Mastering the Umbrella Rig for Bass Success
The Umbrella Rig, also known as the Alabama Rig or A Rig, is one of the most unique bass fishing rigs in existence.
The rig took the bass fishing world by storm in 2011 when professional bass tournament angler Paul Elias used it to produce incredible results at Lake Guntersville during an FLW event. Since then, the Umbrella/Alabama Rig has been a popular yet controversial bass fishing rig with the potential to bring in boatloads of big bass.
Whether you’ve never used an Umbrella Rig or want to fine-tune your skills, we’ll go over everything you need to know about it, so you can really put it to the test!
What is an Umbrella Rig?
Taking design cues from offshore saltwater trolling, the Umbrella Rig, when used for bass, is designed to imitate a school of baitfish. It does this through several wires extending from a single point, each armed with an individual lure.
With a touch of luck, the Umbrella/Alabama Rig presents the unique opportunity to reel in multiple fish on a single rig, a super exciting prospect!
The Umbrella Rig is primarily composed of a head to which you attach your mainline. Four outer wires and one central wire extend outwards from the head, forming a configuration reminiscent of an umbrella, thus inspiring the name. Reflective metal blades are sometimes attached to the wires to add an extra element of flash and vibration.
Snap swivels are attached to the end of each wire, serving as a connection point for the particular lure for that wire. Subsequently, a jig or swimbait head is secured to each snap swivel, and finally, a soft plastic lure is threaded on.
Depending on state laws, which we’ll delve into later, you might have the option to equip all five wires with hooks, or perhaps only a few. If you’re limited on how many hooks you can use, a common approach is to include hookless lures, known as “dummy” lures.
Paddle tail swimbaits are the most popular lure for Alabama Rig bass fishing sessions. The paddle tail action mimics a baitfish in motion. Hence, when several of these are rigged together on an Umbrella Rig, they convincingly emulate a school of tasty baitfish swimming by.
An Umbrella Rig with spinner blades for extra flash and vibration
How Does the Umbrella Rig Work?
Rather than using a single lure to represent an individual fish, the Umbrella Rig uses multiple lures to mimic a whole school of fish. This creates a noticeable target for bass and more accurately mirrors the natural behavior of baitfish.
No other bass fishing rig is like the Umbrella Rig. Simply put, by adding additional lures to one rig, bass anglers can boost their chances of success compared to using just one lure.
When used correctly, the A Rig exhibits a pulsating visual effect that draws in bass to investigate. In addition, including different lures on the rig makes it easier for bass to key in on a specific lure, further increasing the chances of a hookup.
How to Fish the Umbrella Rig
Fishing an Umbrella Rig for bass is not as simple as tossing it out there and reeling it back in. To make the most of this rig, you must pay close attention to how you set it up, present it in the water, and set the hook. Once you have a solid grasp of these elements, using an Umbrella Rig becomes straightforward.
Setting up an Umbrella Rig
To set up an Umbrella Rig, your first step is to balance the weight. The A Rig should remain suspended in the water column for the best action. To achieve this, you’ll need a keel weight – a weight positioned at the bottom to balance the rig.
Rig a heavier weight, such as a ¼ ounce weighted swimbait head, to the bottom-most wire on the Umbrella Rig. For the rest of the weighted swimbait heads, use a 1/8th ounce weight. The heavier weight will act as a rudder and help the rig suspend and swim more naturally.
Another key aspect of assembling an Alabama Rig involves distinguishing one lure from the rest. This distinction can be made by using a different size or color, or by adding some chartreuse dye to one of the tails. This differentiated lure is known as the ‘target lure’.
More often than not, bass will strike the lure that looks different because their predatory instincts tell them it’s the weak link. Obviously, if you’re limited on the number of hooks you can use, ensure the target lure has a hook and is not one of the dummy lures.
Retrievals and Hooksets
Understanding how to fish an Umbrella Rig for bass is as critical as knowing how to set the rig up correctly. It’s crucial to give the rig some action and carefully monitor your reeling speed to ensure it remains at the desired depth.
Start by measuring your rig’s rate of fall. You can do this by extending 10 feet of line and dropping the rig into the water. The duration it takes for the line to go completely tight is the fall rate per 10 feet. Use this measure to determine how long you need to wait after casting the rig for it to reach the depth you are aiming for.
Generally, the Umbrella Rig is most effective when used offshore
For your retrieve, reel at a moderate and consistent pace. Make a popping motion every 20-30 seconds by winding the reel quickly for a moment. This technique creates the pulsating action of the rig that mimics a school of baitfish reacting to something, which drives bass wild.
As your rig nears the boat, reduce your retrieve speed to ensure the rig remains at the appropriate depth for as long as possible.
With the Umbrella Rig, you will feel a bite when the rig’s weight suddenly feels much heavier, and you start to feel some extra tension. Bites with the A Rig will feel similar to that of a crankbait or spinnerbait.
As when using a single swimbait lure, it’s vital to avoid setting the hook too aggressively, which could rip the lure out of the fish’s mouth. Instead, keep the rod tip parallel to the water’s surface and shift your body weight backward. This will enable you to settle into the hookset with a smooth, sweeping backward motion. Doing so will ensure a gentle yet firm hookset.
Umbrella Rig Tackle
All in all, the Umbrella Rig can have a total weight of up to 3 ½ ounces. That kind of weight requires equipment that looks more like muskie fishing gear than bass fishing gear.
For your rod, you’ll want a long and stout rod to help you cast this bulky rig and provide enough backbone to bring fish to the boat. Start with an 8’6” ft heavy-fast rod such as this Musky Rod. The fast action will also give a little bend at the rod tip, but not too much, as an extra-fast action rod would.
Your line choice will depend on what kind of environment you’re fishing in. For the most part, if you plan to fish around rocky areas or just in open water, go with a straight 16–25 lb fluorocarbon line. If you anticipate encountering deep, submerged grass or similar obstacles that you may need to break through, consider using a 30–50 lb braided line.
A VMC Swimbait Jig Head, great for use in an Umbrella Rig!
Reels used for A Rig bass fishing should hold plenty of line and have a strong gear ratio between 6:1 and 7:1. Larger 300 series baitcasting reels typically used for muskie fishing are ideal, such as the Lew’s Super Duty 300. The high gear ratio also helps rapidly reel in line, minimizing the risk of your prize coming off the hook.
A stout hook from a high-quality swimbait jig head is also important. Given the combined weight of a bass (or three) and a fully equipped A Rig, light wire hooks are prone to bending under such pressure. Swimbait jig heads will also hold your soft plastic baits firmly in place with a natural presentation.
Baits and Lures
Soft plastic paddle tail swimbaits are typically the most effective baits for Alabama Rig bass fishing. Fluke style baits can be used, but the action from swimbaits allows for a more realistic look. For smallmouth bass fishing, use 2.8-3.8 inch swimbaits; for largemouth, go for 4.8-5.8 inch swimbaits. I absolutely love the Keitech FAT Swing Impact Swimbait on this rig for its reliable swimming action.
Regarding colors, try to match the hatch for the local baitfish. However, if you’re unsure where to begin, universally effective shades like silver, grey, white, and pale green or orange are always solid choices. Just make sure you have a target lure that’s a slightly different color, for bass to key in on.
The water clarity in this image is around the minimum required for an Umbrella Rig to perform effectively
The Best Umbrella Rig Locations
While the Umbrella Rig is very effective for catching bass, it’s only practical in a handful of scenarios. First, it’s not very useful for the bank/shore angler because it’s best used as an open water technique. If you wish to use the Alabama Rig, you’ll have to use it from a boat or kayak.
In addition, the Umbrella Rig relies on bass being able to see it. This means it is best used in bodies of water with high clarity, which explains why the rig is famous for winter bass fishing.
In areas of the U.S. with consistently high water clarity throughout the year, such as the northern territories, the Umbrella Rig can be a helpful tool across all seasons.
Deploy the Umbrella Rig in rocky areas, drop-offs, bluffs, steep banks, or any location where you detect schools of baitfish on your fish finder. Avoid thick vegetation and submerged timber, as they will cause snags, potentially resulting in the loss of your expensive rig. Deep submerged grass beds can be good areas, provided the rig is suspended above the vegetation.
A Note on Laws
There is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the Umbrella Rig, which has led to different laws governing its use depending on where you are. In states such as Texas, you can have all five lures rigged with hooks, while in other states, there are restrictions on how many hooks you can have on your Alabama Rig.
You can still use an Umbrella Rig in states that restrict the number of hooks. However, the additional lures beyond the permitted hook limit must be dummy lures, without hooks.
For example, in Tennessee, anglers can use an Umbrella Rig with no more than three hooks. In Iowa and Nebraska, it’s two hooks per rig. Although these laws can limit your effectiveness with the A Rig, it’s essential to respect the rules so you can, at the very least, avoid hefty fines from the game warden.
Always check your state’s specific fishing regulations. Don’t rely entirely on internet searches and word of mouth. Contact your state’s fish and game agency for clarification if you’re unsure about the law.
Before setting out, ensure you understand the local regulations governing the use of the Umbrella Rig
With all the noise and publicity surrounding the Umbrella Rig, you may wonder if it’s even worth the trouble. In addition to its controversial nature, putting together the many components of the Alabama Rig can also be expensive, so why bother? Well, in the right scenario with the right conditions, the Umbrella Rig catches bass like nothing else.
If you’ve never tried the A Rig or only dabbled with it, use these tips and give it another go. You may be surprised at how much fun it can be, and who knows, you may even catch your next personal best!