As water temperatures continue to plummet, more anglers are looking to umbrella rigs—commonly called Alabama rigs—to get bites from lethargic, cold-water bass. Big bass have a hard time resisting this rig, especially during the next few months.
As with any lure, technique or presentation, anglers have found small modifications they can make to an umbrella rig to maximize its drawing power. Adding a small wire leader to the middle arm of an umbrella rig is one example of a quick and incredibly easy bait tweak that could improve your bass fishing this winter.
How to do it
A cheap package of 6 to 9-inch wire leaders coupled with your favorite umbrella rig is all you’ll need for this alteration. Bass have proven they don’t seem to mind all the wires stemming from the five-armed lure, so I’ve always used a simple wire leader. If you’re fishing ultra-clear water you can substitute heavy monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders of the same length to make your lure more discrete.
Longer 12 to 18-inch leaders are available, but I’ve found the rig becomes increasingly cumbersome to cast the longer the leader is. A shorter leader, as mentioned above, doesn’t change the mechanics of the lob-style cast an umbrella rig requires and still effectively sets the middle lure apart from the rest of the spread.
Simply attach your middle swimbait hook to the end of your leader and then clip the leader to the middle arm of your umbrella rig. Dress the other four arms of the bait exactly the same as normal, with a hook and a swimbait. The leader will cause the middle swimbait to hang farther back from the other four swimmers.
Why you should do it
As your lure comes through the water, this will give the illusion of one baitfish struggling to keep up with the rest of the school. If you’ve been fishing with an umbrella rig and continue to get short strikes that don’t result in a hookup, this modification can drastically help.
I’m not sure if the scene of an injured or struggling baitfish helps to ignite a bass’ opportunistic predatory response, or if the extra distance the leader provides allows a bass to more clearly focus on the individual lure. Either way, dropping the center swimbait back helps your hookup percentage if the bass aren’t fully committing to your lure.
I witnessed this modification turn a day of fishing around firsthand a few years ago in an early spring tournament on Kentucky Lake. My partner and I caught some good fish in practice on an umbrella rig but the first few hours of the tournament resulted in nothing but one small keeper and a pile of short strikes. Around noon my partner added a 6-inch leader to his rig and almost immediately caught a 3-pound bass. After making this adjustments, we ended up with a 5-fish limit for nearly 20 pounds.
A leader can also increase your hookup ratio if you’re fishing in a state that allows only one hook on your rig. Setting the middle swimbait farther back from the rest of the school helps to cut down the number of bites on the four dummy baits, resulting in fewer frustrating bumps or nibbles and more rod-bending hookups.
This isn’t a bait tweak for every scenario, however. If you’re fishing around deep timber or other heavy cover, the extra length provided by the leader will result in more snags. For this reason I generally only make this modification if I am fishing open water or areas relatively void of cover.
Winter can be a tough time to bass fish but can also be equally rewarding, as the biggest fish in the lake are known to eat this time of year. Add this idea to your bag of tricks and a few leaders to your tackle box for the rest of your winter fishing trips. It’s not a miracle modification but it just might help you catch a giant.