Classic Live Bait Rigs You Should Know | Great Days Outdoors

Classic Live Bait Rigs You Should Know

Anglers fishing Alabama coastal waters can find no better way to consistently catch more inshore and offshore fish than by using live bait rigs.

However, it’s not as simple as many anglers think. People can’t just tie on a hook, pin on a shrimp and toss it out. A little knowledge of how to rig live bait, and some time-tested rigs can make live bait fishing a lot more effective.


live bait rig

A slip cork rig brought Capt. Yano Serra in contact with this monster tripletail. Photo by Ed Mashburn


Although people can fish hundreds of variations on these few live bait fishing rigs presented here, anglers who start with a knowledge of these basic hook-and-leader setups won’t go wrong when going on the water after some hard-pulling fish.

With all of these live bait rigs, anglers can tie many different knots. They just need to master a few very secure knots for any live bait rigs. The best gear and the best technique won’t matter if the knots used are poor and the fish get away.


Fish-Finder Rig


The fish-finder rig is the simplest, yet most versatile live bait rig. It can be used on light 10-pound test line with 1/4-ounce weights for inshore specks, puppy drum, flounder and sheepshead, or it can be geared up to 80-pound line and half-pound weights for dropping big chunks and live baitfish to massive grouper and amberjack on the offshore reefs.


Fish-finder live bait rigs.

A fish-finder rig will catch just about anything that’s out there.


Here’s how to tie a fish-finder rig:

  • Start with a good swivel. This is crucial. More fish are lost to shoddy swivels than almost any other cause. Get good, name-brand swivels. Don’t waste time with the cheap bulk swivels sold at big box stores.
  • Tie the swivel to the selected leader line, which must be geared to the size and type of fish being sought. It might be light 10-pound leader, or it might be 85-pound super-heavy fluorocarbon. Most inshore leaders will be 12 to 24 inches long. That’s usually long enough.
  • Tie on the hook of choice. For inshore work, I like Number 2 or Number Kahle hooks, but all anglers have their own preferences in hooks.
  • On the main line coming from the reel, slide on the selected egg sinker. This might be 1/4 ounce for shallow inshore water, or it might be a 1/2-pound cannonball for deep reefs. Adding a plastic bead between the sliding egg weight and the swivel is a good idea
  • Tie the open end of the swivel to the main line. Now, it’s ready. The egg sinker on the main line can slide freely to allow fish taking the bait to feel no weight on the strike.
  • A slip-on cork can be added above the egg weight on the main line to create a popping cork rig using the basic fish-finder rig, which is an effective technique.


Double Hook Dropper Rig

This is a more complex bait rig, but it can really produce in certain conditions. A double dropper rigged with a pyramid sinker works very well for surf fishing situations. The pyramid sinker holds in the sand, strong currents and rolling water common in surf fishing much better than rounded sinkers. This double-hook rig can also be beefed up to 50-pound line with a heavy weight to create the “chicken rig,” which is universally used on party boats going after red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico. Literally, tons of red snapper and other reef fish have been taken while double-dropper “chicken rigs” fishing.


Double dropper live bait rigs.

A double dropper rig takes a while to build, but it’s a great surf-fishing rig.


Here’s how to make this rig:

  • Start with a good swivel. Tie it to the leader material. Again, gear the leader line strength to the specific fishing situation.
  • The first run of leader needs to be 12 to 18 inches long. Then, tie on a 3-way swivel. To the side attachment of the 3-way swivel, tie on a one foot-long section of leader.
  • To the open attachment of the 3-way swivel, tie on another one foot-long section of leader. Tie on a second 3-way swivel. On the side attachment of this second 3-way swivel, tie on another one foot-long section of leader.
  • To the open attachment of the second 3-way swivel, tie on a foot of leader line.
  • To this last bottom leader, attach the dropper weight. We’re almost done!
  • Now, to the two open leaders coming off the side attachment of the 3-way swivel, tie on the hooks. Like with swivels, make sure to gear the hooks to the specific fish targeted.


Slip Cork Rig

This live bait rig is a variation of the fish-finder rig, but it’s so effective at times, we want to present it here. This rig is the thing to use when fish are holding in deeper water, yet not on the bottom. It’s perfect for suspending a bait around some kind of vertical structure, such as a bridge piling. I saw my buddy Capt. Yano Serra use this rig to catch a very big tripletail off a navigation marker in the Mississippi Sound. He used the rig to allow his live shrimp to suspend right at the depth the big tripletail was holding.

Basically, the slip-bobber rig allows anglers to present a bait in as much as 20 feet of water while not having to try to cast a 20-foot long leader and rig, which is impossible.


Slip cork rig

Slip cork rigs allow almost unlimited depth adjustment to present a bait.


Here’s how to build this rig:

  • Make a basic fish-finder leader.
  • On the mainline, slide on a specially made “bobber stopper.” That’s just a short piece of soft line tied in a special knot that tightens down on the main line, yet still allows the anglers to adjust the depth by sliding the little knot up or down the main line. Just follow the directions on the “bobber stopper” package. It’s not difficult.
  • Slide on a plastic bead. The bead hits the “bobber stopper” when the weight and bait start to sink and holds the slip bobber in place to keep the bait suspended at the designated depth.
  • Slide on the bobber being used. Then, tie the main line to the swivel on the leader. That’s it.

After catching a few fish on a slip-bobber rig, anglers may need to rig a new setup if the little knotted “bobber-stopper” starts to get loose on the main line, but it’s not hard to re-do this rig at all.


Stinger Rig

This is the leader to use when expecting to encounter fish with sharp teeth, like mackerel. The two-hook metal-leader rig accounts for thousands of king and Spanish mackerel every year and it will work for just about any kind of big, toothy gamefish. Although already prepared stinger rigs can be purchased for a few dollars at any coastal area tackle shop, building stinger rigs yourself is a good way to insure that everything is done correctly. It’s also really kind of fun to do. Be careful when working with steel leader material. The ends are very sharp and can easily poke a person working with such material.


rigs for toothy fish.

Steel leader stinger rigs are necessary for mackerel and other toothy fish.


Here’s how to build this rig:

  • First, buy some single-strand steel leader material. This comes in various weights, so anglers will need to select the weight that fits the situation. I like Malin Hard-Wire brand of steel leader material.
  • Cut a 2-foot long section of metal leader. A pair of heavy scissors works well for this. Then take a swivel and put about two inches of the metal leader through one end of the swivel. Make a “haywire” twist by gripping the connection end of the swivel and the doubled-over end of the leader wire with one hand. Then, wrap the wire around itself with the other hand. Try to keep the wraps tight and close together. When the tag end of the wire is wrapped around at least 10 times, cut off the tiny excess or flex it until it pops off. Next, move down the now secured wire leader about 12 to 18 inches and cut it.
  • Take the cut-off end of the wire leader and double it over about two inches from the end. Slide a single hook on this doubled-over wire. Then do another “haywire twist” to secure the hook to the leader.
  • Cut another one foot-long length of wire and insert one end into the eye of the hook that was just attached to the wire. Double it over about two inches and make another haywire twist. You’ll have two separate pieces of wire connected to the eye of this single hook.
  • To the open end of the wire just attached to the single hook, “haywire twist” on a treble hook. That’s it.

This rig sounds a lot harder to build than it is. To make sure you’re doing it right, buy an already prepared stinger rig when buying supplies to make your own. Then pattern your stringer rigs after the commercial one. By the way, properly made “haywire twists” are very secure connections for wire leaders.

“Being able to make a live bait rig fit constantly changing conditions on the water is a sign of a high-quality angler.”

These few basic live bait rigs can be modified almost indefinitely to fit different fishing situations. Although some of the rigs can be a bit challenging at first, they are all pretty easy to master with a little practice. Being able to make a live bait rig fit constantly changing conditions on the water is a sign of a high-quality angler.

Once these rigs are made, all that’s left is get some good lively shrimp or bull minnows for inshore fishing. For heading offshore, get some cigar minnows and put the bait before the fish.

Hang on! Few fish can resist a properly presented live bait rig.


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