviness of the setup that is a drawback to some fishermen.

“A lot of guys don’t like using the heavy stuff,” Miller said.

Anglers also need to make sure they have the right reel for the job.

“You want a good bait caster with a real good gear ratio, something with a lot of power. You don’t want to go out with a reel that doesn’t have a good gear ratio. I think if you have two or three fish fighting each other it’s going to get really heavy,” Miller said.

Debating the rig’s definition

Fishermen may be out in numbers buying the Alabama Rig but it is not without its controversy. States are grappling with effective rules on how, when and where it may be used.

In February this year, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources Director Robert E. Carter Jr. signed a temporary rule granting permission for anglers in the state to use the rig with up to five lures after he decided the existing state laws did not properly address its uniqueness. The rule will expire Jan. 1.

The ambiguity with the umbrella rig is whether it should be defined as one lure with many parts or many lures on single line, Carter Jr. said in a press release announcing his decision. Some states limit the number of lines and/or lures anglers may have in the water at one time.

“This gives Hoosier anglers an opportunity to gain first-hand experience with the use and effectiveness, or drawbacks, of how umbrella rigs actually perform,” Carter said. “It also gives the DNR time to gather information on what, if any, future definitions or restrictions need to be considered.”

The temporary rule does not apply to trout and salmon streams that are tributaries of Lake Michigan or to the St. Joseph River downstream of the Twin Branch Dam in Mishawaka.

King said the rules are changing quickly so anglers should check with the local DNR to determine if the rig is permitted in the body of water they plan to fish.

In neighboring Illinois, the Department of Natural Resources is permitting the use of the umbrella rig on most larger bodies of water, though some smaller bodies fall under a two-line, two-lure minimum. In Ohio and Wisconsin, the rig can be used with three hooks or fewer. Michigan and Kentucky currently allow the rig with up to five hooks, according to an article on the Bassmaster website.

Miller said anglers also need to be aware of a given state’s foul hook laws since the rig is prone to foul hooking (snagging a fish by a measure other than its mouth). In some states, those fish cannot be kept.

The success of the rig also calls into question its impact on fish populations. While many anglers catch and release, there are still those who do not. The future legality of the Alabama Rig may be uncertain at this time as officials look at how to best to regulate its use, but for now in Indiana you can give it a try and see what the buzz is about.

“We will just have to wait and see,” Miller said.